Tuesday, July 30, 2013

City of the Forest - Manaus, Brazil

I'm here working with the Wildlife Conservation Society team in Manaus - the giant industrial City of the Amazon (pop. 1.8 million). 

Here's our little office located at the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM). Its in a giant forest fragment (size of Central Park) in the middle of city. 

There are lots of birds and rare golden tamarin monkeys around the office. I didn't see any of these animals, but behind the office there was a nursery of local trees where the students also took in injured animals. Like this mother 3-toed sloth and her baby. 

My job in Manaus is to organize a training course for managers of protected areas in Amazonas. The site for the course is about 20 minutes up the Rio Negro (the Black River). Here's where we'll do the course (in a building up the hill). 

On the way there, we saw a sloth and a group of Saki monkeys (parauacú). 

Camila, a biologist with WCS, took me on a little tour around the city. She showed me the famous public transport river boats, where locals spend days (sleeping in hammocks) to travel up and down the rivers. River transport is the most efficient way to move around here. 

Their is lots of indigenous arts and culture here. Here are some examples of local seeds used for handicrafts and medicines from local natural products. Note the guarana (Sapindaceae, Paullinia cupana) powder in the green bag in the top left corner. Local people use the dried tongue of an Amazonian fish (the white object in the bag), which is very coarse, to sand the dried guarana fruit into a powder, which is used as a stimulant (2x more caffeine than is found in coffee beans). 

Manaus has an amazing array of amazonian fish. The fresh market is a great place to get a good idea of the diversity of these fish. Like tambaqui (photo) and arrawanna (photo), which is also sold as a very valuable aquarium fish in Asia (the fish that P'Aut had in Thailand). Not sure what the fish in the third photo is, but the way that they prepare fish to fry in this region is a technique that I've never seen before. Fish with a lot of bones is difficult to eat, so they slice numerous cuts into the fish and fry it. All of the bones become crunchy and its easy to eat whole. Quite efficient, actually, and I'm surprised that I've never seen it anywhere else - like in Asia where they eat a lot of fish. 

Brazil is rich with fruit diversity, and the Amazon has its fair share. The yellow round fruit in the back right of the cart (photo) is one of my favorite fruits to drink as a juice in Brazil - called bacuri. The second photo is some kind of annona fruit that I've never seen before.  

Last but not least, here is the famous Amazon Theatre - the Manaus opera house. It was built in the late 1800's during the rubber boom. I saw a modern dance performance here last time that I was in Manaus (about 7 years ago). Today, the theatre is still quite active. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Koh Tao, South Thailand

We are still in S. Thailand on the islands-- at least we made our new year's reservations today for a guesthouse in Pai in North Thailand so we have a destination and deadline. This is our third day in Koh Tao and we are leaving for Bangkok tomorrow. We came here to try the diving in Thailand. It was a fairly good experience for me since we went with a very professional company and I did a refresher course to regain my confidence with diving. The diving itself wasn't so great, since the visibility wasn't so good. The roads here have proved to be very challenging. We rented an off-road motorcycle, and Mario has gotten pretty good at driving on the worst roads that I have ever seen (using his feet to help our poor 125cc bike through the rough patches) and I've gotten good at hanging on tight and jumping off when the bike has had enough of carrying 2 people up a particularly steep and loose part.

Our little motorbike

Mario and Cao the dog - who was totally awesome and would sneak away like a mile down the mountain to the beach to terrorize the sunbathing girls

The beauty of Koh Tao

Since I left Bangkok we've been to Koh Yao Noi, Krabi city, Ton Sai beach (close to Railey), Ranong to do a visa run, and then here to Koh Tao. Ton Sai has been our favorite so far. We were there about 5 days and went hiking, cave exploring, kayaking, and rock climbing. The vibe there is very chill and the people very nice. Mario told me that its the best place that he has been to during his trip around the world. I was there about 5 years ago, and it hasn't changed all that much. This is also a good sign. Still quaint, friendly, and very cool.

Ranong was a bit of a nightmare. We crossed the border to Myanmar so that I could do a visa run. Can you believe that Brazilians get 3 month visas in Thailand and Americans get only 15 days (after a one month visa first)? I was very disappointed to find this out, since I have to do yet another one before leaving Thailand. Visa runs are like a blackhole for money. We took a tour around the border town of Myanmar and saw.... just about nothing. A couple of run down temples and a beach. Our guide was a very young Myanmar man (18 YO). He was a terrible motorcycle driver and a show-off: a very bad combination. Probably the most interesting thing that we saw was this LONG wooden makeshift bridge. It connected the mainland to a small island. It must have been quite old because it had clearly been patched up quite a bit. The original bridge had been built upon so that two new wheel-sized tracks were made to accommodate 4-wheel vehicles. Since we were crossing with a motorcycle with three people on it (oh I forgot to mention that our guide probably weighed about 90 pounds and it was his first time driving across the bridge) it would be a a sure disaster if we fell off these two tracks: falling into a hole and busting on the bridge or going through the bridge completely into the ocean--both options seemed realistic. Mario and I discussed suggesting to our guide that Mario drive across the bridge for the return trip : "Can I try to drive the bike? It looks like fun." -- we proposed was the best way to approach him. But in the end we decided that the guide's ego (and potential future guide business) would probably not survive if the tourists commandeered his vehicle so we decided to hang on for dear life. Clearly we survived in the end. But not without an unforgettable (and hopefully not repeated) return trip across this bridge-- and alot of cheering at the end of it. ("Can you take us back to the boat dock please? We're ready to go back to Thailand, thanks.")

Mario and some friendly burmese kids

The infamous bridge

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Leaving for my Thai adventure

So I'm heading down to Phuket to meet Mario (finally!). There is some kind of storm brewing down there. Not to mention that the tsunami came during this time of the year. I'll keep an eye on the dogs-- when they start running, we'll go too. I've become a bit spoiled here in BKK, and maybe I'll have trouble adjusting back to backpacker world. But I'll try! This time I'm with a rolling suitcase, heels and my computer. Ha! Different types of traveling for different ages.

There is a huge protest in Bangkok today. They are trying to oust the present prime minister who is the brother-in-law to the last one. There has been some bomb throwing lately at the government houses (by the current government supporters to the protesters). My aunt finally explained to me that the middle educated class are the supporters of the change in government; the poor people and the rich like the current government. Well, as long as they don't go near the airport...

Yesterday I went to a 5 year-olds party at the movie cinema. Complete with hor d'oerves, a huge chocolate cake, servers, and party favors for the kids-- hats with stuffed animals on them, balloons, junk food snack packs. Then we got a sneak preview to the Madagascar movie in this cushy theatre with sofas and blankets and popcorn. There were about 30 kids there (Thai and non-Thai) and their parents, and everyone spoke English to each other. I'm describing this to demonstrate the hi-so decadence of Thai and international people in Bangkok. It will be interesting to see what the next generation turns out like...

Well, its about time for that double espresso. The next time I write, I'll hopefully be back to my senses and exploring a national park somewhere.

PS. I have to gloat (since I am not doing enough of it yet but this is important) -- my Thai is better than ever. I was worried since I could hardly spit out complete sentences before the plane landed. I mean, how can you blame me when Hengjia and Mr. Jingles are my main conversation partners in Florida? "Sit!""Come here!" "What are you doing? Don't be bad!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

back in BKK

So I've been in Bangkok for two days. Completely in the lap of luxury at my cousins' gigantic house in the middle of the city. Its like a little paradise, and I have little desire or need to leave the house. My closest family members live here in this complex of three houses (3 nephews, 6 cousins, 4 aunts and uncles and my grandparents) so I just hang out with whoever happens by and have nice conversations. There's a cooks, housekeepers, drivers etc. Last night they had a couple of people come by to give everyone pedicures and manicures. Every morning I have an espresso, fruit and a Thai breakfast in front of the pool and the garden with the cool winter breeze flowing and birds chirping. Yesterday I got a 2 hour traditional Thai massage at a sheiky spa. And I'm back to Thai food. Really the best food in the world. No other type of food can pull off a completely different dish every day that is totally delicious. To top it off, there is this little tiny housekeeper here who sings traditional Thai songs while she works in the house wearing a straw hat. So lovely...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Saindo do Brasil

I'm back in Rio again. I have to say that the week that I spent in Tanguro (research field station outside of Canarana) was the best week that I had in Brazil this summer. There are a number of reasons for this. I love to be out on the field. Everyday I went to help a different researcher (all ecologists) to learn about their work and their methods. I was exposed to some of the best researchers around today - from Woods Hole Research Center. And, I had a fabulous time with a great group of young researchers. There was a great vibe there at the field station, and I finally felt like myself again after 2 months in Brazil. I also feel renewed and inspired again. I came here to Brazil with a list of objectives and I accomplished almost all of them: 1. Become proficient and functional in Portuguese, 2. Meet with research partners and identify collaborators, 3. Develop the basis for my research and research proposal. Its a great feeling to know that I still have it in me to do this.

Soy plantations outside of the Amazon Forest. Note dense forest to the left. More forest photos below. This day we were taking hemispheric photos during sunrise, before the sun was too high to disturb the quality of the photos. Later these photos would be analyzed to determine the area of forest canopy.

Michela and Paulo collecting soil samples to analyze for nitrogen content and thus, ability to sustain plants. This area is a test plot to determine the effect of fire on the forest. Michela was leading this study. She is a PhD student from Pará, Brazil who's Master's research (on the nutrient availability in forests) was outstanding enough to be published in Nature. Also, bands on the trees are used to measure the growth of the trees over time.

Shelby and Paulo. Paulo was my wonderful host here in Tanguro and colleague at UF. He works for IPAM and is studying the effect of fire on trees. In the photo we went out at 5.30 am to take readings of the LAI (Leaf Area Index-- more or less how much light is available to the leaves based on the density of the leaf canopy) in the forest. Shelby is studying the differences between water quality of soy plantations and forests. Paulo was training her how to use the equipment and program for LAI measurements.

Another day I went out with Frank-- a PhD students from Germany-- and his assistant Marcus. Frank's study is to measure if there is a difference in water quantity between soy plantations and forests. This day they were finishing measurement for the volume of a reservoir. The coordinator of the field station-- Oswaldo-- built them this little boat to use for their measurements, but the entire staff of the field station was waiting for them to finish so that they could use the boat to go fishing.

Here's Oswaldo (left) and Darison, both who have probably been featured numerous times in various articles and other such venues, since there is a lot of high profile research coming out of this field station.

Some photos from the field station. This is Paulo's house. Mike is in the chair-- director of IPAM who was visiting the projects for a month before heading back to Wood's Hole Research Center. The house is well shaded by mango trees and probably in the best condition of all of the houses at the center of the field station.

Me and Erika (undergrad from the Veterinary School doing a small project) in our first little house. We got moved out to the farther house, and we were happy to go since the farther house was also known as the "fun house". I was also very glad to leave the giant cockroach that was living in the bathroom.

The "fun house" where we... had lots of fun! Barbeques, dancing and such.

Erica, Marcus and I in our room.

Breakfast: (starting left) Michela, Frank, Erika, Me, Franca (Frank's visiting girlfriend), and Marcus.

Ema (rhea) with 16 babies. They lived around the field station.

Another popular species around the field station-- burrowing owl. Other animals spotted by the researchers in the past month include lots of armadillas and antas (tapir), a few anteaters and monkeys, and one jaguar and sloth.

This day we went to a reservoir to help Frank carry out some rain collecting equipment that had been left there a previous year by a previous researcher. Frank intended to use this equipment again after refurbishing them.

Erika and I with our snake guards-- I never saw a single snake BTW.

Part of my despertido crew at the bus station. I arrived at an empty bus station, but I left with a going away party of 12 people. (Left to right: Marcus, Frank, Franca, Erika)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Santa Catarina and Mato Grosso

I´ve travelled quite alot in the past week. I flew from Rio to Curitiba. There I spent a few hours waiting for the bus to São Bento. This was not lost time, because right outside of the bus station was a lovely old inside fresh market, also with restuarants and gourmet cheeses, wines, and oils.

Two hours to São Bento brought me to a tiny little town of about 6o,000 people, where most of the people are of German descent. A very charming little town that has hills, a chiming bell tower, no crime, and about 3 major roads. Vivi was here staying with her family. So I stayed with her at her mother´s apartment but also spent good time with her very nice sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew. One night they had a lovely dinner party with friends. The last day there in São Bento we all went together to see some of the neighboring towns. On the fouth day we drove to the coast to Florianopolis.

First we stopped in a little town to visit the relatives of Vivi´s father. They lived close to a big lake. Wonderful lunch!

In Florianopolis, we stayed with Vivi´s brother. He has a wonderful rented house above the lake! Que linda! We drove to the South of the island and visited some nice areas. Lots of great sea food here! I ate enough oysters to fill me for the next year... I need to come back here another time to enjoy the beaches and trails more. Somewhere along this 1 week with Vivi´s family and friends, the Portuguese clicked and conversations became understandable. This was good because after Florianopolis I was on my own...

I flew to Brasilia where I stayed one night to meet with someone, then took the 14 hour bus to Canarana. When I stepped off the bus in Canarana at 10 am in the morning, I questioned my decision to travel so far into the center of Brazil. The bus station emptied quickly, and I could literally hear the leaves rolling down the empty streets in this city center. The heat was so heavy that the enormously wide paved roads shimmered, and little tornados brewed across the street medians. All of the 4 people in the bus station stared at me as I went to a bus ticket window to get a return ticket (already I was thinking about returning). Three indigenous people had arrived and were negotiating their ticket with the vender, giggling and making jokes that the vender (and I) didn't understand. I held my head up high as I left the station, trying to look confident that I knew what I was doing. I immediately went to an internet shop, hoping for an email from my colleague at UF with instructions about what to do next, and finding nothing, lingered-- writing in my face book "Arika is in Canarana and is wondering a bit, what in the world I am doing here in the middle of no where."

So I asked the woman at the counter if she knew where the IPAM office was-- the organization that my friend works for. She said sure! And she knew my friend! So she called him, got his friend, and his friend came to pick me up to bring me to a hotel and help me find lunch. Then immediately we ran into Paulo at the hotel where he was looking for another friend. Then, suddenly I had lots of friends. His group of researchers and students had come into town for the weekend to get a break from the isolation of the field station. A mix of Americans, Germans, and Brazilians. Great people! I guess in a town of 7000 people its not too hard to find who you are looking for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pão do Açucar

Pão do Açucar is that famous rock that you always see in those striking Rio de Janeiro photos of Corcovado and the bay. Wow! What a view from the top! Well worth the investment into those bondinhos. First we stayed on the beach and enjoyed beers, sun, and barbeque sausage. Then we climbed up 15 minutes up to the first rock and viewpoint. And later, took the bondinho up to the next rock to see the sunset. My second to last day in Rio.

View from the beach. Very beautiful photo day, even though the water was a bit too green for swimming.

View of Copacobana, where I have spent the majority of my stay in Rio. I've been complaining of the noise and air pollution, but I am going to miss it when I leave. I've spent two months here! Where did the time go!