Arriving in the Amazon… Part 1
September 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
After an 11 hour flight over night from London we touched down in Sau Paulo and immediately boarded another plane to take us on a 4 hour flight north to Manus, arriving at midday local time. We quickly jumped into a taxi from the airport to take us to the city centre to meet with our contact Elinho from the Xixuaú Reserve who would be guiding us for the next two days until we reach his community. We spent the next few hours criss-crossing the markets of Manaus buying last minute supplys in preparation for the week ahead spent living in the rainforest, essentials such as hammocks, mosquito repelant, beers etc… We finally arrived at the habour of Manaus early evening to board the slowboat or “recreio” that twice a week carries all the supplys and local population up river to service the small communities dotted along the river beyond Manaus.
Despite arriving 4 hours before the slowboat was due to depart, finding a place to string up our hammocks wasn’t easy, but we managed to squeese in amongst the locals. After talking to some of the local travellers we discovered that most passengers turn up a good 8 hours before departure to guarantee a good spot for their hammock, such is the pace of life in Manaus…
After 19 hours and a cosy night spent travelling up the Rio Negro we arrived in the small river-side port of Moura where we would be picked up by a speed boat to take us on a 4 hour final leg of our journey into the Xixuaú reserve. Moura is an unglamorous place that offers a good reflection of the ‘wild west’ image that is so often used to describe the rapid development of the Amazon. While we waited for supplies to be unloaded and reloaded again onto our speedboat we took a few minutes to explore a local store in Moura, only to return to the port to find our guide Elinho in a fight with four locals from the Moura community. By the time we had reached him the excitement was over and he was pulling himself out of the river and suggested we jumped in the speedboat to make a swift exit. Once safely in the boat he explained that the men who attacked him are some of the “worst predators in the area”, several weeks ago the Xixuaú community had reported them for illegally poaching turtles from their waters and Elinho has just become the target of their appreciation. Apparently these turtles which are on the region’s protected species list will fetch a high price on the black market in Manaus, a single trip poaching turtles can typically bring in R$10,000 (£3,800). This opportunity for easy money is too big a temptation for a small minority, especially in a community like Moura which openly expresses jealousy of other communities in the area like Xixuaú that has alternative income generation (such as eco-tourism) to be able to support themselves.
Witnessing this event was a tangible introduction to the role communities like Xixuaú play as guardians of the rainforest protecting and conserving its biodiversity. We later discovered that the poachers were more upset about being reported to the local Indian tribe than the Brazilian Environment Protection Agency (IBAMA). Where IBAMA ended up only threatening the poachers with a fine should it happen again, the Indians on the other hand threaten violence to those who venture into their territory and abuse their forest resources. Everyone is afraid of provoking the Indians, though they no longer kill those who enter uninvited into their lands they will use torture to make their feelings clear. Fortunately the Xixuaú community we stayed with has a very good relationship with the local Indians and can rely upon their help when called for.
As we travelled into the night up the Jauaperi river this final stretch of our long journey to the Xixuaú Reserve took 5 hours, stopping only once when we ran out of fuel, fortunately we were able to borrow some more from a neighbouring community, otherwise we might have had to spend a night sleeping under the stars with the crocodiles lurking below. We arrived at mid-night and were greeted by members of the community and fed some dinner, then exhausted, it didn’t take long (even with the many loud sounds of the forest) to fall fast asleep.