Friday, July 24, 2009
This trip to the rainforest was a tough one. We did not see much wildlife despite spending 4 days and 3 nights in the middle of no where. The trip cost was $260 each for everything, which is expensive, but not insane for the amount of time. The wildlife that we did see was often fast moving and far away, so we do not have pictures of much for the animal fans. This is also why you won't find the picture of Tara scaling a tree to pet a jaguar or me when I jokingly put my head in the mouth of the anaconda.
This is the "meeting of the waters" where the Solimoes River and the Black River come together to form the Amazon River. The two are different speeds and temperatures, so it takes many miles for them to mix together. Apparently, dolphins often play here, but we did not see any of the river dolphins.A yellow finch just like you might see in a pet store. They are very common in this part of the Amazon.
Ants in the Amazon are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. These are some of the bigger ones. I also ate a couple of these fried in Venezuela.
One of the best parts of the Amazon is that life is everywhere. Plants and animals will try to live anywhere, even if it means growing on an electrical cord.
This type of kapok tree is called a Christmas tree by the locals because of these massive red things that hang off it. They are filled with a cotton like substance, which is often used to fill pillows and other things.
We went to visit a local village of Moro Indians (probably not the right spelling). There are about 20 families who mostly earn a living through making manioc flour and collecting acai berries. They have no power and, as Tara pointed out, are about as low impact as it is possible to be. Here, they are building a new house to replace one that burned down.
This is school for the village.
Is Tara happy or scared to be holding this little caiman? I would say scared. This guy may grow up to be 20 feet long. Or another caiman may eat him tomorrow. The water levels are just starting to recede from all time record high levels, so most of the bigger guys were apparently inland while we were there.
Tara after her face has been painted with the local fruit. The color is also used as food color and sunscreen.
These ants build their homes on trees. They are massive. Local people touch the nest to get covered in the ants (too small to bite) and then rub them all together to create an anesthetic. Smells sort of like iodine.
We have a video that we will try to post eventually, but there were at least a couple hundred of these guys all head to tail like this. Apparently, they look like a snake this way and are less likely to be eaten.
Andy in training to be Tarzan. The vines in the rainforest are really strong.
Gratuitous sunset picture.
This is where we stayed in the jungle for a couple days. It turns out that mosquitos can get through a tiny hole in the mosquito nets. On mosquitos--water levels are just starting to recede for the year, which means that mosquitos and flies are just hitting their peak for the year. I suspect that Dracula was not based on Vlad the Impaler, but on Amazonian mosquitos. They are everywhere and they are ferocious. I think it conservative to say that Tara and I ended up with a couple hundred bites each.
A tiny gold frog. Apparently the area has poison dart frogs about this same size, but we didn't see any.
This guy was in my pants that I had hung out to dry. I picked them up to see if they were dry (a joke since nothing ever dries in the Amazon no matter how quick drying the manufacturer claims it to be), when I almost grabbed this tarantula. I screamed like a little girl and threw the pants down. The spider was less scared and just sat there posing for pictures after. Hard to tell size from the picture, but he's about 6 inches across.
The shiniest thing we saw in the rainforest.
The local school "bus" in the Amazon. People live so far apart that it has to go along the river picking up the kids.
The bus stop back to civilization! How did we get there? Boat, of course. You can drive your boat right up to the back.
Overall, the Amazon was interesting, but probably this particular trip won't be one our our round-the-world highlights. We'll be spending some more time in the rainforest, though, so we hope it improves.
One last thing--the rainforest made us smell terrible. I don't know what it was, but it took us hours to wash the smell out of our clothes, and our hotel room still smelled when we left today. Maybe because it is always we there, things mildew. Our wool shirts can go two weeks without even starting to stink from sweat. 10 minutes in the Amazon and they smelled awful...
Our day 1 guide was "crazy" Ricardo, who actually went to high school in Jackson Heights, Queens! Here he is pulling me behind a waterfall. I am wearing his had to keep the water out of my eyes.
Me swimming in a pool at the base of one of the beautiful falls he led us to.
A secret falls Ricardo took us to. Such a beautiful spot.
More falls, over a huge slab of semiprecious red jasper stone.
These first two pictures are from Tobago (the second T in "T&T," as the islands are often called).
Here is Andy in our Tobago hotel room assembling one our staple cheap meals: peanut butter and jelly! Shops in T&T had plenty of peanut butter...sadly, no countries we have been to since have sold it, though we have heard Guyana, our next stop, may.
Here's array of street snacks from Tobago. From right to left you see yellow mangoes, purple mangoes, spiced mangoes, and an array of coconut- and sugar-based snacks. 5TT (less than $1) apiece. You'd see the same snacks in Trinidad, and similar ones in northern Venezuela, sometimes set up on unmanned tables in the middle of the road so you could drive by and grab a snack (and, I presume, leave money?)
At Maracas Bay in Trinidad, I finally tried Trinidad's famous "shark and bake," a fried white fish fillet (I don't think they really use shark anymore) on tasty fried bread (the "bake"--but trust me, it's fried) with a huge choice of toppings. I went for pineapple and white garlic sauce. And in the foreground you see Andy's aloo (potato) pie, potato wrapped in dough and fried. Also comes with condiments bar, Andy got something REALLY spicy on his.
Me enjoying my shark and bake from Richard's, the best vendor on the beach. It was SO good.
Later, Andy had to get another aloo pie from a different vendor, and a mauby drink (kind of like root beer), another T&T specialty.
Of course, in Trinidad there was ice cream. We don´t have a pic of the best stuff we had, from a street vendor in the St. James area of Port of Spain, but this stuff wasn't bad either...we got coconut raisin and peanut swirl.
Of course, there was ice cream in Venezuela as well. Here is the tiny, gasoline-powered soft-serve machine from which we bought cones for 2 bolivares (30 cents) each at the Carupano bus station.
When this lady saw Andy taking pictures of the ice cream machine, she insisted on posing for one with her cone, too.
Here I am enjoying bread and cheese I had bought at a panaderia (bakery) in Santa Fe on our first double-decker bus trip in Venezuela.
In Venezuela, people drink strong, sweet coffee out of tiny cups. It's called tinto. I don't usually drink coffee, but you know, when you are in Venezuela...
There was so much fun street food in VZ. Tons of empanadas filled with chicken, beef, and cheese that we have no pictures of. But here is some colorful sweet popcorn we got in Santa Elena.
Santa Elena is a border town with Brazil, which means that that is where we realized that, unless we changed more money, we only had $8 US left in Venezuelan currency to spend on food for three days. But never fear, $8 can go far in Venezuela! We started by buying the biggest loaf of sliced whole wheat bread we'd ever seen at a panaderia. 38 slices for 15 bolivares ($2.50)!
We also bought a jar of peach jam. But, no peanut butter to be found, so I got a hunk of cheese and ate jam-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a couple of days, with some of this nutella-like stuff on bread for dessert. Andy, meanwhile, indulged in some lovely canned ham, which he spread on the bread with a spork...
We ended up with enough cash left over that we were able to roam the town and feast all over on our last night in Venezuela--broccoli, chicken, and beef empanadas, banana-cinnamon cookies, ice cream, and peach nectar. (See, mom, I'm not starving!)
Our first meal in Manaus, Brazil, was churrascaria, or all-you-can-eat Brazillian barbecue, at a restaurant called Bufalo.
Our lunches were $13 apiece--astronomical compared to what we were living on in Venezuela, but way cheap compared to churrascaria in the U.S.
These pictures don't begin to do justice to the amount of food we ate, but you can get a taste.
Then we went off into the rainforest for three days. It may have been buggy, hot, and uncomfortable, but we ate well.
Back in NYC, I loved to drink that expensive Sambazon acai juice, and one of my goals in heading to the Amazon was to see the acai tree, from whence the antioxidant-filled and tasty little purple berries come. Not only did I get to see the tree, but I got to see our boatman, Josenaldo, climb one, machete in his teeth, and then hack off a berry-laden branch!
We then took the branch back to our lodge in our canoe. I got to hold a berry. It was as hard as a rock.
Then Andy and I got to sit on the floor and shuck the branch, putting all the berries into a big pot!
Later, at our overnight campout in the rainforest, Josenaldo (who was also our cook) boiled them for us to extract the juice, which we mixed with a bit of sugar and drank. Sooo good!
He also built a fire, made a makeshift grill out of branches, and cooked us a chicken for dinner. The next day, while we were out on an interminable hike, he battered and fried us chicken pieces. And on our final day, he balanced chicken halves over the fire in branches he'd hacked and shaped himself with the machete. This man was incredible. And so was his chicken.
That's all we've got for now. In Brazil, we have also enjoyed the ddoce de leite (dulce de leche)-filled churros (cinnamon-sugar-coated donut-like sticks) that they sell on the square here near the beautiful opera house (and near our hotel). But at 2 reais ($1) a pop, we've had to limit our consumption. We're not in Venezuela anymore!
Venezuela, the third country we have visited so far, uses the Bolivar fuerte as its currency. Bolivar is the currency and is named after Simon Bolivar, a famous leader. Fuerte means strong in Spanish, and that is because Venezuela replaced the regular Bolivar a few years ago with this new one to try to stop inflation. At that time, they also set an official exchange rate with the dollar at 2.15 Bolivars per US dollar. Unfortunately, it is not really worth that much and a huge black market exists. All of our money in Venezuela came from trading US dollars that we brought with us into Bolivars on the street or in small shops. It is technically illegal, but I have never heard of anyone being arrested. We would always start the conversation by saying,"Do you know where we might change some US dollars?" Only one person told us that was illegal and all the others either did it for us or took us to someone. On average, we got about 6 Bolivars per dollar. We met several people who did not know about this before coming, which means it cost them 3 times more to come to Venezuela than it cost us. We will add the currencies as we do future country posts.
On to languages. Trinidad was easy because they speak English. Most of them have an accent that sounds a bit Jamaican, so other than them using a bit of slang, it is very easy and funny to talk to them. In Venezuela, they speak Spanish, but they have a different accent than most people learn in Spanish class. They tend to leave out all the 's' sounds, which makes it hard to understand. They also speak fast. However, our Spanish was improving rapidly, and Tara has been really good speaking it. I understand a surprising amount, but am not so good at speaking. Brazil speaks Portuguese. To me, Portuguese sounds like Spanish spoken with a French accent. Many people understand individual Spanish words here, but rarely full Spanish sentences. It has been a bit tough, but many people also speak some English in Brazil. Almost no one speaks English in Venezuela.
Next, we are off to Guyana, another English speaking country. Then to Suriname, where they speak Dutch, which we do not speak at all. In French Guiana, they speak French, which Tara speaks. Then back to Brazil for more Portuguese. After that, the rest of South America and Central America all speak Spanish except for Belize, which is the last country we will be in. As a result, our Spanish skills should be decent by the time we are done. Well, Tara's will be. My hand gesturing is already really good, but it will probably be even better.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Luckily, they spoke a lot of English at Búfalo, the churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ) place where we stuffed ourselves silly with meat for lunch! US$13 per person, which made this one of our most expensive meals out yet (that´s more than we spent for the two of us for a whole day of food, lodging, and transport sometimes in Venezuela), but only half the price of the cheapest churrascaria we ever had in the states, and probably the best we´ve ever had. We kind of had to go back to our hotel and take a little two-hour siesta after lunch.
We only have a few minutes of internet tonight, so no more pictures, but I can report that our final excursion in Venezuela, a two-day tour of the Gran Sabana area in the south, was really awesome, one of the highlights of the country. Hopefully we can write more and post some pics of the beautiful waterfalls, jasper (semi-precious red stone) earth, and other great stuff we saw there soon.
Tomorrow we are off for three nights in the Amazon rainforest, then probably jumping on an overnight bus toward Guyana, so it may be a while til we are back online. Love to all. Please post some comments with questions for us and-or e-mail us with updates on what is new in your life!!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
On our first day in Trinidad, we visited the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, where we watched many specimens of the beautiful national bird, the scarlet ibis, fly home to their nests at dusk. Here is the sunset off our boat at the sanctuary:
Here you can see eggs dropping out of a leatherback turtle into the hole it dug on the beach on the east coast of Trinidad. Awesome.
And here we are cradling newborn baby leatherback turtles gently in our fingers !
We spent a day at beautiful Maracas Bay beach on Trinidad's north coast, and Andy constructed a masterful sand castle. I dubbed it "D Castle" in the local dialect. (What you can't see in this picture is my nearby failed castle, washed away by the waves, dubbed "D Ruins.")
This is the ferry boat we took from Chaguaramas, Trinidad to Guiria, Venezuela. (Not so big, is it? I took a Dramamine and slept most of the way.) Just 3.5 hours of ocean crossing and 3.5 hours of Venezuelan health, immigration, and customs hassle!
This picture is from La Piscina, a snorkeling area of beautiful coral off of Santa Fe, on Venezuela's Caribbean coast, where we stayed by the beach for two nights with a friend we made on the ferry, Andrew from Manchester. (Hello, Andrew!). Andy, using the waterproof camera, captured this interesting fish:
And here is the huge iguana we made friends with on the beach of Isla Arapo, part of Mochaima National Park, on the same boat trip:
Pabellon is the national dish of Venezuela: black beans, rice, shredded meat, and fried plantains. Yum. (Extra yummy is that the dish you see here only cost 18 bolivares, or $3.)
The spectacular Salto Angel, or Angel Falls, highest in the world. To get here, we had to fly in a five-seater plane for an hour (yipes), ride in a glorified canoe upriver for four hours, and trek an hour into the rainforest up some steep, slippery slopes. Was it worth it? Yeah, we think so.
We slept in hammocks in a camp across the river from the falls. This is a shot Andy took of the falls from near our camp just after sunrise the next morning.
On the same trip we also visited Salto Sapo, a falls you can walk behind. Here's a pic Andy took from behind the falls before it got really wet (we were totally drenched on the other end!)
And here's a shot out the window of our five-seater on the flight back to Ciudad Bolivar. Note the other small plane nearby...
That's all we have for now. We're heading out on a two day tour of the Gran Sabana area in the south of Venezuela tomorrow, to see more falls and rivers and savannah lands, and then it's off to Brazil, where we REALLY don't speak the language. Wish us luck!