Reflections on the Amazon
I think I’ve written and re-written this blog a hundred times in my head already and I’m thinking that even once I hit “publish” I’ll be re-writing it for a while to come. Part of the difficulty is that there are so many directions I could go on this. There’s the “travelogue” version that tells you what I did and saw. Then there’s the “introspective” version that tells you how what I did and saw made me feel and think. Or the third version that tells you the stories of those I met. I think for now, I’m rolling with the first of these that focuses on the facts. I’ll probably share stories and thoughts later on…when I can formulate it all into something sensible.
The Amazon is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been. We flew into Manaus on Sunday, (see map below to get your bearings) and then hopped on the Discovery boat which would be our home base until last Friday evening. We had quite a full boat…12 of us traveled from the States with Justice & Mercy Amazon and then once in Brazil we added 1 jungle guide, 2 translators, 2 cooks and 3 crew members for a grand total of 20 folks on board! Fortunately, our team all got along well and the open air boat prevented things from feeling crowded. We slept in hammocks strung up on the upper deck (see the “Gear” section below for a rundown on my rig) and each night I fell asleep feeling like I was a baby being rocked by the gentle rolling of the boat on the water and woke up to the sunrise….well, actually I woke up each morning to Mary Katharine shaking me to wake me up…I slept so hard each night!
Our daily schedule went something like this:
- Wake up about 6:00 AM
- Team meeting/devotional on the boat
- Visit a village: short worship service, home visits, crafts with kids, sports with older kids
- Get back on boat and drive to another village while eating lunch/napping/breaktime
- Visit second village of the day: same worship service, etc. activities.
- Back on the boat for dinner/travel near next village (so we’d wake up already near the first village of the morning)
- Team meeting or nighttime activity or free time
- Go to bed between 9:00-11:00
The ministry aspect of the trip was challenging for me. I found it overwhelming to absorb the many different faces of poverty and assess how to serve those in need in a short term setting. Especially when short-term means about two hours, and every conversation you have has to go through a translator. But I know we gathered lots of useful information on how we can serve in the future: basic needs that can be met such as food, school supplies, education or repairs to buildings. Many stories also emerged of individuals that have overcome great odds and those who are still facing seemingly insurmountable situations, and relationships were established.
One of the most exciting parts for me was getting to connect with people over music. None of the villages we visited had ever seen a violin in real life and they seemed to really enjoy it. At one village, the ladies had lots of questions about how the violin worked and at another village I got to spend time with a group of musicians: a guitarist and several singers who lead worship at the church services they hold 3 times a week. We talked about everything from how to not be nervous “on stage” to what it means to worship versus just being good at your instrument. On a sightseeing tour of Manaus on the last day I even ran into a fellow in the square outside the opera house named Victor who was playing the violin along to a boombox of accomaniment tracks. Even though I don’t speak Portuguese, he picked up on the word “Bach” in my initial question and what resulted was a slightly out-of-tune, but nonetheless fun, rendition of “Air on the G String” (arranged from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major)…proof once again, that music is the universal language.
We also got to see some of the sights the Amazon has to offer along the way. The pink river dolphins were everywhere although I never captured a good photo of them (but you can see what they look like here), and we saw some of the grey river dolphins as well. We also saw several sloths, parrots and other exotic birds, and a few monkeys in the wild. I even fed one monkey a treat after some kids cornered him in the principal’s office of the village school. One afternoon we went piranha fishing and although I didn’t catch anything, my team pulled in 5 small black piranha. (I kept waiting for Jeremy Wade to pop up somewhere and share a commentary on my poor fishing techniques…instead Jeneson our river guide laughed at me and muttered in Portuguese as he re-baited my hook for the umpeenth time.) We also went “cayman hunting” one night….no worries, no cayman were harmed or killed during this adventure…but we did see lots of the crocodile-cousins and even got to hold one of the baby ones. I also enjoyed the chickens that ran rampant in every village. No two seemed to look alike, and none of them really looked like chickens we have in the US.
I know I’ll post again about my trip so I’m going to wrap it up here for now. I’m so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity, and thankful to be safely home as well. The Lord is gracious for sure.
For those of you interested in what I brought….here’s the rundown. I had done some extensive hammock research before I went and decided to purchase my own hammock and mosquito net rig to bring with me instead of using the hammocks and nets provided. This proved to be an excellent decision and I would highly recommend all the products I purchased for anyone interested in hammock camping in the States, or making a similar Amazonian adventure. I am an REI member, and they carry all of these products, but I also have Amazon Prime, and they carry everything as well…usually significantly cheaper.
- ENO (Eagle’s Nest Outfitters brand) Double Nest Hammock (Mine is the Navy/Royal color. I’d recommend this over the single nest because it’s so roomy…and the DoubleNest Deluxe apparently has an uncomfortable seam down the middle.)
- ENO Atlas Hammock Straps (Fork out the extra cash for the Atlas straps….and avoid the Slap Strap and Slap Strap Pro like the plague. I had read this online so many times, and after watching others hang their hammocks, I realized firsthand how awesome the Atlas straps are.)
- ENO Guardian Bug Net (again…after seeing the other mosquito nets, I realized how great this one was…especially if you’re in an area where Malaria is an issue.)
- ENO Possum Pocket (I hung this from my atlas straps via this Black Diamond Carabiner at night to hold things such as my journal, Malaria pills, and flashlight that I wanted closeby…and then it transformed into the perfect mini day-pack to tote my camera, sunglasses, bug spray and a small Bible when we visited the villages. Plus, my hammock, bug net, and atlas straps all fit inside at once so I can use it to store my hammock rig all together when I’m home.)
- Cocoon Microfiber Mummy Liner (The packing list suggested a “light sheet or blanket” but I didn’t have room for anything that heavy or large in my suitcase so I opted for this sleeping bag liner and LOVED it. It was enough to keep the breeze from being too chilly, was easy to slip in and out of in the hammock, lightweight to pack, and best of all…machine washable upon returning home. A must for camping no matter if you’re sleeping in a hammock, or the more traditional sleeping-bag-and-tent sort of setup.)
- Jeep Duffel Bag (I know it’s not part of my hammock rig, but I used this suitcase (in the black/blue color) for my trip and was really pleased with it. I have a Victorinox Swiss Army suitcase that I love that I usually use for trips, but since I had to live out of my suitcase and couldn’t unpack, I found the six exterior pockets on the Jeep bag vital to staying organized this trip.)
- Yamaha Violin Gig Bag (This was the hardest thing to find….probably because no violinist in their right mind wants a soft-side case for their acoustic instrument (this case was intended for use with an electric violin)…except me. I would never recommend putting an instrument of any value in this case as it doesn’t offer much protection, however I have a $30 garage-sale violin that I take with me when I travel overseas and this case was perfect as it was lightweight, waterproof and had backpack straps and easy access pouches…all essentials when playing violin in the Amazon jungle. Even still, I carried it on all my flights. It would have been obliterated if it had been checked luggage.)