Guest Post: Brian Finn From Brazil!

05Jul10

A little introduction to the Amazon…

The Amazon is to Brazil and its history as the Old West was to America. The Amazon region has been this vast untamed expanse of jungle that Brazil has looked to for growth and opportunity. Brazil’s flag is green because of the Amazon and the Amazon is as heavily associated with Brazil as the Cowboy is with America. The difference between the two national experiences is that while the American Old West was eventually settled and effectively integrated into the rest of the country by the early 20th century, Brazil is still trying integrate the Amazon and figure out what to do with it.

I am in the Amazon for a week to check out some mining outposts. I am with another executive from my company and we decided to take two extra days to actually explore the Rainforest. Manuas, the capital of the Amazon region was our jumping off point. Despite the fact that there are no roads to get to it, the city itself has a pretty sizable population of 1 million people. This comes partly as a result of the Brazilian government actively encouraging people and businesses to move to this out of way region with all sorts of tax breaks and incentives.

The city looks like the old sleepy South American port towns that Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about in Love in the Time of Cholera. There are grand Colonial buildings next to haunted looking back alleys with worn out storefronts. It is clear that the city has gone through “My God, we are rich” periods to “Shit, we all have Malaria” periods. Every time the city became prosperous some great public buildings were erected only to go into disuse when the city entered the poor cycle.

Being on the frontier, Manuas is a bit wild. Not in the “City of God” kind of wild but in the “Times Square” kind of wild. Walking through the down town square, Marcos and I passed a man in a suit with a bible who was screaming at the top of his lungs and jumping up and down to an audience of two old women. Next to him, there was a boy singing on top of a truck. He may have been about eight years old but he was serenading the crowd with songs about his sexual prowess and how many women he regularly took home. Juxtaposed to the boy was a woman selling halucigenic tree bark. Not a lot of places in the world where you could find this much absurdity strung together on one block.

A few things to clarify about the river…

The Mississippi river is a river. It starts at one-point ends at another. The water flows through the two banks and when you are the middle of the river you can see land on either side of you. I don’t know what the Amazon is but I have a hard time calling it a river. The Amazon doesn’t go from one clear point to another. It is so wide that you can’t see the other bank. When you are the middle of it, your boat rocks as it would in a large lake or ocean. There are beaches on either side of the river with waves on those beaches. You could probably surf the swell generated by a thunderstorm on the Amazon.

Marcos and I hired a guide with a boat and begin a trip up the river to see some of the Indians, who lived on the river bank and check out the actual jungle. After several hours going north on the river, we eventually made our way to the Indians who had a small village on an isolated river beach. Antonio our guide introduces Marcos and I to the Indian chief who is in charge of the twenty families on this beach. The Indian chief is dressed up in ceremonial headgear but looks remarkably like a very tan Japanese businessman on vacation in Hawaii. He is also wearing brand new Umbro Shorts, which was kind of killing the experience for me.

You see, I was hoping we could meet a true Stone Age Amazon tribe – the sort that are completely cut off from the rest of the world and too isolated to make a trip to Wal-Mart for mesh shorts. The woman in the tribe walked around topless which I guess made the whole a bit more legitimate. Still I couldn’t get over the fact that this guy was wearing a textile product produced thousands of miles away in Taiwan.

The jungle hike quickly dispelled my concerns over whether this guy was authentic enough. We tell him that we wanted to spend a few hours getting deep into the forest to see some animals. We pay him 20 reales and he begins to lead us down a small path into the forest. Within five minutes on the trail, he just inexplicably turns left and starts walking straight into the forest. This is dense forest, the densest forest I had ever walked through and this guy is practically running, skipping through it. Not only is the forest ridiculously dense but there’s no way to tell where you are going. It is dark and you can only see about three feet in front of you. You can’t just head west in a rain forest until you hit a river. You don’t have the sun to tell you which way west is. The fact that the guy knew where he was going and how to move through the forest was incredible.

I asked Marcos to ask him how he knew where we were going and he gave an answer that would have made an environmentalist tear up – “The trees speak to me,” he said. “I guide myself by the trees.” The guy loved trees. He would stop about every twenty minutes to talk about some tree with Marcos in Portuguese. I understood bits and pieces of it. He would talk about how the leaves of this tree are used to treat sleep problems, use the bark from this other tree to cure pain. He comes up to one tree and he says that they use the roots of this tree to “expand their mind. He went on to say something to the effect that In life, when you are confused and you are trying to organize your thoughts this tree root helps you put together and organize your spirit. I think what he was trying to say was that the tree roots gets you stoned out of your mind.

We spent two days visiting the Indians and some of the poor river flavella communities. There is not much to say except that like all Brazilians, everyone in even in these poor out of the way areas, were incredibly kind and gracious. The only story worth telling is that one of these poor run down river houses had a flat screen television and a karaoke system. It was so bizzare. We were visiting all these depressing river houses and saying hi to the kids and then we pull up to one and they had a flat screen television with power hooked up to it, playing Thriller in the middle of the Amazon. I still have no idea how they generated the power and where they got the television and karaoke system.

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One Response to “Guest Post: Brian Finn From Brazil!”


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