SANTAREM – RICK’S FOREST – BELTERRA – ALTER DO CHÃO – SANTAREM (ice-cream place)
The test-drive of the new team of Big Tree Adventure Tours ended up becoming probably the best day tour we’ve done so far. My new business partner Arielle Rabelo is as much a multifunctional device as Big Tree Adventures Tours needs – she’s a great rally driver (believe it or not, I swallowed my prejudice about driving women), a talented photographer and an extremely organized person (which I am not). We formed a dream team and the outcome was a joyful, fantastic trip with Linda from Great Britain.
“I like spontaneous things, a change of plans along the way” – our guest Linda said during the trip. We met a day before at the hotel in Santarem shortly after her phone call. Linda was passing by Santarem and actually did not have disembarking in this town in her mind. “How long are you planning to stay?” I asked. “I’m not sure, I might take the boat to Manaus the day after tomorrow.” So we’d have one day to deliver Linda as much experience of the Amazon as possible. Challenge ACCEPTED! We agreed to include Alter do Chão in this tour (usually it goes Santarem-Belterra-Forest-Santarem) and I had a night to decide whether we were doing Alter do Chão in the morning or at sunset.
The next morning at 7.30 Arielle picked me up. All was set to get Linda on board. We decided to go straight to the forest and cruise through Belterra on the way to a stunning sunset (sunset in Alter is always spectacular). I promised Arielle that we’d find a stand-up paddleboard there as it was her dream to stand on one of those. A little motivation is good for teambuilding (ha-ha-ha-ha, I had no idea where I’d get a SUP-board).
8 a.m. and we are on BR-163 – the legendary Santarem-Cuiaba highway that actually goes all the way down to the South of Brazil. A traditional stop by the road sign made Linda notice how far from whatever we were: (Cuiaba – 1767 km). There was a lot of chatting on the way to Rick’s forest – about the history of Santarem, infrastructure, culture, environment… Soy fields started showing up and that was the most obvious explanation for why we have to drive 77 km to get to a primary rainforest. Getting close to Rick’s forest itself there was no way to avoid mentioning a quote from Andrew Blackwell’s “Visit Sunny Chernobyl” – “an island of forest in the ocean of soy.” Soy fields were actually full of Crested Caracaras stealing beans – they are my favorite birds here along with White Egrets.
Arriving at the margin of our reserve we met, as usual, our neighbor and supporter, Raimundo, a local farmer who plants manioc and makes his livelihood of what the forest can provide (almost everything). We had a bunch of food for the lunch and we expected to meet Henna – she’s usually in charge of cooking and you will soon find out why. However, Henna was not there. We got back to the truck with Felipe (my favorite trail guide) and went after Henna to the nearby farm where her husband plants black pepper. Arriving there we found out that the guys from the community were making cassava flour. What a great coincidence! One of the essential experiences in this part of the Amazon is exactly the processing of cassava (manioc). It is the root that provides us with worldwide-known Tapioca, farina (cassava flour itself) and tucupi liquid. Linda could see the process of crushing the roots and then compressing the mass to extract the poisonous liquid out of it. We agreed to come back after hiking to see the toasting process of the flour itself. Arielle picked up a ton of oranges (she was hungry, as always), played with Henna’s squirrel, and we finally went back for trekking.
Naldo, Henna’s brother, was waiting for us with his machete sharpened. We hit the trail. Linda was expecting to see some big trees, so I guess she came to a right place – the magnificent Tauari with its buttress roots was standing there and waiting for the last 500 years, I think. We had all kinds of stuff – medical plants, precious wood that makes tea, all kinds of vines and, of course, Brazil nut trees. Naldo found 2 shells with fresh nuts and opened them for us. So Arielle decided to compete with Naldo in cracking nut shells. After an hour (we were already by another huge purple Tauari), she made it – opening a nutshell faster than Naldo. With her teeth. I just hope dental care won’t be included in BTAT expenses some day! We ate a lot of Brazil nuts. I mean a lot! Hiking was highlighted by a huge cane toad (Cururu) and bird singing. Apart from the usual screaming Piha, a Hoatzin surprised with a visit!
Finally, after collecting everything we could, we got back to Raimundo’s house for a lunch. Henna surprised with seasoning – the barbecue was really great. And then – swimming time! Linda was trained by our team to become an expert in water jumping while Naldo was making back flips and Arielle sleeping on the deck. The water was refreshing as always and after playing enough we were ready for work. Yes, we had to work that day: getting back to the cassava flour place we saw that the toasting process had already started. So, here they are, Arielle and Linda at the edge of a huge frying pan throwing flour up!
It was getting late and we still had Belterra and Alter do Chão ahead. We had to be quick so as not to miss the sunset. Arielle showed the skills of the most famous Brazilian drivers, shortly we were driving through the downtown of a little piece of American Midwest in the Amazon, Fordlandia. Belterra welcomed us with a siren that has been announcing the end of the working day for the last 80 years. A visit to our friend Julietta with a breathtaking landscape opening up from a platform in her backyard, and we were ready to leave rubber trees and Henry Ford’s story behind to rush to Alter do Chão.
We arrived there on time. The water was getting still around the village. We sat at the deck built by our fellows from Zero Impact Brazil and got ready for the show. I was forgetting something… Oh, the SUP! Guess what, as we were sitting there and waiting for the sunset, Glauco, my windsurfing buddy showed up paddling right in front of us. That was Arielle’s moment! She put her bathing suit on and jumped on the board, but her intention was not only paddling but to stand upside-down and get a picture doing yoga on a SUP at the sunset. So, after a dozen fails it happened. Not to mention that she sacrificed her Spanish class for that photo. Sitting there with Linda watching the stunning sunset, watching Arielle play with SUP and talking about the day, I realized (once again) how lucky I am to do what I love. Adventures, fun, new people, learning and sharing knowledge and beautiful moments. I really love what I do.
And it looks like Arielle got excited joining the team. Back in Santarem she decided to finish the day with an Açaí ice-cream. It was a great day. Thank you for being with us Linda!!!