For the highlight reel, scroll down! Of course you could always do both, read and watch ;)
I celebrated my 25th birthday this past Saturday. Having only arrived in Manaus less than 3 weeks ago, I had no idea what to do to celebrate. I did know however, that there was no shortage of natural wonders to explore here in the Amazon region surrounding the city. It happened that a friend of mine, Whitney – a fellow Fulbrighter, was going to be in Manaus for the day and was taking a trip out to the “Terra das Cachoeiras” (The land of waterfalls). The gateway to this wonderland is the municipality Presidente Figueiredo, situated about two hours drive from Manaus.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant serving local dishes including pirarucu, a very large fish from the region. Very good food, a large quantity for a small price.
The first waterfall was Cachoeira Santuário. There is a R$10 (the currency in Brazil is Real - R$10 is a little more than $3 US) entry fee per person but it is well worth it. The place is beautiful and there are actually multiple falls inside. There are plenty of places along the fall where you can sit and enjoy the cool water and an adjacent river where you can swim. The falls are located in an ecological reserve and so is a popular destination for ecotourist, there is even a restaurant and hotel by the main entrance. This particular day I didn't many animals aside from insects but there were surprisingly no mosquitos (at least I didn't get bitten by any)! This is probably due to a lack of stagnant water - the mosquitos preferred breeding arrangement. The falls are gushing hundreds of gallons (or more) of water per second and so the river downstream has a constant flow.
Our next stop was Gruta da Maruaga (“gruta” meaning grotto or cavern). At the entrance is a small but powerful waterfall. The cave is also located in a protected area and is typically accessed with a guide. We were lucky enough to be able to hike down to the site on our own. There were no there visitors at the time, so we had this beautiful place to ourselves for over an hour!
There is no natural or artificial light inside of the cave, so we used a headlamp to spot a number of bats congregated on the ceiling (that had created an impressively large pile of guano), countless insects and there was even a frog hopping around in the dark. The patterns of erosion created beautiful structural patterns and smaller sub-caves within the cavern. Very cool. We definitely could have used a couple more headlamps though.
Our final stop was at a waterfall close to the roadside. We were on our way back to Manaus when we saw the sign and decided to stop and take a look. It was unplanned and so I didn't catch the name of this particular fall but it was lovely and just a few meters walk from the road (off of BR-174). There was no entrance fee but a R$20 cover for parking vehicles.
This final impromptu waterfall at sunset was a spectacular way to end our venture outdoors. It was a little later in the evening so this fall was much less crowded than the first. Most of the other falls close access to the public at 4PM so it seems that people tend to head out before then. So we enjoyed another beautiful area in the peace and solitude of nature virtually by ourselves. There was nothing to be heard but the crashing waters from the fall. I'd definitely recommend a trip to the land of waterfalls!
Back in Manaus, we went to a Festa Junina (June Festival). During the month of June, all over Brazil, there are rurally themed parties to celebrate various saints. Men and women often dress in iconic farm apparel including straw hats and pigtails and freckles for women. Sometimes men will sport a unibrow. The main event of a Festa Junina is arguably the mock wedding that takes place. A pretend bride and groom are wed by a comedic priest after which begins a night of dancing and continued festivities.
Birthday Eve Launch
For the next six months, this blog will focus on my experiences in Brazil. This adventure technically started in February at an orientation for Fulbright scholars in Sao Paulo. In the past three months, I have met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and have seen some beautiful wildlife.
My first two months were spent in Porto Velho (Portuguese for “Old Port”), the capital of the state of Rondônia. This city, situated in the southern reaches of the Brazilian Amazon in the “região norte” (North Region), has a population of just under 500,000 people. A large part of the states economy is based in mining and ranching which unfortunately contributes to the rapid deforestation happening in Rondonia. I traveled there to work with the mammal collection at the Universidade Federal de Rondônia (Federal University of Rondônia).
During the month of May, I spent some time in the city of Campo Grande (Portuguese for "Large Field"), the capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul which is in the “região centro-oeste” (Central-West region) of Brazil. The population is about 800,000 people.
I have met some wonderful people there while doing research abroad at the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul that have become some of my best friends in the world. Whenever I am in Brazil I make time to visit them in the region where I first practiced Portuguese with native speakers, first tried capoeira and yoga, first saw wild monkeys and hyacinth macaws, caught my first fish (a pirana!), first tried Brazilian cuisine, had my first caipirinha and first fell in love with South America. The experiences are numerous and I look forward to many more in the many diverse places of the country.
Now I am living in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. This is a huge city in the middle of the Amazon, (also in the região norte of Brazil) in fact it is the largest city in this region with a population of over 2 million people (7th largest population in Brazil). Despite its size and economic importance, the city is relatively isolated from the rest of the country and is typically accessed only by boat or plane. This isolation has resulted in a unique culture, based largely in native traditions of the region, which I am very excited to explore. It also has one other benefit – it has slowed the degradation of the forest surrounding the metropolis. Manaus serves as one of the main gateways to those drawn to the Amazon rainforest. I am here with the hopes of collaborating with biologists at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia and the Universidade Federal de Amazonas.
I will tell more stories and give more details of my experiences in these various places in future blogs...I have some video editing to do and pictures to post...but for now I just wanted to give an introduction to the blog and to what I'm doing here in Brazil. I probably should have started this 3 months ago when I arrived (I am already a third of the way through my Fulbright – 6 months to go), but I'll catch you guys up with what I've been up to as I go. I figured the eve of my 25th birthday is as good a day to launch the site as any.
My stories will not be strictly in chronological order and I won't only talk about nature, especially while traveling in another country. The people, the food, the cultures, the cities are all part of the journey as well and I have appreciated getting to know them. And it is arguable that all these very human elements can be related back to nature – the nature that still surrounds these structures, or was there before they were built. Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy taking this journey with me.
For more details about my current and past research in Brazil, visit my Research page.
Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Illuminating the Diversification of Evolutionary Radiations
stories of current and past fieldwork and explorations of nature.