Tripping through Brazil...
I had enough of sitting around in Manaus, I've decided to see more of Brazil! This blog is about my recent trip to the state of Rio de Janeiro.
From October 17 – 22 I had the pleasure of hanging out with fellow 2015 Fulbrighter Whitney in the state of Rio de Janeiro. You may remember Whitney from my birthday blog about the waterfalls of Presidente Figueiredo. We spent the majority of the weekend (17th and 18th) in the capital Rio since I had never been and Whitney wanted to check out a film festival (Reel Rock) that turned out to be pretty awesome, especially if you like wilderness and adventure films. I got to see the neighborhood of Lapa and Downtown, and the famous Selaron tile steps, and I hiked Morro da Urca (one of the cities very large hills). We also visited an outdoor museum of sorts, with all kinds of sculptures made from different mediums. But what I loved most about the city was all the graffiti and the juxtaposition of classic architecture with modern-style buildings. I was also amazed by how hilly the landscape was right up against the coast. But I still don't have a fully formed opinion of Rio after spending so little time there.
I saw awesome common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) on the way to Morro da Urca! The third species I've seen from the family of monkeys I studied (Callitrichidae)! There were great panoramic views of the city. I decided to skip the usual tourist spots like Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf). I generally don't have the energy to jockey with a bunch of fellow tourists for good spots to take selfies. We had planned to hit the beaches on our second day but the weather turned and it was cold and rainy so we checked out the Northeastern market instead. This market basically celebrated the culture and products of Northeastern Brazil and feature regional music at the various stages within the fairgrounds (this place was huge). We had an awesome lunch there that came with enough meat that served us for 3 separate meals.
We got to Arraial do Cabo, where Whitney is doing her Fulbright later that night. I showered, ate and crashed. The next day I accompanied Whitney and Linda as they went to do science at the beach. I'm not completely sure what they were doing, but they were professionals, fully decked out in wetsuits and ready to collect data. I had planned to occupy myself snorkeling around the rocky shores but my snorkel had a pretty significant leak (it was missing the stopper at one end) so instead I just walked the shore and waded around in the water – typical beach goer stuff. But it was much colder in Arraial than in Manaus where it had been consistently reaching over 100ºF, and unlike my friends all I had was a bikini and a surfer's top. I wasn't prepared – I was freezing and I had only brought my summer clothes. I survived on the gracious loans of windbreakers.
The next day I hiked to Prainhas on Whitney's recommendation. This smaller beach is on a more secluded part of the peninsula where Arraial do Cabo is located. The walk is about 40 minutes to an hour each way. Although you can easily go there by car, I figured it would be nice to see the scenery (and it would definitely be cheaper than a cab). On the way there and back I explored some really cool (though quite steep!) trails that offered beautiful views of the ocean and some off-shore islands. When I did arrive at the beach, I found a nice secluded cove and did some reading for a while before heading back to town. Unfortunately, although I didn't know it yet, not using sunscreen or protective clothing was a bad call. I almost never use sunscreen ever, but all that time in the sun left me burned and my skin would be peeling on my shoulders and face for the next couple of days. Use your sunscreen people.
The next day was Linda's birthday. We hiked to a lighthouse on an island offshore (Ilha do Cabo Frio or Cold Cape Island). It wasn't the easiest hike I'd ever done. The trail was really steep so both the ascent and descent were pretty hard on my legs, and I had walked and hiked the day before. At one point, we also happened upon an aggressively defended hornets nets. Two of our party of ten were stung, and apparently it was very painful. But it was worth it (well, I can't really speak for those who were stung). In the end we got to see the remnants of a house and a lighthouse that were hundreds of years old and built by the Portuguese. On top of the lighthouse were even more amazing views of the ocean, of the beaches, of the other offshore islands and of the city of Arraial do Cabo.
After hiking back down, we boated back toward the mainland and we ate some super fresh (and well deserved) muscles on a flutuante (floating structure) just off shore. They were so yummy! We watched the fisherman pull them out of the water, clean them up and cook them for us. There were entire ecosystems on those muscles and the lines they grew on! From flat worms (Platyhelminthes) to brittlestars and sea cucumbers (Echinodermata) to other molluscs like snails (Gastropods). It was a biologists playground that could be held in the palm of your hand.
Later that same day, we had a seafood churrasco (barbecue) at a pousada (or inn) featuring delicious grilled squid and fish and seafood risotto. Heaven. I've never enjoyed someone else's birthday so much! I was honored to have been included in the festivities. But the next day, and the last day I was beat. I decided to take it easy. We had some açai on the beach and I rested up for my journey to Minas Gerais the next day. But more about that leg of the trip in another post :)
The FLONA do Jamari
I made three working trips into the Amazon forest in two different areas over the course of my Fulbright. The first forest region was in the state of Rondônia, an area called the FLONA do Jamari. I believe that stands for Floresta Nacional do Jamari (National Forest of the Jamari). The Jamari is a river tributary of the Rio Madeira which in turn feeds into the Amazon river.
On this trip the goal was to assess the recovery of forest patches in areas that had once been the site of large mineral mining operations. We were conducting surveys of mammals of medium and large size in these forests that had been allowed to regrow. Remnants of the mines were still everywhere. Our job was to walk 12km of forest daily and record any animal sightings (or hearings), the number/size of the group, sex and age when possible, the distance from our trails, height above the ground, where they were spotted and to note any other interesting features of the animals. I saw some amazing creatures.
I often saw them in mixed groups with the Rondon's marmoset, Mico rondoni. This marmoset is much more shy than the similar sized tamarin and maintained much more distance from us, but was still visible and incredible to finally see. I had spent the last three years studying these and other members of the primate family Callitrichidae (marmosets and tamarins), and it was my first time seeing them in the wild!
This pit viper was curled up on the forest trail. The species is Bothrops brazili (Brazil's Lancehead). She was beautiful. And terrifying. But it is very rare to see these snakes, só don't let that stop you from visiting or working in forests! In fact, one student who studies them told me they were nearly impossible to find when people were actively looking for them! Lucky me :P
We also saw two species of pecaris, animals that resemble wild pigs. The more “dangerous” species is a noisy animal that travels in large groups and are known locally as “queixada” (pronounced kay-shaw-da). I was told that they will run after researchers gnashing their teeth and biting. The only way to escape them is to climb up onto something high off the ground since they cannot themselves climb. My forest partner and I came across a particularly large group of queixada one day, which we hid out of sight from for fiften minutes until they all passed. After the experience we decided to play a trick on the other team and ran panicked to the car screaming that a group of queixada were after us. We were very convincing, perhaps inspired by the actual encounter, and they fell for it. Happily, I was never actually pursued by any forest animals.
She was by far one of the most exciting creatures I've ever seen in the wild. I was also pretty nervous to be staring into the face of such a powerful animal. But she simply looked at me and walked briskly away from me. I loved everything about that moment. Including that I had been alone when I saw her.
We also spent time putting up camera traps. These cameras take pictures automatically when they sense movement. It was interesting to learn about the diverse strategies there are for placing these traps in the forest for monitoring purposes. Open areas surrounding water seemed to be a favorite spot for successfully capturing animal movement. Some models record short video in addition to taking photos which helps in behavioral studies.
The mosquitos started to come out so I started applying some repellent. I rested my right hand on the ground for a moment and felt something start to crawl over it. I reached down casually to brush it off thinking it was just another harmless bug and it turned out to be a Tucandeira (or Bullet) ant. This animal has one of the most painful stings in the animal kingdom. So much so that in the Sateré-Mawé tribe, they are used in a right of passage for young men. The young men stick their hands in mittens filled with the ants and withstand multiple bites from the ants, all the while showing no sign of experiencing pain (see the ritual here). Well...the ant bit me and I lost it. It was so painful I involuntarily shrieked and started crying. The bug repellent I'd just been using went squirting all over the road. And that was just one ant and one sting! Imagine the resolve of those young tribal members! My wrist was swollen and painful until the next day.
List of Mammal Species spotted with scientific names. Click the links to see Google images of these amazing animals to get a feel for what I saw in the forest! If you want the names of anything else, leave a comment.
Wedell's Saddle-backed Tamarin - Saguinus wedelli
Rondon's marmoset - Mico rondoni
Tufted Capuchin - Sapajus apella
Peruvian Spider Monkey - Ateles chamek
Titi Monkey - Callicebus spp.
Saki Monkey - Pithecia spp.
Collared Peccary - Pecari tajacu
White-lipped Peccary - Tayassu pecari
Collared Anteater - Tamandua tetradactyla
Coati - Nasua nasua
Puma - Puma concolor
Jaguar - Panthera onca
Brazilian Tapir - Tapirus terrestris
Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Illuminating the Diversification of Evolutionary Radiations
stories of current and past fieldwork and explorations of nature.