Amazonia! Brazil!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Amazonas,
Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Amazonia is one place in the world I
never really thought that I would end up – which is saying a lot
considering I basically want to go everywhere! But the Amazon has
always been built up in classes, movies and politics to be this far
off dangerous place filled with a plethora of both species and
disease. However terrifying this image may be though, the Amazon
always sounded so very distant that it seemed it held some sort of
rain forest magic within its canopy. I am confident to say that all
of these things proved themselves true.

Upon entering the Amazon, the MV
Explorer was greeted by murky brownish-white water, calm and flowing
eastward (e.g., towards us ... we were traveling upstream). The estuary
extended in all directions – with no land in sight. It truly felt
as if we were in another world. The sticky and moist air welcomed us
into the tropics, and the Amazonian wildlife could be seen even when
land could not be. Beginning with beautiful giant moths to
beetle-like creatures, the Amazon showed its true colors. I
personally saved a moth that was caught in the ship that no one else
wanted to touch, naturally!

Anyway, we traveled up the Amazon for
about three days. Three days filled with calm waters, the rain forest
and sticky-warmth (if you dared to go outside). Although I did not
partake, many had the opportunity to experience first-hand the
strength of the equatorial sun. AKA, all of the tan-people became the
burnt-people. After we all had gotten used to this untouched natural
world, we arrived at Manaus – quite literally a booming city in the
middle of the rain forest.

Manaus was most definitely one of the
oddest places that I have ever been. The once extremely wealthy city
is riddled with inequality: poverty and wealth coexisting even on the
same street. Rubber Mason’s mansions sit next to slum-like
structures and Dutch department stores share a sidewalk with street
vendors. The city is clad with bustling streets: cars, vendors,
motorcycles and people – all completely willing to run you over at
any moment. Many times I had to whip out my nanny-skills and “do
the arm,” as people called it (basically putting my arm out in
front of people restricting them from going forward). The shops were
fascinating; there were dozens of shoe stores, all the same store,
lined up next to each other – only sometimes interrupted by a
different shop. One of these interruptions was a store called Marisa
(I absolutely purchased things from this store, even though
they spelled it wrong). On the radio in the store, every few minutes
a voice would sing “Ma-ri-sa”! As awesome as this was, it was so
difficult not to notice the painfully obvious inequality between this
posh store and the vendors not even five feet from the entrance. I
couldn’t help but ask myself how all of these department stores
stay in business when it was so apparent that the majority of the
population of this city is in no way wealthy. On top of all of this,
the language spoken in Brazil is Portuguese, which I feel the need to
clarify is not Spanish, therefore it was extremely difficult to not
only get around but also ask questions about anything
education-worthy in the city.

Here’s a quick history lesson for
those of you that don’t know too much about Manaus. Basically, in
the early 1900’s rubber trees were discovered scattered about in
the Amazon rain forest. These trees, although hard to find, produced
an extremely valuable commodity – only native to Amazonia: rubber.
If you didn’t know, yes, rubber does come from trees. It is
extremely labor intensive to produce however. For this reason, not
only did Manaus attract men (probably not too many women, we’re
smarter than that) in search of wealth, but also cheap labor – many
times in the form of slavery of indentured servitude. With this
system, the rubber barons would own the plantation, machinery, food,
shelter and essentially the workers. Therefore, he would become
extremely wealthy at the cost of many people's lives. Unfortunately,
and maybe fortunately the rubber boom lost its boom when rubber seeds
were smuggled to other continents and regions of the tropics. As a
result, Manaus lost its monopoly and from then on the city slowly
lost its wealth and began to resort to other arenas of income.

Some of these arenas of income include
the current deforestation of the rain forest from livestock
production (the largest cause of deforestation, cough cough vegan)
and logging to agriculture to name a few. As a result of many of
these industries, many native peoples of the Amazon region have been
displaced and at the very least affected. I had the opportunity to
visit two indigenous tribes farther up the Amazon that had been
affected by displacement of their peoples as well as more simply the
outside world. At the first, a visit for one of my classes, we
arrived at the Dessana village where the people were dressed in their
traditional garb to welcome us. As we hiked up a hillside to their
community, the Amazon could be seen for miles and miles, untouched by
the modern world. The people then danced for us as an expression of
welcome and tradition. I felt so overwhelmed with all of this
information in that it all happened within an hour and a half! Then,
we left – this ultimately left me feeling like a pretentious
affluent American subjecting these people to humiliation for my
education and entertainment.

Thankfully I had the opportunity to go
to another village to redeem my guilt. This time, it was a service
visit to the Acajatuba Village – about a two-hour boat ride up the
Amazon and other small tributaries of the region. During this time of
the year, the Amazon experiences its wet season, where the river is
up to five meters higher than during other parts of the year. This
allowed us to travel up rivers where the forest was literally
underneath us. The boat came close enough to the forest for me to
actually touch in the water (which I did).

Our service in the village was to paint
the community members' houses. We donated both our time as well as
the paint and brushes to the project. Upon arriving, we were each
assigned a family (three students to a family that is). Ashley,
Rosemary and I were assigned to Victor’s family. We then proceeded
to paint their house a beautiful pink color for the next four hours
or so. Their house was on stilts and consisted solely of wood walls
and two large rooms. The family included three kids, two older boys
and a little girl along with the parents and grandparents in the
house. Despite the language barrier that I discussed earlier, the
three other women and myself managed pretty well I would say. We
quickly bonded with the younger girl in the family. Catlyna was
thrilled to have us as guests, paint with us as equals, as well as
paint us as friends. She would grab our hands and show us
where we should paint, re- dip our brushes in the paint and laugh at
our broken Spanish attempt at Portuguese. Catlyna showed us first
hand that despite any language, cultural, age or educational
barriers, humanity and love surmount and transcend all. I am so
confident that I will never forget her for this reason, She even
urged us to paint the tree next to her house, shrieking and giggling
“pinky, pinky,” meaning pink in Portuguese!

I also had the chance to speak with her
two brothers. We did our best to understand each other through my
basic Spanish and their little English. Although we only maybe
understood 70% of what each other said, we bonded and laughed over
the attempt. To say the least, I was very sad to leave this family,
new pink house and all. I am so grateful for the experience to visit
this little village and hope that as a result of our coming these
people not only like their new paint but also think a little bit more
of the U.S. as well.

All in all, Brazil was not what I
expected at all, but these memories will remain with me for a long
time. From the city to the Amazon to the villages, the Amazon proved
to be diverse not only in its species of animals and vegetation but
in its people, places and experiences as well. With that said, I am
also excited to move on to other places in the world, as we have so
many more to experience.

Once again, thanks for reading, I know
they are getting longer and longer by each country!
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Andrea Hinman on

Loved your up date Marissa :) Be safe my friend.

Auntie Karen on

Oh, my Missa! How very exciting and wonderful your descriptions are-- makes me feel as if I'm with you-- your photos are great and I'm so pleased you are enjoying the journey (it's not the destination)-- take care, honey-- I love you and can't wait for your next update

Aunt Shirley on

Hey Marissa, I am totally blown away with your detailed and very descriptive writing. I am so excited I found your blog in my junk mail. I can't wait to experience God's creations through your eyes. I am so glad you are enjoying yourself. I plan on buying your book when it is finished. I am so very proud of you. Love and Prayers, Aunt Shirley P.S. Enjoy your days with Jesus!!

Alyssa Burgos on

Wow looks like a blast!! Good luck on the rest of your adventures:)

Gary Bates on

this is a trip that you will never forget

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