Friday, October 17, 2008

The Wonderful People of Breu

There was a group of local villagers that were essential to this expedition while we were in Breu. I've already talked about how we hired five men to be our guides and two women to be our cooks, but I'd like to introduce you to all of them because they were such an important part of this trip and our lives would have been much more difficult if they weren't there to help.

Reuben was the leader of our guides. He was amazing. Definitely the best boat driver and always around to help no matter what the problem was. There was a day or two that we didn't have water, so Reuben went down to the river and carried our 5+ gallon water container back to the house for us. That's about a half hour round trip hike with a huge bucket of water on your shoulder. Reuben also had a special little helper with him. The other men worked in groups of two, with one in the back of the boat driving and the other at the front watching for submerged trees and shallow spots. But in the front of Reuben's boat was his little boy, Elvis. Elvis was probably about 6 years old and such a good kid. He always wanted to jump in the water and help us collect, or help carry our gear. I can't imagine any kid here in the states patiently sitting in the front of a canoe for 6 hours. We all loved Elvis and left lots of special gifts for him when we left.

Reuben pounding special leaves that when put in the water will make the fishes float to the top

Elvis having lunch in a tree

Carmalina and Richard were a father son pair that manned one of the other boats. Richard was very shy and quiet but so much help. Carmalina was a small man, but with ripped muscles and no fat on his body. We were all in shock when we learned he was 60 years old. I would have guessed maybe in his 40's. In the picture Carmalina is painting his face. Most of the villagers paint their faces with a red paint that they believe helps protect them from the sun and the bugs.



Marco and Inoc were the other pair. They were both probably in their 20's and much more rambunctious. They often had their own plans and agendas but still were great helpers and were the only ones never to flip or sink their canoe. Although they often scared the crap out of me when I had to ride in their canoe. Nothing like going as fast as possible through a section of the river full of fallen trees. We made a trip 8 hours up river to the tiny little village of Dulce Gloria and stayed there for two nights. Up there, we met Marco's family. His wife was the most beautiful women I've seen in the villages and they have the most precious baby girl and a little girl that follows her daddy everywhere.

Inoc at the back of the boat

All the guys having lunch. Marco is in blue in the middle
Marco's wife and little girl

We also had two women that cooked for us. One was only around some of the time and for the life of me I can't remember her name. Gina was our main cook. She was an older woman originally from Brazil. For some reason she just loved me, although our only form of communication was smiles. She spoke a mix of Portuguese and Spanish and I could never understand her. She was just the sweetest woman. I met two of her daughters. One was older with a beautiful little baby girl. Gina's youngest daughter was Anna, she was 4 years old and always standing at her mama's side watching all of us.

Gina cooking over the outdoor fire

Little Anna watching us dissect an electric eel

Gina's granddaughter

I know you all will never meet any of these people and I will probably never see them again, but they were all so special and helpful that everyone needs to know about them.

Friday, October 3, 2008

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish

The whole purpose of this trip was to collect fish, so I should probably write at least one entry about the fish right? The most common group of fishes that we collected were catfishes. You're probably familiar with the catfishes that live in the rivers here in the U.S. but what you might not know is that there are at least 37 families of catfishes that contain over 3000 species. In other words, 1 out of every 20 vertibrate species is a catfish. You would not believe the diversity within this group. The longest catfish grows to 5 m (~15 ft) and the largest to over 600 lb. Obviously we didn't catch catfishes this big, but we still saw a huge diversity. We collected relatives of the smallest parasitic catfish known as the candiru. The candiru usually is a parasite on other fish's gills, but is most famous because it is also know to crawl up the ureathra of unsuspecting swimmers in the Amazon. Thats why you shouldn't pee in the water! I only have fish pictures from one day, but you should still be able to get a good idea of the diversity and neat fishes we got to see. Here are the 10 species we collected in one day. The small tube with the orange cap is a tissue vial that is an inch or inch and a half long. It is in the pictures to show size of fish since we didn't have a ruler that day. Sorry I can't even begin to try and identify all of these for you, if they even have names.

A species of Penaci - the only type of fish that eats wood

A relative of the candiru