Amazon Adventure Remote Lodge Offers a Glimpse into the Jungle River Culture of Brazil
Miller, George Oxford, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: George Oxford Miller Daily Herald Correspondent
With two smacks of his machete Edson Piro, our native guide, cracks open a palm nut the size of a giant pecan. Inside the nut, a pinky-sized grub pokes its head out of each of the three chambers.
Piro pries them out and gives us each one. The fat grub squirms around in my palm like a fishing worm. Hesitantly, I look at the others, then we pop the critters into our mouths.
Piro joins us in our jungle snack. "The worms are a delicacy," he assures us. "They taste just like coconut. The monkeys love them, too."
I crunch down before I have a chance to think about what I'm doing. An effusion of rich coconut flavor hits my taste buds. If I didn't know better, I'd swear I was eating candy with a juicy center. Then I get a little crunch from the grub's mouth parts.
Sampling jungle tidbits is only a part of the cultural experience we're in for at the Amazon Jungle Lodge, a three-hour journey from Manaus, Brazil. To reach the eco-lodge, we cross the Amazon by river taxi, drive by car for 30 minutes, then take a power boat for two hours. We wind through narrow channels and speed down quarter-mile-wide tributaries of the Amazon. Dramatically, we reach the lodge at dusk just as the sky paints the surface of the river with watercolor hues of pink.
We booked five days at the remote lodge to get a taste of life and wildlife in Brazil's Amazonia - no traffic noise, no airplanes overhead, no television or noisy neighbors to disturb the croaking frogs as the sun dips below the forest canopy. The five radiating sections of the lodge float on giant balsa logs in a peaceful lagoon off the Juma River. With only 18 rooms, thatched roofs, hardwood walls and floors and an open-air lounging area with hammocks, the star-shaped setup creates a cozy atmosphere for the guests.
Each morning, afternoon and evening, we explore the back-water channels for wildlife or visit families and villages along the river.
Our glimpse into the Amazon lifestyle shows us that even in this remote region, a well-developed network connects the villagers with the outside world.
For our introduction to daily life on the river, we visit a family farmstead. The woman of the house washes clothes in the river as our boat approaches. Her four-room house stands on stilts high above the wet-season flood line. Chickens and goats scamper about and a pet parrot squawks on the porch railing. Besides mango, cashew, coca and avocado trees, numerous unfamiliar trees provide food, spices and medicine.
Instead of going to the grocery or pharmacy, the river dwellers just step out their back doors. Piro shows us a tree with a gob of thick sap on the bark. He rubs it between his fingers. "This is used as a salve for cuts." At another tree, he says, "Tea from this bark treats malaria." He picks up a long, slender pod and splits it open. Soft, white pulp surrounds the black seeds. "Eat the white part," he tells us. It tastes sweet like cotton candy.
Besides the subsistence plants, the family grows manioc for income. The tubular roots of the fast-growing tree make a potato- like starch, a staple in the Amazon diet. With the manioc farm and her cottage industries, the family earns enough to buy a couch, chairs and comfortable furnishings, propane for the kitchen stove and the other goods it needs.
Inside, the woman puts water on to boil for coffee and shows us how she makes fishing nets. Several spools of filament hang from a nail in the wall. She whips a shuttlecock in and out and ties knots so fast I can hardly follow her actions. She also sews clothes on a foot-pedal Singer. After the demonstration, we sit in the living room like neighbors stopping by for a visit and sip cafezino, the strong coffee Brazilians love.
Back on the water, we pass a shopping boat, the supermarket of the Amazon, which makes the rounds twice a week. …