The Amazon Experience
Today O and I visited a village in the Amazon called Boca de Valeria. I was excited for this stop because it is the first stop that isn’t a metropolitan city. Our tender boat pulled up to a small platform and upon arrival we were greeted by lines of local children who were eagerly waiting to ‘show us their town’.
According to some of my fellow passengers who have been here before (8 times!), the children might not actually live here. I was told they ‘bring’ them in from neighboring areas to help collect tourist donations. Even so, it is hard to imagine that they live in a village much different than Boca de Valeria. As a matter of fact, O and I took a boat ride around the river, where we saw other villages, and we guess they might live there.
Holland America has been stopping here for the past several years, so the locals have come to know what to expect from the tourists. They anxiously hope for US dollars, school supplies, chocolates, or other souvenirs. As soon as you arrive ashore, they gently try to hold your hand and take you around the village, in hopes of obtaining the almighty ‘dollar’. Most of the children have sloths, iguanas, a variety of birds, turtles, and other animals for you to take photos with. You are expected to give them a dollar if you want to hold their animal or take a photo with them. I wasn’t brave enough to hold a sloth (because, well, nature!) but O and I did find a nice family we were happy to give our dollars and chocolates to. I purposely sought out the ones that weren’t at the dock trying to chase after the tourists.
After we mingled with the locals, I put on my famous net hat and trekked through the Amazon jungle! Yes, me, in the jungle. Surprisingly there weren’t
many animals, but there was an endless bounty of trees and forest. We went for about half an hour before deciding to turn around, as the small path began to get overgrown and disappear, so I figured I had seen enough of the inner jungle for the day. I was surprised at the amount of dogs that were running around the area, and that the sound of barking dogs was so prevalent in the Amazon.
Despite the fact that tourism has clearly made an impression on the village, it is still a remote village nonetheless, and I still felt that authenticity of the Amazon around me. We decided to take a small boat ride around the river and were delighted that our driver decided to take us to his village. He took us to his home of Valeria, and we saw the local church and his home. We even met his grandfather. It was a bit of a hike up the hill, but the view at the top was rewarding. It was incredible that they had power lines running throughout the Amazon and even had satellites! Technology in the midst of nature.
As we lined up to take our tender boat back to the ship, I watched the children devouring the chocolates that had been handed out, and immediately noticed all the debris on the floor. Are we doing them favors by bringing our outside gifts? I’m not sure. I can see it is positive for them to make extra money by selling their crafts, but I am skeptical about tourism in remote places. I guess we have to learn to be responsible tourists, and they have to maintain their culture and way of life. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed being a part of their lives even for a few hours. I admit however, that I was happy to back on board in the air condition and comfort of modern living. The enthusiasm of the locals was fun to be around, but it is evident humans can disrupt and corrupt nature, and I only hope that nature and tradition is stronger than we are. In the meantime, I will keep trying to do my part.
Part 2: Manaus and neighboring villages
The city of Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon with a whopping 2 million people! It was a bustling city, but still primitive in its own way. We took a tour of the river so we could see all the major sites: the meeting of the waters, pink dolphins, a tribal village, and jungle animals.
The meeting of the waters is where the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers come together, but do not mix. There is a definitive line where the waters meet, and it is cool to see.
My father calls it the ying and yang waters, but it is also called the marriage of the waters. You can decide what name you like best.
Next on our riverboat tour, we stopped at a small dock, and didn’t know why we were there. ‘Dolphina’, our driver said, and I was excited to see a pink dolphin swimming in the water. Then a local jumped in the water with a bucket of fish and several dolphins came swimming from the river. Then they invited me into the water to swim with them. I had no bathing suit and was unaware that this opportunity would present itself. In no time, however, I had found myself in the water petting and playing with these friendly creatures. I have swam with dolphins in the Caribbean and Florida, but this was a unique experience because they were out in the wild, with no cages and no restrictions. They of course know where to swim to get ‘free fish’, and the local in the water seemed well acquainted with most of the dolphins swimming nearby. He bravely held the fish in the air for them to jump for, and they snapped at it too, but never bit his fingers. . I was told one of the dolphins was 30 years old, which is like 90 in human years. It was exhilarating to be with them, and I loved this chance encounter.
We also stopped at a tribal village where there were several huts and indigenous
people. They were dressed for the occasion, or rather undressed, in their traditional tribal garb. Although I doubt they wear this on a daily basis, the tribal village was authentic, as we met an American who was living there with a non-profit organization and was helping to dig a well for fresh water. We were fortunate they were there because she was a fantastic translator. We saw authentic dances and songs and even danced with them as a tradition of being welcomed to their village. Learning about the culture and history of the village was fascinating, and O got to dance with the chief’s wife! We bought some hand-crafted souvenirs from them to support the village and really enjoyed our time there. On our way out, the chief’s son quickly noticed my dad’s kung fu pants and said that he also studies kung fu when he goes into the city, but spends most of his time in his village working. He was sad he was unable to practice kung fu often because he doesn’t get a lot of time to leave the village. I told him the philosophy
of kung fu means hard work, and it is obvious that here in his village he is always practicing kung fu, because he is working hard. (Well, the translator told him) He smiled and seemed grateful to learn this philosophy.
Finally, we cruised the smaller nooks of the river and stopped off at different points ashore to observe and meet some jungle animals that are both in the wild and kept by the locals. Tina got her sloth
photo, and we also met an anaconda, alligator, and monkeys.
Leaving the primitive jungle to return to the large city of Manaus reminded us of how diverse the world is. Even within a couple hours of this heavily populated city, there remain people that are still living in the jungle. I was told that if we look out at night from our ship, we could see flames in the jungle, where even more primitive tribes exist. It was sad that in the city it felt a bit ‘unsafe’ due to the high reports of tourist crime, however we met some nice tourist policia that are there to help us get around the city and protect us. Our new friend Candido, was excited to meet English speakers and was eager to practice English with us, and shared his goal to become a diplomat. We saw churches, government buildings,
the less impressive fish market, and even had a night at the opera house with an Amazon choir. I enjoy exploring new cultures, meeting locals, and loved my Amazon experience.
Don’t forget Culture Chat with Mimi Chan Podcast is live on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher! I have an episode on the Amazon Experience too!