With a Little Help From My (New) Friends…

Breakfast Buffet at Hostel Mariana

May 18th, 2011 – Woke before dawn and had trouble getting back to sleep – I’m pretty sure the Spirits came and removed my stitches last night. Just a feeling… Finally fell back to sleep and woke again at 6:40. Breakfast buffet was laid out  for myself and a couple other guests. The entire Hostel Mariana is highly attractive. Attention is paid to detail, and there is an artistry, a professionalism about the place that is above the norm for hostels. I appreciate that type of care to a business, as that is the same class of quality I try to aspire to in my own life. I greatly rnjoyed the place, and highly recommend Hostel Mariana, if you’re ever in Brazil’s Gold Country.

Hostel Mariana along the River

Caught the 8 a.m. bus back to Ouro Preto. The visit to Mariana was just a quick one, as I was down to only a week left in my trip to Brazil before flying back to the U.S., and there were still so many places I wanted to see. Back in Ouro Preto, I tried a different Hostel this time, one next door to the one I stayed at last time. This one, Hostel Brama, had fantastic views of Ouro Preto from its terrace patio, a nicer breakfast spread, great bathrooms and showers, and free maps.

Ouro Preto in the Sun

After checking in, I walked down into town and visited the Museum Casa dos Comos, Museum Oratory, Museum of the Inconfidencia, and Museum of Aleijadinho (Little Cripple). The last museum houses a fraction of the work of the sculptor who is so famous in Brazil.  Aleijadinho’s story is spellbindinding. During his prime years he was a socialite and womanizer, but as he got older he became afflicted with a disease that ate away his fingers and hands, toes and feet.

Tribure to Brazil's Greatest Sculptor

Near the end of his life, when he created his greatest sculptural masterpieces, the carving chisels he used had to be bound onto the stumps at the ends of his arms for him to work, and he had to be assisted to his worksite by helpers lifting and carrying him, as he could no longer walk on his own. He became more and more reclusive in his retiring years, and died alone. But the sculptures he created in his last decade are the most astonishing creation of his entire lifetime, though all his works were highly masterful.

A Cathedral Honoring Aleijadinho

After all the museum going, I was ready for a delicious cup of coffee – coffee in Brazil is to die for, not your normal North American brew – and a slice of leek quiche with a side of cherry tomato salad. Yummy! Just remembering it makes my mouth water. Divinity!

That night the full moon hung over the town of Ouro Preto (Yellow Gold) and myself and two young women from Belgium, teachers on Sabbatical traveling the world together for one year, enjoyed watching it ride the night sky for over an hour.

Steep Cobblestone Streets in Ouro Preto

I didn’t sleep much that night – my travel alarm battery had died and I was worried about missing the 7 a.m. bus to Lavras Novas (New Land), a mountain village I had heard about. It was off the beaten path, but supposed to be a unique town of great beauty and interesting history, and I wanted to see it. Black slaves who had rebelled and freed themselves from the gold mining regimes had broken away and started their own free village at Lavras Novas.

The bus ride to Lavros Novas was interesting – I was the only fair skin on it. Everyone else’s skin was quite dark, and most people were male.

Fun House in Lavros Novas

The drive up into the distant mountain village took us through large factory villages with fire spewing 30’ out the tops of tall chimney stacks, and the factories enclosed by large cement walls with heavily gated entrances.

When the bus arrived in Lavros Novas, the town was wrapped and folded in a cloud. I could see little beyond 100’ – and nothing was open, not even the Tourist Office.

A Hotel in Lavros Novas

I waited 20 minutes outside the door of the Tourist Office while a young black man tried to get the woman inside to open for me. Meanwhile, she was inside, singing beautiful, uplifting songs to her Lord.  I started to notice the religious statues on the rooftop and at the corners. She may have been singing morning hymns to her Saints. In any case, she didn’t open, so I left and walked on down through the town with no map, not knowing where I was going, more or less lost in a cloud, viewing buildings and businesses in this small, early morning, dead-quiet, lovely little town.

A House in Lavros Novas

I found a coffee shop and met Cintia – an amazing woman who said she was on her way to walk to Ouro Preto with her little day pack – that would be almost 17 miles! She had owned a bookstore in Lavros Novas, but had sold it. Now she did business in stones and gems. She’s lived all over the world – Italy, Ecuador, Columbia, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, and several other countries I cannot remember. She said she spoke only two languages – Portuguese and Italian, yet her English was very understandable and clearly she must have known some Spanish. After enjoying a lively conversation with her, she left the coffee shop to walk to Ouro Preto.

The Basilica with Aleijadinho's Sculptures in Congonhas

I had originally thought I’d take the 4 p.m. bus back to Ouro Preto, but after finding my way around in the fog for an hour, I decided to take the 10 a.m. bus back. Halfway back to Ouro Preto, the bus stopped at a desolate corner of road crossings and picked up Cintia – it was great to see her again. When we arrived in Ouro Preto, she and I walked part way up the road together until she spotted her beau from Argentina – a new male friend of hers, and we parted ways.

Sculptures of Saints at the Basilica

I checked out of my hostel and caught a 1:15 p.m. bus to Congonhas, the town where many late life sculptures by Aleijadinho were featured at the Basilica. A sweet and very helpful young woman helped me make my connections via taxi to see the Basilica in just one hour, before catching the next bus to the city further on, Sao Joao del Rei, for the night. It was a bunch of craziness, but it all came off like clockwork, thanks to her.

From the Basilica looking down on Congonhas

Many thanks to you again, Laize Resende! Her assistance helped me greatly in seeing a very special place in Brazil. She is a young woman studying to be a lawyer, and by now is already practicing in Ouro Preto. She, also, was going to be catching the bus on to Sao Joao del Rei, and we later became seat mates on that ride.

Laize, my helpful new friend

The taxi waited for me in the Basilica parking area while I spent less than half an hour dashing from one area to another, snapping photos incessantly of the incredible sculptures and taking as much in as possible with the short time I had. The taxi then raced me back to the Rodoviario, and I caught the bus on to Sao Joao del Rei, where Leisi and I sat next to each other. During that bus ride, we went through an incredibly beautiful, drenching downpour of a rainstorm. The salmon and gray colors in the clouds were intense, and the high mountain roads offered stunning views of wet, green vistas in every direction. Laize filled me in on all types of information of the area. She disembarked in a remote part of the landscape, with the bus pulling over to the side of a field, and her father picking her up in a pick-up truck. We waved good-bye.

The Greenway through Sao Joao del Rei

At Sao Joao del Rei I was all prepared to have a taxi driver rip-off con-artist try me again, but fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that – a stunningly beautiful black-haired woman, LuAnna, who had sat in front of my seat on the bus, offered to give me a lift to wherever I needed to go, via her Mother. Apparently she had overheard much of Laize’s and my conversation, and she wished to be of assistance to a visitor from the U.S. to Brazil! What an incredibly delightful offer! Of course, I accepted. Her mother met us at the bus stop, and they proceeded to drive me all over the small city of Sao Joao del Rei. The town was quite attractive, and I was glad I had made this place an overnight stay on my way out of Brazil.

Horse and Cart in Sao Joao del Rei

When she finally dropped me off at Vila Hostel, she told me she was friends with the owner, Victor. It turned out he owns another hostel in Tiradentes, another gold mining town I planned to visit by steam train the next day. After checking in to my dorm room, I walked to a charming little restaurant and had a vegetarian rice dish, and later on to another place in a small shopping center that served me up a delicious ice cream cone. Finally, back again at the Vila Hostel, I realized I was the only one there. Slept on an excellent, firm mattress, crisp clean sheets and noiseless night – heavenly!

Full Moon Over Ouro Preto, Taken from Hostel Brama

 

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Ouro Preto and Mariana – Gold Country!

Ouro Preto from the Rodoviario

Rose at 5:30 a.m. to catch the taxi I was sharing back to the Airport in Brasilia. The night was still inky black-blue and two bright planets were shining just above the skyline – gorgeous! A rooster started crowing perched atop the stone wall fence across the street – he was silhouetted against the bare beginnings of early dawn. It was a special sight I’ll always remember, wrapped into the entire euphoric experience of John of God’s Casa!

The Cathedral just above my Hostel

The taxi delivered us to the airport in an hour, where I waited until 3:00 p.m. for my flight to Belo Horizonte. Arrived at 4:30 and took an Airport bus to the Rodoviario. Hopped in a taxi to try to find a particular hostel I had read about in my guide book, but unfortunately it was no longer in business. There was one other hostel I had considered, and he whisked me off to it. A high rise building in the busy downtown area, it was quite noisy, but clean and well maintained. I met a woman, Niki, from South Africa, who was also traveling to check out somewhere new to live. She was on her way to the Chapada Diamentina. There is a valley on the west side of the park she was going to explore that is known for its organic gardens and sustainable community.

Main Plaza in Ouro Preto

Belo Horizonte reminded me of San Francisco – the architecture, the steep hills it is built on, the cooler climate, and the trolley cars were all highly reminiscent of the City by the Bay. I want to return someday when I can spend more time there. But my destination was the historical gold mining town of Ouro Preto. My bus left at 8 a.m. and I was in Ouro Preto by 10 a.m.

Ouro Preto from Hilltop Park

Ouro Preto is built on steep mountain slopes with cobble stone streets and more than its share of turreted cathedrals. Sadly, the rivers are filthy with litter and dirty water. After checking into my hostel, I hiked up to Morro da Forca, a flat hilltop park with fantastic vistas. Later, while sitting at the glorious restaurant “Deguste”sipping a cup of divine coffee, I gazed up at the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (a cathedral) directly in front of me and contemplated life. It  was a beautiful day, and I was extraordinarily thankful to have come to Brazil! Grateful to be alive!

From "Deguste's" Looking up to Cathedral

That evening I explored more businesses in the downtown area, and attended a theatre to see “Hereafter,” a Matt Damon flick that had been subtitled in Spanish. Back at the hostel I went to bed before 10 p.m. and tried to stay warm that night – it was freezing cold!

Breakfast in the morning was relatively Spartan – it turned out I was the only guest at the hostel, so they hadn’t wasted any money on breakfast food! While sitting on the patio feeding the birds, a young man arrived and took breakfast, also. He was from Florida and had been laid off from his job. Since he had received a relatively good severance package, he had come to Brazil to study Portuguese, and had been living there for 6 months. He started feeding the birds, too, and we talked for quite a while.

Train Station in Mariana

Later that morning I walked through town to catch the bus to the next gold mining town, Mariana. Upon arriving at the Rodoviario in Mariana, I got ripped off by the taxi driver again – that was the second time. Gringas are easy targets, I guess, but it was teaching me how to make a better deal the next time. I was dropped off at the Mariana Hostel, a beautiful and spotlessly clean, new building run by an English-speaking man.

Park Side Street up to Cathedral

The historic gold mining town of Mariana is absolutely charming. Wide cobblestone streets that are mostly flat, freshly painted buildings, a central town park with water features, artistic classy shops, and friendly smiling people are just a few of the stand-out qualities of this incredible place. I strolled around town and went into one museum and two churches. The work of one of Brazil’s most famous sculptors – Aleijandinho – was in one of the churches. The quality of his sculpture is clearly superior to anything else I’ve seen in Brazil.

Water Feature in Mariana's Central Park

While walking around town I met Antonio Paulo, a young man who not only owns a sweets and coffee shop on the main street in town across from the park, but also a franchise of #1Number One English School, a chain company in Brazil. He offered me a job teaching English, and took me for a tour of the school and its classrooms. I met some of the other English teachers, and some of the students, too. It was a tempting offer, and I let him know I’d think about it.

Antonio's Sweets and Coffee Shop

Later in the afternoon I walked up the highest hill overlooking the town, to the Igreja de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos, the cathedral perched on top. The sun was getting low against the distant mountains, and I returned to the Mariana Hostel for an early retirement. The Spirits were supposed to come that night and remove the stitches from my Spiritual Operation, and I wanted to be ready.

The Highest Cathedral in Mariana

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Eye, Nose and Spiritual Surgeries

John of God Performing Nose Surgery

Wednesday – The town was full – there wasn’t an extra room at a hotel to be found. Over 200 people were at the Casa all dressed in white, the suggested clothing color. They had come from everywhere on earth for every type of health reason imaginable.

Before John of God came on the low stage in front of the packed audience, another gentleman addressed the crowd for over 30 minutes, all in Portuguese. Comprehending only a few words, I understood him to be explaining how the healing works. The person receiving the healing must be strong in their faith and prayers to help facilitate the change they need. Without much introduction, John of God was suddenly standing before us onstage, only 10 feet from me. The first speaker stepped to the back, and John of God began talking, in Portuguese, of course.

The Man Who Had Eye Surgery - Post Operation

His voice was deep and mesmerizing, even and peaceful. He was already in a trance state – his eyes were in another world. I was very near the front of the audience – I figured if I came this far to see what it was all about I wasn’t going to stand way in the back. A number of people around me and in front of me were videoing him with their small point and shoot digital cameras. I considered doing that, too, but thought it seemed disrespectful to be filming, considering the spiritual nature of the whole event.

Eye Healed With No Pain 2 Days After Operation

John of God spoke for about 20 minutes, then turned and conducted a quick eye surgery onstage – the young man had been patiently waiting onstage for almost an hour, and I’d been watching him having difficulty standing in the position they had put him in. The eye surgery consisted of an assistant coming onstage with a tray of instruments, John of God picking out a scraping tool that looked like a knife, holding the young man’s eyeball open and scraping the inside of the eyeball closest to the nose.  I didn’t see any blood, but it looked like it must have been painful.

Bust of a Healing Saint Who Assists John of God in Spirit Form

When the patient was guided offstage by assistants, a young woman came onstage and John of God performed a nose surgery. This was gruesome to watch. She was holding her belly and I thought she must have colon cancer or some other abdominal issue, but when he approached her he stuck the 4 ½” long tweezers directly up her right nostril, twisted it around and pulled it back out. Blood spurted down the front of her white blouse and skirt. Aidan and I exchanged cringing glances, while everyone else was capturing it on photos and video. Not me. Too gross.

Lindo Horizonte, My Hotel

She was escorted off-stage to a private room. John of God called for all those who were having Spiritual Operations to form a line and go through the Current Room first. This is a room where people sit together in prayer and meditation, and you must walk through them to stand before him to receive your “reading.” The line was long but moved fast, and during the short 2 seconds I stood before him he gave his pronouncement to my “handler” to have me come back at 2 p.m. for my operation.

I was terrified at first – an operation! Not after what I’d seen earlier…but then I realized it was a Spiritual Operation he was talking about, not a Physical Operation, as you have to ask for one of those, and no way was I doing that!

24 Hours of Post-Surgery Rest in My Hotel Room

I suddenly learned, after speaking to one of the volunteers, that I would not be able to go to the waterfall until Friday, because after you have an operation you must sleep for an entire day – 24 hours! Even then, on my return to the Casa on Friday, I must ask permission from John of God directly to be able to visit the waterfall, which is a very sacred area.

Before the 2 p.m. operation, I had to figure out where I would be in a week, as the spirits visit you a week after your operation to take out the “stitches”, and they need an address that you must provide on a slip of paper into a collection basket. I determined I would be in the gold mining town of Mariana, and provided the address of a Hostel.

Flowers Outside my Hotel

I got in line for the 2 p.m. operation, and witnessed a wedding ceremony that was held on stage before the line started moving. Once the line moved forward, we filed through four Current Rooms until we were silently requested to sit in the last Current Room with our eyes closed, our right hand over our heart, and left hand resting on our left leg with palm up. We sat in that position for about 25 minutes, receiving the healing operation from the spirits. Interesting lights and visions played behind my eyelids, and finally we were requested to stand up and file quietly out into the bright daylight. We had had our Spiritual Operation.

Checking out the Crystals

Our “prescription” that John of God had given each of us that morning  – a scribbled handwriting on a slip of paper – was now necessary to fill over at the Pharmacy, which carried the healing herb capsules. The Pharmacy was just an open window you stood before, showed your slip of paper to, they transcribed it and set out the appropriate amount of bottles, and you paid. My prescription called for 5 bottles. all the bottles are the same – everyone receives the same herbs, it’s just a matter of how many bottles are prescribed to you to purchase. From there I went to the Bookstore to buy some more Blessed Water, and from there back to my hotel room to try sleeping for the required 24 hours.

Delicious Foods at Frutti's

I slept all night and until noon the next day, but after that I simply wasn’t tired. In fact, I was downright antsy. The 24 hour resting requirement after the surgery specifically and strictly called for no reading, no internet use, no writing and no TV. The TV ban didn’t bother me, but the reading, writing and Internet did.  I decided to go for a gentle walk, and over to Frutti’s for a delicious sandwich and coffee.

Frutti's BackYard Spirit Artist

On Friday I stood in line before John of God to ask permission to go to the waterfall, and it was granted. The walk down to the waterfall is on a peaceful dirt road descending on a moderate grade for about ¾ mile to a large dirt parking lot. A paved trail strikes out from there, and curves back and forth down the canyon to a gate, where a single person of either sex must wait for another of the same sex before going through the gate on down to the waterfall and pool. It’s a matter of protection and safety. I waited for about 5 minutes, and three women showed up. They waited at the gate while I walked down the last 100 feet to the waterfall, ducked my head quickly under the spray – it wasn’t too cold – splashed water over my body and then headed back up to the gate so they could go on down and enjoy it.

A Portrait of Her Spirit

Back up at the Casa I witnessed John of God performing another nose surgery on a woman. This time he had a gauze tip on the end of the tweezers, and he didn’t twist them once they were rammed up her nostril. There was no blood this time, either…made me wonder what had happened to the other woman. At lunch I overheard the eye surgery recipient talking about how the pain in his eye had disappeared in only one day, right after he had prayed to Mary Magdalene. Now he planned to have the same surgery done to his other eye! I also talked with the woman who had the bloody nose surgery, and she said it hadn’t really hurt, and that she was all healed up a day later. Amazing!

Supper with New Casa Friends

The rest of my stay in Abadiania focused around hearing people’s stories – why they were there and how they had heard of John of God, eating good food with new friends, lots of laughter, more visits to the waterfall, and watching the incredible night sky studded with stars as big and bright as diamonds. It was an amazing week, and I would highly recommend it as a place to visit while in Brazil. For me, it was a time of spiritual reverence and respect of dimensions and energies most of us know so little about. I am sure there are dozens of spirits at John of God’s Casa – even the night photographs I took showed hundreds of orbs!!

Orbs - Not Lens Dust

More Orbs

Sunset From the Casa

 

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John of God’s in Abadiania

Walkway to my Room at Lindo Horizonte

May 10th, 2011 – Walked about a mile in the morning to the Rodoviario, and caught an earlier bus than the one I was ticketed for.  Seated next to Oliver, a bright, young videographer from the U.S., I listened intently as he explained how he had been hired to work for an NGO in Brazil, only to discover the real purpose of the NGO was to extract money from the government, not provide humanitarian assistance as it purported. He was quite disgusted with them, and after working for about 6 months he was quitting and returning home.

In the Garden

It reminded me somewhat of my discoveries back in 1987 about how the field of archaeology worked, which also left me disillusioned and disgusted. I had thought I had found the one line of work that couldn’t be adulterated with greed, ego and corruption. I’d already seen how yellow and controlled journalism was, and how the field of education was manipulated. But was I ever wrong with archaeology! What I learned is that when funding is limited, even archaeologists will go to any means to get them, including denigrating, discrediting and trying to destroy other leading archaeologists who are vying for the same funding.

Peter, Myself and Aidan

The bus pulled away from the gas station in Abadiania after I deboarded, and I waved goodbye to Oliver. I had no idea where I was in the town. While glancing at a map in my guidebook I saw two men striding along near the highway. I called out to them and waved, and Peter and Aidan became my new best friends for the entire week of my visit at John of God’s. They walked me to the proper street and delivered me at the doorstep of my hotel. Peter was there to be healed of cancer, and Aidan was there to be with him. They were wonderful, happy and funny, with an incorrigible sense of humor.

Casa Gardens

After checking into my large, clean room at the Lindo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon), I took a stroll down the street to the Casa de Dom – John of God’s spiritual healing center. It a large block of many buildings: meditation rooms, a book and crystal store, a kitchen and seating area, therapy rooms, and outdoor seating areas overlooking the valley view. A trail leads from the far end of the property down to a waterfall lower in the canyon.

Large Crystals at the Crystal Shop

John of God is well known around the world as a healer. The healing is facilitated by spirits that work through him. As a young boy he was “told” by spirits that his life would be of service to others by giving them healings, and he has kept to that for many decades. He’s a busy person – he also owns a cattle ranch. He has travelled the world facilitating healings for those who come to him. One of the rooms at the Casa holds dozens of pairs of wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and other apparatus left behind by people who have been healed and no longer need them. I had heard about John of God several years ago, and wanted to witness a healing, and experience the Casa in person.

Casa Room full of Discarded Crutches, Etc.

The place was quiet with very few people around, as it was early in the week and John of God is there only on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I took two back-to-back sessions of Crystal Bed Therapy for a total of 40 minutes. Lying on the massage-like table and covered with a light cotton sheet, the soft ethereal music relaxed me into an almost dreamlike state. Above my body running from my head to my hips, a row of crystals cast their chakra-colored lights onto the corresponding chakras of my body. While drifting into realms of deeper relaxation, I noticed some vibrational effects or energy traversing up and down my abdomen. When the session was over, I felt exceptionally calm, peaceful and at one with the world.

Long Distance Views from nearby the Casa

Walking back to Lindo Horizonte, the incredible beauty of the surrounding countryside came alive. There were views in all directions of green hills and valleys, and wide expansive skies of blue, with a peach-colored sunset unfolding. Flowering trees and fragrant bushes lined the streets, and a deep sense of peace and beauty permeated the entire landscape. Between the relaxation, the natural beauty and the heavenly scents, I slept like a baby that night in the best room I’d stayed in during my entire trip in Brazil.

Evening Sky at the Casa

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Brasilia – The Modern Architecture Capitol of Brazil

The Lovely Women at My Favorite Coffee Shop

May 7th, 2011 – A warmer, sunnier day dawned on my final morning in the Amazon. I caught one last coffee at my favorite coffee shop with the lovely young ladies who work there before catching my flight to Brasilia.

Arrived in the evening to Brasilia and caught a taxi to Pousado do Sol – don’t ever go there. I won’t bore you with the details, but in hindsight I can see why I was charged for the rooms up front – had I had a chance to experience the first night there, I wouldn’t have stayed the second.

Taken From the TV Tower

I spent my one full day in Brasilia visiting the major architectural sites of interest. It is an impressive capitol city laid out on several miles of long greenbelt. From the air, the city looks like a large bird with outstretched wings. The layout of the streets and highways define the shape of the bird. It is a planned city, and was built in a relatively short time to replace the old capitol city which had no room for growth. Brasilia will be the location of the World Soccor Cup in 2012 and the Olympic Games in 2014.

Congressional Headquarters

On one end of the long greenbelt is a tall, Eiffel Tower-like TV Tower that has a viewing platform 75 meters up. From there, one can look down the entire greenbelt to the Brazil’s capitol buildings – the President’s Office, the Congressional Headquarters, and the Judicial Seat – the Supreme Court. I visited each of these buildings, took tours, pictures and pamphlets of them and many other equally impressive buildings.

The President's Building

Outside the Supreme Court I made the mistake of sitting down on the marble steps to look through some printed material I had picked up inside. Immediately a guard came briskly striding toward me, and demanded I remove myself from the steps. As I looked around, I noticed that there were no benches or seats anywhere near the Supreme Court, and guessed it was a safety issue – someone might leave an explosive package behind on a bench seat, or something of that nature. I left and went to the nearest bench several hundred feet away, into the center of the greenbelt.

The Supreme Court with Arches

Later in the afternoon I tried to locate the correct ticket office from the dozens of counters at the Rodoviario to purchase tomorrows bus ticket to John of God’s, about a one hour drive to the west of Brasilia in the town of Abadiania. I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English around the Rodoviario, so finally I tried talking with a police officer. He had me come sit in their police office at the Rodoviario, and called another officer on his cell phone.

Building with Waterfalls into Pools

That officer pulled up in his patrol car within about 10 minutes, and HE SPOKE ENGLISH! They ushered me into the patrol car and whisked me one block around to the other side of the Rodoviario where the proper ticket office was. The English speaking officer accompanied me to the ticket window and made sure I received the correct ticket, and paid the correct price, for tomorrows bus ride to Abadiania! I was quite well taken care of by them – what a bunch of sweeties!

Church along Green Belt

In the afternoon I went to a large amusement park not far from the TV Tower, and enjoyed watching the wild rides the folks were receiving on some of the crazy apparatuses. It was a hot, dry day, so much different from the damp humidity of the Amazon, that I enjoyed trying out the water mister the park made available to the public. It felt fantastic! People were even misting their dogs!

Teatro Nacional - National Theatre

After walking around all day, I took a shrimp salad dinner and a  beer at an attractive outdoor restaurant not far from my Pousada. It was quite a surprise when it arrived – I’ve never seen such small shrimps! One thing I’ve noticed while in Brazil – if they say salami pizza, it’s made with one piece of salami – the rest is plain pizza, or a vegetable omelet means one piece of vegetable with the rest being nothing but eggs.

Fountains below the TV Tower

I emailed Mom “Happy Mother’s Day” wishes and let her know where I was, then headed back to the Pousada. What I underwent that night I wouldn’t wish on an enemy, if I had one. The only other guest in the dungeon (subterranean room) was directly across the hall from me, and he was spraying Raid furiously to rid himself of the mosquitoes. The Raid permeated my room to the point of making the air unbreathable.

Wild & Crazy Amusement Park Rides

When I complained to him, he brought over his fan, which I was grateful for and did help a little. But then he stayed up all night with his lights on, which shone into my room, and he played his music til 6:30 a.m., prepping for his first day on a new job. Sometime in the middle of the night a dog barked for 10 minutes straight and it was so loud he could have been right in my room! And a baby cried upstairs during the night for another 15 minutes at one point. I literally did not get any sleep the entire night! Gruesome, torturous, miserable night.  Glad to leave in the morning.

Amusement Park Misters

Santurio Dom Busca - the famous blue-windowed church

Santurio Dom Busca

Sweets at La Dolce Vita

More Sweets

Simply the Most Delicious Gelato I've Ever Tasted!

Torteria di Lorenza - the restaurant attached to the sweet shop

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Heart Beat of the Amazon – Port of Manaus

Early Manaus

May 6th, 2011 – This was my last full day in Manaus, and I wanted to see as many of the historic sites as I could before departing the next day to Brasilia, the capitol city of Brazil, and then on the John of God. I walked the short two blocks over to the Palacia de los Negros (Palace of the Amazons). It was once the old Governor’s Mansion, but when the rubber boom went belly-up, the Governor went bankrupt and left the Amazon.

Palacia de Los Negros

The building was well maintained and displayed the elegance of its era. Circular wooden staircases constructed without nails, the three different colored woods of the Amazon (black, white, and yellow), bronze and marble busts and statues, black wood furniture that looked like cocobola wood, large European paintings, iron railings from Scotland, floor tiling from Italy, and well groomed gardens. It was amazing to look at the old photos on the Palacia walls and see how much like conventional Europe the entire town of Manaus looked just 3 centuries ago. Now when you walk through the city streets, it feels like a densely packed city scene from “Blade Runner.” What changes have occurred!

Wooden Staircases with no Nails

I walked again to the Palais do Policia, to experience my favorite coffee shop in the city one more time. It was air-conditioned, quiet, elegant and the coffee was delicious. The insane craziness of the outside city was a world away. Inside the coffee shop, there was peace and order and civilness. Outside, there was wretched heat and humidity and the overwhelming press of humanity.

After my reprieve from the masses, I ventured out again into the muggy heat, and walked down to the Port of Manaus on the Amazon River.

Groomed Grounds

The bustle of life at the Port was intense – if one was observing it from above, it would have looked similar to a very large anthill with ants running in every direction, doing all kinds of jobs. I was riveted by the amount of various activities that were being conducted in every direction, on water, land and air.

Port of Manaus

While shooting pictures in every direction along the waterfront, I moved one street back and started shooting more pictures of the large market places that sell goods from all up and down the Amazon – fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs, souvenirs, books, clothing, art – you name it, it’s there!

Camera Crew for one of Lady GaGa's Designers

While photographing everything, I noticed a Korean film crew with a bald-headed middle-aged man who seemed to be the focus of attention. I kept seeing them throughout the aisles of the market – we kept serendipitously bumping into each other at the end of each lane. Finally I spoke with a young man and woman who were with the entourage, and learned that the center-of-attention was a famous designer for the likes of Lady GaGa!!! He was trying on hats, holding up clothes, putting on the ham for the camera…he seemed to be having a good time. What a stitch – ya gotta go to the Amazon to meet the designers from New York!

A Small Section of the Enormous Fish Market

Continued to stroll through the marketplace, and then on to the old Customs House, and beyond to the floating docks where people board the large cruise ships. The Port of Manaus is the heartbeat of the Amazon. Without the ability to receive and deliver goods from and to the east coast of Brazil by shipping them up the Amazon River, this deep inland jungle would never have become developed. Access to the rich region via the river was pivotal for exporting rubber and receiving necessary provisions. Today, one can easily fly into the area, but even still, without the use of the Amazon River and all its tributaries, this region’s economy would grind to a halt.

Bulk Foods in the Health Food Store

On my walk back to Hostel Manaus I passed a couple bulk health food stores. I’d not seen stores like this before in Brazil, and it was interesting to see the difference between them and similar stores in the United States. Many of the bins were clear square plastic, not round cardboard bins. There were many different types of legumes and grains, but overall the stores were relatively small and appeared to be quite exclusive.

Rooftop Lookout at Hostel Manaus

Later that evening I watched the sunset from the Hostel Manaus rooftop lookout. The sky was clearing, and salmon-colored clouds were back-dropped with pale blue. It was a beautiful evening, and held out promise of a sunny day tomorrow.

 

Port of Manaus

Port of Manaus

One of Many Shrimp Vendors at MarketPlace

Small Section of Meat Market

Fish Vendor at the MarketPlace

The Fish Used to Be Huge

An Old Photo of a Large Fish

Here's a Pretty One

Herbs and Supplements at the MarketPlace

The New York Fashion Designer

 

 

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Piranha, Plantations, and Parrots

Chris's Fresh-Caught Piranha

May 4th, 2011 – Rain was pummeling the tarps above our hammocks from the middle of the night on into the morning, but J.J. was able to revive the fire and make more hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. The rain let up a little and we went for a one-hour hike further on into the jungle, where we saw a “Walking Stick,” some jungle berries in a tree, and wood mushrooms.

The streams in the jungle were high and the woods were very wet, but the temperature was warm. Back at our blue-tarped camp, we packed up and hiked back to the Lodge. “Gen” and the two Slovania women left the Lodge in the afternoon by river boat back to civilazation. That left only the couple from Montreal – Hana and Chris, and myself to share the rest of the day and next day together.

Hana and Chris, J.J. Stearing, Heading Upriver

We all got re-situated in our dorms, and at 3 p.m. J.J. took us out for an afternoon boat trip, where we fished again for Piranha. Chris caught one! They’re difficult to catch, as they’ve become wise to the hook. J.J. caught 2 catfish. AND we finally saw the elusive Pink Dolphin 7 times!!! But they’re so fast when they surface, breathe and dive that it’s impossible to photograph them.

Arriving at the Mandauco Plantation

The afternoon started to clear up, the clouds lifted and only a fine mist was falling. Back at the Lodge, we had a quiet evening and prepared for the next day, when we would be taking a riverboat trip upriver to see people living a farming lifestyle along the river banks.

Peeling Mandauco Root

May 5th – Light drizzle in the morning with some breaks in the clouds – J.J. canceled the Pink Dolphin sunrise trip again. I went up to the lookout tower and watched the clouds clear and the blue sky and sun break through.

After breakfast J.J. took us upriver by boat about 30 minutes to a private residence of local Urubu dwellers who armed their traditional root crop of Mandauco –  a diet staple used similarly as rice in Asia or taro in Hawaii.

Parrots in the Rafters

While visiting at the plantation, we noticed a pair of parrots that, though wild, the family regarded as pets. The parrots perched in the rafters of their simple home and showed no fear of humans. The whole living situation was so close to the earth, that humans here were a part of nature, not separate from it.

The family was hospitable and helpful in explaining how they farmed, harvested, cleaned and processed the Mandauco. We helped them peel a pile of the tubers, and later walked through their plantation.

J.J. Explaining Mandauco Plantation

The root crop is only grown for 2 years in one place, then more jungle must be cleared and the Mandauco replanted onto virgin soil as the old soil is too depleted for it to continue producing a good crop of roots. This short field life – 2 years – is a big part of the jungle deforestation problem. After 2 years when the Mandauco roots are replanted elsewhere, fruit trees are planted on the old Mandauco fields.

Peaceful Afternoon Paddle Before Leaving Lodge to Manaus

After returning downriver to the lodge, Hana, Chris and I took the paddle boat out along the riverbanks, for a quiet boating trip of our own. It was extraordinarily serene and peaceful, and we saw parrots flitting among the treetops. Back again at the Lodge, we swam off the dock, had lunch, then boarded our return boat for the 1-hour river ride to catch the bus back to Manaus. The boat trip back to the town where we caught the bus was incredibly beautiful – blue sky and puffy white clouds across the expanse of big, flat blue water.

Hana, Myself and Chris in Front of Opera House

Back in Manaus, Hana, Chris and I met up for dinner at the Africa House on the Teatro Opera House Plaza. They had to leave the next day to return home to Montreal. They each have excellent jobs with an insurance company, and they take one big trip once a year to different places in the world, and smaller trips within Europe during holidays. In Winter 2012 they planned to go to Patagonia.

Hostel Manaus was almost empty and I had the 6-bed dorm room all to myself. Got a pretty good night’s sleep.

Antonio's Jungle Lodge

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Tarantulas, Torches and Tarps – Overnight in the Jungle

J.J. with Pitch Tree Torch

We all rose very early – 5:20 a.m. – to take a sunrise boat trip, but it was raining and cloudy, so J.J., our guide, canceled the outing. Back to bed until 7 a.m. when an excellent breakfast of eggs and veggies was served – Yum!

Our group headed out on a 3.5 hour jungle hike, with J.J leading the way. The jungle was silent and the canopy high above our heads – at least 70-80′.

Water Collection Drinking Dish from Leaves

The hiking trails were easy to spot, and there were many of them. J.J. wound us around in all different direction, cutting off on one trail after another, to a point where I might have found it difficult to find my way back if I were alone. That’s saying a lot, as navigation is usually an easy thing for me with my biologically built-in compass.

There was little wildlife in the jungle – no monkeys swinging from trees, no creatures dashing across the forest floor except the occasional lizard, and very few birds. J.J. said it was a bad year for viewing animals – the various jungle tree fruits had not developed this year, and there was little food in the jungle to be eaten by the animals.

Ant Tube on Forest Floor

Along the trail J.J. pointed out a pitch tree, made it bleed, cut some small branches to make a torch, and lit the pitch on the end. It was highly flammable and burned very well. It was used as a traditional native night light by natives in the forest. He pointed out various medicinal trees and plants, a small frog with a horrendously loud croak, two very large tarantulas that he coaxed out of their hole in the ground (he called himself the “tarantula whisperer”), a “milk” tree, and a clove tree that gives water, tea, and it’s wood is used for making spoons.

J.J. with Dart and Blow Gun he Just Made

We returned to the lodge for lunch, which was delicious – delicately fried Piranha and veggies. After an afternoon nap/rest, we all packed up our belongings, put them in storage holders, took our day-pack and strode off into the jungle for an overnight camping adventure with J.J. The hike lasted only an hour before we arrived at a blue tarp streched over a row of hammocks next to a stream.

J.J. had us running around collecting wet firewood from the forest floor, while he washed up the chicken and sausages in the nearby stream and stuck them on long pointed sticks he had freshly carved up with his giant knife.

Me Trying the Traditonal Dart Gun

He made up a large fire with the wet wood, and it roared into quite a large blaze, over which he then hung a pot of rice in water.  When the rice was almost cooked he added a bunch of eggs in their shells into the same pot, and let them become hard-boiled for the next breakfast.

J.J., Tarantula and "Gen"

It was a lovely evening even though the woods were damp. There was no rain until the middle of the night, when it came down in torrents and we were all so grateful for the blue tarp above our heads.

Tarantula

Piranha Lunch

Hammocks Under Tarp and "Gen"

Dinner Prep

Chicken and Sausage Washing at Creek

Rice Pot and Meat Cooking at Fire

J.J.'s Freshly Made Utensils From Clove Tree

End of the Day, Me Ready for the Hammock

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Antonio’s Jungle Lodge

Departing from Manaus by Bus

May 2nd, 2011 – An early rise was followed by the Hostel Manaus buffet breakfast, a quick taxi ride across town with others who were going to Antonio’s Jungle Lodge, and boarding the bus at the Rodoviario for the 3 hour ride to our boat launch town. The bus was beautiful – shiny clean, tall, new, and had air-conditioning, thank goodness! It would have been a hot and humid ride without it.

Loading into our Riverboat

After leaving the city of Manaus, which has over a million people, it was refreshing to see the green, lush countryside of the Amazon. Plants and trees of all sizes and shapes were growing everywhere across the landscape with free abandon. Colorful flowers and grasses carpeted the fields and roadsides, and ponds and rivers flowed unfettered back and forth – it was heavenly. Birds of bright colors flew in flocks across the open spaces and between tree branches. It felt like driving through a large natural park, where humans are the visitors in the wildlife’s native home, and in fact, that was the actuality of it.

Heading UpRiver to Antonio's Jungle Lodge

After deboarding the bus and settling into our flat-bottom river boat, we zoomed for another 1.5 hours upriver to finally turn a lush jungle bend and see Antonio’s Jungle Lodge. It was beautifully constructed and attractively laid out against the river’s bank. A delicious spread of lunch was laid out on a buffet table for us, and afterward we took a loop walk through the quiet jungle behind the lodge.

First View of the Lodge

Our guide then took our loaded boat full of people to the flooded forest, which is like gliding through a dense forest about midway up the trunk of the trees – odd. We saw a white frog, white orchids, and got caught in a rain and lightning storm while we were fishing for Pirana in the flooded forest.

Lodge Buffet Lunch

Totally soaked, we headed back to the Lodge to dry off, have dinner, and come out in the boat again in search of the Pink Dolphin and the Caymen (crocodile). The water was too high to spot the Caymen, and too rough from the wind and the rain to see the Pink Dolphin, but we did see an enormous spider – 3 1/2 inches long – running on top of the water!!!

Front Porch on Dorm Rooms

I shared a dorm room with a sweet young woman – “Gen” for Genevieve – from Montreal, Canada. She will be starting work as a criminology sociologist with families or reported child abuse, which seemed odd to me at first because she is so full of positiveness and joy of life, that I found it strange she should be working in a field that could be so dark and laden with horrors. But, on thinking further about it, she is probably exactly the right person to be in that line of work – she can bring great rays of sunlight into dark holes of despair.

View of River from Lookout

Night was still and deep, with occasionally lightning struck in the far distance and flashed across the flat expanse of river and jungle. Sleep came easily.

In the Flooded Forest

White Frog

Thundercoulds Across the Amazon

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High Culture in the Wild Amazon

Inside the Teatro Opera House

Sunday, May 1st, 2011 – Slow morning, slept in, hot and muggy Amazon weather. Finally motivated and went for a stroll to see some national landmarks, but they were all closed – I’d forgotten it was Sunday. Back at Hostel Manaus I visited with the women who would be attending the Opera tonight, and then headed out into the city of Manaus once again, to explore.

Wooden Floor of Opera House

Found a huge Sunday Street Market, ate some delicious market food, met up with the women later on, and had a pre-Opera meal at the Africa House on the Teatro Opera Plaza. Within another hour we were standing in line for the Opera. Most people were dressed up quite nicely, heels, dresses, jewelry, suits…it was quite impressive to see that hundreds of years after the Opera house had been built, it was still drawing sell-out crowds.

Chandelier and Ceiling Mural

Once inside, the Teatro (theatre) itself was stunning. Chandeliers and gold gilt paint, large murals and highly polished wooden floors. What a building!  It was well-maintained and clean as a whistle.

The performance of “Dialogues Des Carmelites” was well performed, and the story was moving.

Almost a Full House

But more than the opera itself, the entire theatre and it’s architecture, lighting, sound, seating – it was an overwhelming experience of elegance and history to behold in an area of Brazil that was so known for wild Amazonians with long bows and arrows and wild boar tusks slicing sideways through their nostrils. An amazing contrast of differences. After the performance we walked in the moonlight through the dark streets back to Hostel Manaus, lost in thought. Tomorrow was departure day for the Amazon Jungle Tour, and the bus was departing early.

Myself and the two Scottish Women at the Opera House

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