Going Native – Parque Anavilhanas

Lalo in an açai tree. Because, why not?

After the afternoon of sheer terror (see yesterday’s blog), I asked our tour guide Aurecir for a day of “menos emoção“or less emotion. Code words for could we just float around and see stuff without the real chance of capsizing the boat and dying in this large river? So we were off to Parque Anavilhanas, a protected archipelego of around 400 islands. Some of these islands are not islands anymore in the dry season, but we were still in the “full” phase of the river. We were going to explore the igapós.

One of my favorite words in the entire Brazilian Portuguese language (including indigenous Tupi, in this case) is igapó. (ig-ah-POH). The word describes the flooded forest of the wet season–instead of trails like the one we took yesterday, we were taking our small boat through the trees that spent half a year partially submerged. It is magical, mysterious, delicious with sights, smells and sounds. You can find out more about igapós here.

Yeah, sorry about the kid’s butt int his shot but look how pretty!

We meandered through several of these trails in the flooded forest, then out into sheltered coves, down long river paths. I loved this day–wind in the hair, sun overhead, green forest, black river. I could drive around on the Amazon forever. Or until a storm comes. Then I am so out.

We then docked at the floating park headquarters, Base I of the Anavilhanas National Park. Parked next to us and towering above was what looked like a Mississippi riverboat. As we got out on the attached floating log dock, we were passed by lots of beard-overgrown, questionably garbed college students who were studying the forest for a semester. They lived on the riverboat and slept in hammocks strung across the decks. When questioned by my mother-in-law (a college biology professor), the students happily explained the leaves that they had collected.

Jorge the caiman

Then the park ranger chucked some chicken in the water and Jorge appeared. In reality, it took some time for Jorge to be interested in the chicken–he must get lots of snacks. Jorge was a really really large caiman who hangs out near the park headquarters waiting for chicken, or possibly one of the coeds to take a swim. He was singularly unconcerned about the motorboats coming up, disgorging students and motoring off again. If I ever decide to do a horror movie, it will star Jorge coming onto the Mississippi River Queen student dorm and eating people in hammocks.

Scene of a potential horror movie: riverboat queen, floating national park headquarters


We were off again, this time to a “community.” What I have learned is that this is a euphemism for a non-indigenous group of people who are living simply in the forest. I don’t remember the name of this particular community but I will tell you that they were not suffering. Laundry lines were filled with shirts from various European soccer teams (either from tourists visiting or from charity shipments?) and the kids were all bright-eyed and well-fed. They had not one but two churches: Catholic and Universal. Our hostess  took us around, explaining that there were 30 families in the community, about half of whom were currently in the city (Novo Airão) so their kids could attend school there. In an intercultural bonding moment, the mothers all complained that our kids did not want to take canoes to visit friends (community) or bikes to visit friends (my kids) if there was someone around with a motorboat or car.

My kids speak Portuguese but are shy about it. Until they are massively interested in something, and then, out of nowhere, the shyness is gone and they are in the fray. In Lalo’s case, he watched an 11-year old community kid shimmy up a palm tree to get açai berries and said, I want to try that. So, the Brazilian kid showed him the best way and bang, there goes my monkey up the tree. He did pretty well until he tried to get down, and then I believe he lost most of the skin on the inside of his thighs. Fortunately Nico was able to help him with that, but that story is below.


Then the community kid (I am so sorry I don’t remember his name, he was lovely and friendly) ran down the hill, climbed up a tree and out on a large limb and jumped into the water. Having just spent time around Jorge the caiman, I was a little reluctant to let Lalo try the same. As if I had a choice. There goes the blondie flying down the hill and trying to climb the tree. Our hostess says helpfully that the piranha never go in that particular part of the river and she hasn’t seen a caiman around for a while. CK (community kid) then goes over to an *easier* tree and helps Lalo balance out onto the limb over the water. It was a lovely intercultural sharing moment, then SPLOOSH, in goes CK. Lalo thinks about the plan for a moment, then SPLOOSH in goes blondie. He bubbles to the surface in wreathed in smiles.

Blondie is to right, figuring out how to get out on limb.

In the meantime, Nico has found a soul mate. Our hostess understands medicinal plants and is telling Nico what is best for what ails, well, anyone. Nico makes me write it all down so now I have a page of information that I can’t imagine will be valuable to anyone, but I dutifully took notes on my phone for my kid. He stuffed various samples into his pockets, and I vowed to check my tea later on for any random green leaves. He was able to diagnose Lalo’s scraped legs and attempted to chase him with saliva-crushed jambu leaves.



We saw where the families ground mandioca roots into powder or flakes depending on its use. They also showed us how they made the barbecue sticks that was their main source of making money (as well as other crafts). We also tried a special sauce, shall we say, called tucupi which is a mix of manioc flower, garlic, onion and lime. In a word: no.

Making mandioca flour, and yucky brew (in plastic water bottle)

We then wandered up the hill to see the rescued hyacinth macaws. There were three high up in a tree, and I remember only one of their names, which was of course Chico Mendes. Chico billed and walked his way down the tree and on to a stick that Nico was holding. What a gorgeous animal. I can see why people steal them from the forest, I really do. These three were confiscated from animal kidnappers, and our hostess was asked to care for them.  The birds were free to come and go as they pleased–and they thought things were pretty good there.

Chico Mendes  the hyacinth macaw

We were then rejoined briefly by Lalo and the boy gang–soon they were distracted by a soccer ball. Basically I have a labrador for a child. The rest of us watched the making of various handicrafts with vines and feathers. The younger woman making them told us the story of her grandparents who were the last of their indigenous tribe after a round of influenza hit the remote group many years ago. They were “forced” to marry each other in order to keep the tribe alive. Now the granddaughter had married someone from another tribe, and it was all okay.

labrador child in blue

Once the blowdarts were shown, we again saw Lalo show up, snag one for his best friend, and then we had to invest in a bow and arrows for Nico. Yep, just what we needed. My mother-in-law bought a necklace with red nuts on it that would later bleed all over her shirt. Not very advanced crafts, but they mean well. They are beautiful.

We thanked our tour guides and promised to send them Lalo for two weeks next summer. That should fix his little first world attitude. Latest generation iphone, ha. Back into the boat as the clouds moved in…nope, not doing that again. Wait, we’re stopping for a swim at a deserted scary beach? Sigh. I’ll be right over here watching the sky.

Nico ! Watch out! Clouds!
I wanna go home!

Lunch was at a simple place in town with cold beer and a total lack of tarantulas. Good stuff. An afternoon at our hotel pool, and early to bed to get up before dawn for the bird tour.

Menos emoção, yes, but plenty of the good kind.

View towards Anavilhanas from our pousada deck




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