The Amazon

The best part about the Amazon is that it sounds cool. For two weeks, no matter where I was, everything was a little scarier, a little radder, and a little more intense-- because I was in the Amazon. I'll let the pictures tell most of the stories, but a few general thoughts on Brazil:

-Brazil is pretty great. I liked the food, I liked the people, I liked the culture. Granted, I was only in the north. Part of my affection for Brazil is that I'm still comparing places I go to the 'Stans. Neptune would seem pretty pleasant and easy to get around after a trip to the 'Stans.

-Brazilian women are absurdly attractive. What the hell?

-I thought my English and Spanish would be able to carry me pretty well. Not exactly. English wasn't too helpful, and Spanish was a crapshoot. If you look at written Portuguese, it looks similar to Spanish and you can see that a lot of the words are the same. But the pronunciation is so different in Brazil that even if you're saying a Spanish word that's spelled the same as a Portuguese word, it often doesn't communicate. My Spanish isn't great as it is-- if in Spanish-speaking countries people can understand 60% of what I say and I can understand 30% of what they say, in Brazil it was 15% and 1% respectively. So I reverted to Kyrgyzstan mode and got awesome at charades again.

Charades is a fine way to communicate most of the time. I can do a sweet airplane impression, and the faux hand-washing works beautifully for the bathroom. But there are problems. When I need to know what kind of meat I'm about to eat, I invariably end up making animal sounds, an activity that leaves me with no option other than to loathe myself. The worst is that you can't even say "Moo" for a cow because that's kind of an English translation-- you have to actually moo. And buck, baa, oink, nay, and god knows what else. It sounds potentially fun-- it's not.

Speaking of which, can deaf people just talk to deaf people anywhere, no matter the country? Are there multiple sign languages? Or if people from different cultures have slightly different ways of signing, is that like an accent? Is that attractive like a spoken accent is? Can someone be more articulate than someone else in sign language? Can you have bad grammar? Probably, right? But kind of weird, right?

-Traveling alone is really fun. It sounds solitary, but it's just the opposite. When I travel with friends, we make friends sometimes, but I basically spend the time with the people I'm traveling with (which can be a good thing, depending on the people). But when I'm alone, I really make friends. I spent almost every day of this trip with random humans I had met. Which is cool because they're from all over the world and you end up learning as much about their countries as you do from the country you're visiting.

No matter the country, I tend to meet a lot of people from England, France, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Switzerland, Israel and Australia. I love meeting the occasional person from elsewhere, and it happens, but the vast majority of people I meet everywhere are from those 8 countries. Those are just the people that travel a lot. Of course, it helps that they're all wealthy countries. While we're here, every girl I ever meet from Holland is incredibly cute and lovable. What's the deal with that?

It's always fascinating meeting people from Europe or the US who have moved to the place you're traveling in, permanently. It's just an interesting reminder that you have one life and you can choose to do whatever the hell you want with it. Easy to forget in our world, sometimes.

-It always weirds me out to be in a new country for the first couple hours I'm there, and even more so for a new continent. I had never been in South America before, and it was bizarre seeing it on the map my whole life and suddenly being there. I don't know, I'm weird like that.

-The drivers are, of course, insane. Like most developing countries, there's little or no regard for stoplights, one-way roads, yellow lines, etc.

Speaking of which, here's a traveling pet peeve of mine: I get in a cab, I'm looking out the window at the place I'm in, and the driver has some local music on. It all goes together. Then, 10 seconds into the drive, the driver changes the station to the American pop music station. He sees a foreigner and just assumes he wants to hear his own kind of music. It kills me. Now I'm looking out at Brazil, listening to Celine Dion.

Along those lines, I usually avoid my own iPod during trips and often leave it at home. For whatever reason, I listened to a bunch of music on this trip. At one point I got back into The Beach Boys greatest hits album, Made in the USA-- an old childhood favorite. Absolutely phenomenal. I had forgotten.

Maybe it was because I only brought one book, The World According to Garp, and it was awesome so I got hooked and read it in the first 3 days.

-The cities felt notably dangerous. I'm usually pretty lax walking around anywhere, but I kind of expected to be mugged every time I went outside. I got followed one day for about 30 straight minutes. Bad times.

-A random note, but at least 8 black cats crossed my path during this trip. What the hell?

-Traveling reminds you how far-reaching America is across the world. Even more than the pop culture, the politics shock me. I was on a boat "talking" to an old Brazilian man with not that many teeth who didn't speak English, and I communicated that I was from the States, and he said, "Obama!" and gave a thumbs up. Kind of surprised me.

-On the flight home I was on Virgin Atlantic. Unbelievable. Everything is purple, you can order food from your seat, there are a million movies to select from. I watched Horton Hears a Who. It was wonderful.

Alright, let's get on with it.

The trip was entirely in the north, moving from Belem (all the way at the top) to Manaus in the northwest.

Everywhere. It's their Verizon.

Steak in Brazil is delicious. These stands are everywhere. When you walk out of a bar at 4am you get to eat steak.

Their oranges are green. It tastes like an orange orange.

This fellow hopped next to me while I was sitting at a bus stop. He was kind of the size of a small dog.


This was cool. I went to a little sandbar island called Alter Do Chao. Except it was mostly underwater (high season).

But there were still people chilling there. There were just in the water.

If you walk through the water for awhile, you hit land. There are a lot of Brazilians all around, cooking and drinking and existing happily.

Drunk at 7am on a dock with Brazilian dudes who like to rap. My British friends are on the far ends.

Next I headed out on a boat down the Amazon. I got there first, so I got the best hammock spot. At least that's what I thought at the time. Of course, I'm an idiot and was on the wrong boat.

The right boat. You sleep in hammocks with people to the left, right, above and below you. During the day you chill in the hammock or sip coffee on the edge of the boat and watch the river and the jungle go by. At night you can go up to the roof and drink. No tourists whatsoever. A great time all around.

Views from the boat.

The captain. Despite my desperate attempts to become best friends with him, he kept up his guard and played hard to get. I asked him if I could steer at one point and he said no.

The Amazon River is really effing big.

Sunsets were amazing from the boat. I'm also the best photographer in the history of the world.

Finally we got to a lodge and shacked up there for a couple days. Delightful little monkeys were everywhere. I'm incredibly obsessed with monkeys.

This is Leroy. He was polite.

I went out with a guide in a motorboat and we stopped at this little house.

There was a friendly old woman and her 5 sons and some of their wives and they were peeling manioc roots, which they farm. One of the women was making necklaces from seeds and stems. I bought one, which turned out to be filled with ants. You know it's authentic when it's infested.

A pineapple plant. Apparently the plant grows only one pineapple, which is like a centerpiece. Who knew?

They slice off the tops of pineapples and plant them, and they grow into new pineapple plants. Cool.

On the way out we passed a school boat. Their childhood is different than my childhood.

The guide took me piranha fishing. Basically a bamboo rod with a string and hook attached and a big chunk of steak as bait. They won't hook themselves. They'll eat the meat and then leave. The key is to yank the rod up as you feel a piranha working on the meat and hook it.

That's right.

Fierce little dudes.

Late at night, we went out searching for alligators (caimans to be exact). They grow about 10 feet long. But since the full-grown ones eat people, the key was to find young ones. The guide would shine his flashlight along the shore and search for glowing red eyes. Then we'd paddle over and he'd reach down and quickly grab one and bring it up. Then he'd hand it to me and I'd tremble. Then we'd put it back in the water.

Say what you want about puppies, baby tigers, cubs and little kittens-- nothing is cuter than this little guy above. I think I'm obsessed with reptiles. Besides my obvious affection for tortoises, I'm very fond of iguanas, salamanders, frogs, snakes and, obviously, dinosaurs.

A bigger one. His name was Leonard.

I should open up a gallery. This was taken at 5am, before sunrise.

This put The Circle of Life (from The Lion King) in my head for the next 12 hours.

The next day we headed out on the river to camp in the jungle.

Siciliano, my Brazilian guide and likely BFF. We hiked around the immensely dense jungle and he would machete a path for us. He could do something interesting with almost every single tree, plant or flower we'd pass, whether it could be used to make food, ink, bug repellent, jewelry, cologne, medicine, etc. This guy knew how to live off the jungle. He was also immensely unafraid of bugs. Which was a nice contrast to my paralyzing fear of them.

If you watched Planet Earth, you'll remember how they said the jungle is entirely in the shade because the dense life has blocked all the sun. Then they show a tree falling and they show how it lets in a rare area of bright sun. Within a few years, trees and plants have clawed their way up in a vicious battle for light and the area is dark once again. This is a typical upward view. Pretty dark down on the ground.

We passed a huge fallen tree, and sure enough, a bright area.

Siciliano pulled a little coconut-like thing from a tree and macheted it open and showed me little worms inside. Then he ate one of them and told me it was sweet and nutritious. He offered me one, and after much deliberating, I miserably gulped one down. Bad times.

That big cocoon thing is a massive 10-foot ants nest. Horrifying. It's made entirely of dead leaves, and there are over a million ants inside and on the surface.

A similar ants nest up close. Notice all the little terrifying ants.

I walked into this guy's web. I'm shitting my pants just thinking about this.

Apparently if this guy bites you bad things happen.

In the States we have ants. In the Amazon they have huge horrifying death ants.

A nice community of friendly larvae.

He made ink out of the little red things.

He pulled this stem down and pulled out these strips one by one.

Then he weaved them to make a fan or fire-blower. Almost every roof I saw was made out of these leaves as well.

I'm basically as manly as a man can get.

This is an ant hill. Why does everything have to be so scary?

As soon as it turns dark, 8 trillion mosquitos are all up in your grill. I had 95 pounds of DEET all over me and almost every part of my body was covered with clothing. The only solution was to get ridiculously drunk. Which we did. If you listened, you'd hear a chorus of life all around you. Like the sound of crickets times 40. It was pretty amazing.

I slept in a hammock under a little lean-to. THIS was on the ceiling of the lean-to, 2 inches from my hammock. Wretched times.

Note the monster to the right of my head. The smile is only because I'm 18 drinks deep.

In my hammock, under my mosquito net. I thought I was alone, but apparently I had company, as I woke up with about 60 bites.


Anonymous said...

Glad you liked being down here (I'm brazilian, but live in Rio, far away from Manaus), I'm yet to take this Amazon trip. I kind of anticipated your communication issues, I bet my spanish speaking skills are worst than yours. And for the record: I have a TIM cell phone, and yes, I'm extremely proud of that.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Brazil too! I'm a longtime reader of your blog and so excited you visited Brazil. I'm from Sao Paulo and have never been to the Amazon myself, but I think I have to go now. You should come to Sao Paulo next time!

Anonymous said...

Too much cool stuff to be able to comment on!!
This was really a very pleasant and enlightening blog entry! I loved reading about the people and how you get around and immensely jealous that you're able to experience such coolness.
Also I wondered, do you actually name every reptile you meet, or do they introduce themselves to you? (thinks of Winston)

Anonymous said...

How the hell do you get people from other countries to consistently read your blog?! Im jealous.

Anonymous said...

Very cool pictures, glad you had a great time and weren't too freaked out.

The one in the white t shirt, you look amazingly hot!!!

Anonymous said...

You are a brave, brave man. I'm super impressed.

Anonymous said...

Wow ,and again, now I don't have to
do it.

Strange , I like ants n'insects yet
am terrified of reptiles. And this
reminds me , if you're ever around
here don't go picking up any little
crocodiles - no matter who they say
they are.

Parallel universe Tim .....

ps And no pictures of snakes,I like
that too.

Anonymous said...


That was a sweet recap.

I was looking for more monkey pictures but that is just me.

Nice to have a McGyver friend.


Anonymous said...

Great pics. It makes me want to take a safari somewhere. Rugged trips are the coolest

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

hey tim.. that was really good.
that trip sure was awesome.

looked like you had a great time. =)

Anonymous said...

more posts please.

Anonymous said...

omg that giant group of larvae, or whatever that big furry thing was is so repulsive.

looks like a brilliant time though, love your posts!


Anonymous said...

ha ha ha ha... we looked at your pictures and our daddy read the captions. You are the funniest Bass relative we know other than Robin.

from your youngest blog readers,
Ramsey and Georgia

ps we like the polite alligator and the monster on your head the best.

Anonymous said...

Just want to leave my mark - another international reader of Tim. All the way from Malaysia. Hello!

Anonymous said...

amazing photos, tim! those sunsets look beautiful...

what kind of camera did u use?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming to Brazil . I really enjoyed your pictures , you should def... opens a gallery . I liked your sense of humor . Usually North Americans make fun of our environment ,you did , but with style , so that´s ok .

Try a bigger city next time .

Anonymous said...

Man...You are unbelievablely brave and I am really impressed with your sense of humor...

Look forward to ur next entry~

Anonymous said...

for more monkey love...visit gibralter (apes den) and india (simla)!!
btw, ur international readers also includes an indian in dubai :)