Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tamales for breakfast

Saturday night is Tamale night in San Cristobal, when women, who've spent the day making piles of tamales for the coming week, and then sell any extras to anyone who stops by. So out we went, into the night, on our tamale adventure, searching out the little red lamps hung outside of homes. In all, including our guest, we purchased 6 tamales, from 2 different from-home purveyors, in 3 different varieties (all chicken): chicken w/peppers, chicken assafran (different peppers), and chicken mole, each of which we sampled at breakfast this morning, with sour cream and cholula. All were delicious, especially the banana leaf-wrapped (as opposed to corn husk-wrapped) mole and assafran varieties. Tamales for Sunday breakfast might fast become tradition.

Today we hope to round out our kitchen furnishings, with a couple of decent chopping knives, salt & pepper, a big mixing bowl, and other sundry little items. Beyond that, I don't know what all our day will hold. Guadalupe – one of S.C.'s bigger and better churches, on the hill opposite us – looks magnificent this morning, and must be full of parishioners this mass morning. After some fog earlier, by mid-morning though it has burned off and the sky is about as clear as we have seen it. A portent of huge successes to come? I have to think.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

San Cristobal gives up its fruits, we partake

Afternoon of our first full day in San Cristobal. After some frustrating phone calls between Jessica and American Airlines, we learned that our bags had landed, or would soon land in Tuxtla, and we taxied down the mountain to retrieve them. Sure enough – I say this despite never for a second, until seeing the bags in the lost and found closet, thinking it more likely that the bags would be there than that they would not – there they were, and 3 hours and $65 later ('at the cost of' might be more accurate), our belongings were ours again. Huge success.

Around noon, a former Reedie and one-time tenant of this property stopped by on her way through town to show us around some of the trickier aspects of S.C. living: what to do when the city stops refilling your water tank (because water is scarce), when the natural gas tank needs replacement, etc. This was some help, but her greatest contribution to our well-being here, I'm sure, is the wonderful little weekly organic market that she told us about, where we shortly set off to and bought nice cheeses (not a common thing in these parts), hand-made crackers, chocolate, tortillas and vegetables. Comestible inspection later revealed these items (those that we got round to trying, anyway) to be delicious. Already two huge successes, and it was only about 1 o'clock.

Now we are relaxing a little bit, enjoying our bright, airy living room (pictures soon, really), and view, making some little trips out for this and that, and learning what we can about the first real day of college football season. Which I'd better now get back to.

we arrive in San Cristóbal, our bags travel the world

It turns out that our two largest bags were homesick for Boston. This, according to the puzzled-looking American Airlines representative in Mexico City, is where they wound up yesterday...en route from Miami to Mexico.

But we have arrived, after a fair bit of airport-sprinting, in tact along with two smaller pieces of luggage as well as our laptops, recorder, and other important things. (Not that socks and sweaters aren't important. It is currently 53 degrees here.)

Our house is lovely. It is small, and needs a little decorating, but from the window where I am typing I have an amazing view of the large-domed Guadalupe church and the mountains in the background. (Pictures to come once the bag containing the necessary cord arrives.)
We have a beautiful backyard and are an easy walk downhill to the center and markets. Here is a picture of our new city that I didn't take:

On the agenda today: call American, see if our bags have made it, go back to the airport, more unpacking, market shopping, decorating, exploring our new neighborhood.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Out of Manaus

Thursday morning, and we are 3 hours from fly time. Our bags are packed, and now we only wait until it's a reasonable time to go get a taxi. Tonight we fly to Miami, and from there to Mexico City, where we spend the night in a hotel that -- did you know about stuff like this? -- is inside the airport. Whoa. Then tomorrow morning we catch a smaller flight to Tuxtla, and then it's up the hill to San Cristobal and the great unpacking. It's been fun, Manaus, but we're ready to go to Mexico.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On the boat: Days 6 & 7

We are still in Manaus, at our Novotel (where everyone is very nice and the kitchen isn't very good, but the Studio 5 Mall is only a short walk away), but it's time we finally got back to the last few days of river-jungle exploration aboard Tucano. 

Days 6 & 7 were good fun adventure, mostly. We took our last walk in the jungle on Friday (day 6), and both groups happened across large groups of squirrel monkeys. The monkeys weren't especially afraid of us, many of them climbing into branches directly above us, and watching us watch them. Later that night, on the boat, there was a caipirinha party 
on the top deck, which quickly turned into a pretty wild little dance party, mostly to some funky Fooao (local popular dance music style, with its own dance step, which we have proudly mastered - Jessica demonstrates, left). 

The boat navigated throughout most of the night, all the way south, past Manaus, to a lake on the peninsula that separates the Rio Negro and the Rio Salmoes, which meet at the peninsula's end to form the Amazon River (we will get a picture of this meeting up at some point; it's pretty spectacular). Waking up and seeing floating houses and restaurants, and other boats nearby was something of a shock, after being basically all by ourselves on the Negro for the past week. I guess there are many more boats on the Salmoes and the Amazon, and that virtually all river tours stay in this area; someone even said that our Tucano is the only boat currently plying the Rio Negro much north of Manaus. Makes me feel a little special. 

Still, it was pretty clear why there's so much attention to this area. We saw a lot of animals on this last day. On a very touristed walk along an elevated bridge to an inland lake we saw more squirrel monkeys, a big cayman (~8'), a funny turtle that looked like it was trying to fly, and several big fish. Later, on an evening canoe trip down a channel that cut completely across the peninsula we saw a 3-toed sloth (this one up close, and it was pretty neat), more monkeys, including capuchins, a tree boa which Edivam wrestled onto a canoe paddle and passed around, and many more birds. 

We woke up on Sunday (day 8) just across from Manaus, and were back onshore at the Tropical by about 8:30. So long Tucano. It's been swell. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Canal do Bois

We got off the boat Sunday morning and spent one more night in the Hotel Tropical. The rest of the Burgesses flew out yesterday and Jess and I moved to out new location, the Novotel Manaus. Here is where we will spend the next two nights before flying to Mexico.

The Tropical was pretty amazing in an old-colonial-palace sort of way (mini zoo, multiple swimming pools) but one of our more incredible discoveries was made from our room: the Canal do Bois (Cow Channel). In the evening they hold live televised cattle auctions (call in to bid). We watched an auction of 181 bulls. Just to check, we turned it on later, and saw around 50 Brahmas being sold off. In the morning it seemed to be an informative show about milking. Alas, our Novotel does not get this channel, but we have plenty of city to explore and not a lot of room for cattle.

We saw a little of Manaus on Sunday as a bigger group: the municipal market (lots of giant fish and some strange fruits), and the Teatro Amazons opera house. Apparently Manaus was the richest city in South America during the height of the rubber boom, and the plan was for it to become "The Paris of the Tropics". But then the British grabbed some rubber trees and after some failed attempts, eventually got them to grow in more convenient places (i.e. British colonies) like Singapore and the tropical Paris didn't last. Manaus now seems pretty gritty, but not without its charm. Today we'll venture out and try to see the inside of the opera house (it was closed Sunday) and a museum or two. Our hotel is pretty far from the center and we don't want to be downtown too late, so we may come back and try to catch O Procurado (a.k.a. Wanted) at the nearby mall movie theater.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On the boat -- Day 5, 8/21

I am very excited for the swimming and fishing. Days and days in this heat, with the great wide river right beside us all the time, and we haven't once been able to just jump in. But in another hour or so that dream will live. Piranha fishing also sounds like good fun, provided we get a couple of bites. Otherwise, just sitting still in the canoes in the heat might get a touch oppressive, and swimming then might not be the thing. Haven't been a lot of very exciting animals the last day or so, though those orchid bees that hung out with us on the top deck while the others were all out on excursion were quite something. Like a cross between a bumble bee and a tank, and roughly the size of your thumb.

Oh, but the boat is stopping now, so I had better run on deck and see about this swimming. I don't want to be left behind.

On the boat -- Day 5, 8/21

Is it really day 5? Hard to keep track on a boat where the primary events---boat trip, breakfast, sun-deck reading, hike, lunch, sun-deck reading, village, dinner, sun-deck happy hour, dinner, boat trip---are basically unchanging. Okay, the animals, villages, and meals change; our companions, guides, and this big river we travel up don't. As for animals, we have added to our list: more birds, more bugs (including some very gigantic bees), more dolphins (pink!), and a three-toed sloth. The sloth was at night, and a little hard to see, but it was definitely a very slow-moving long-armed animal in the trees.

Each of these last couple of days I have skipped one of the excursions, and these times on the boat when all or most of the other passengers are away are some pretty fun times too. Local people know the crew of this boat, and come out on their smaller boats when they see the smaller boats take off. Some are apparently to try to sell fruits, some come just to visit and have coffee. This morning while the large group went to an old village to walk around, Jess and I stayed up top with our books, watching the dolphins jump and listening to the crew and their visitors sing Portuguese songs in the crew's quarters (this doesn't happen when the boat is full of gringos).

On the agenda for the afternoon: swimming and piranha fishing.

On the boat -- Day 3, 8/19

Today we are having a first wedding anniversary on a boat in the middle of the Amazon. We saw: a three-toed sloth, a giant beetle, an opossum, more strange birds, more monkeys, a big rat that lives in trees and makes loud noises, and some more dolphins. On our after-dinner boat trip, our guide grabbed a small cayman out of the river and we got to pet it. All told, these excursions out of the boat are pretty exciting, but equally nice is lounging on the top deck and watching the jungle and the clouds go by.

Oh, and by the way, my zip-off pants are totally awesome.

On the boat -- Day 2, 8/18

This morning, on our early expedition in the canoes we saw a great big parrot party, with 20+ birds; green ones with large orange spots on each wing. Near the end of that trip we also found a tree full of golden yellow, white and black squirrel monkeys -- though the name deceives a bit, as these are closer in size to cats than any squirrel I've seen. Breakfast and lunch were delicious, as we've quickly come to expect from Janara and Rosangela.

5-minutes into our first walk in the forest Robert found an ocelot (or a margay, we're not sure, but sounds like they're basically indistinguishable) that was hanging out on a tree branch 20' from where we were standing, listening to a monkey somewhere else. We never found the monkey (you could hear him from pretty far off, as he had some big hard fruit and was banging it against a tree trunk, Edivam said), but that cat was sweet. Spotted like a leopard, with a striped face, it looked like an oversized housecat -- about 2 1/2' long, without the tail -- and it just sat in that tree, watching us, as we all crowded round down below taking pictures and quietly mouthing our amazement. Edivam later told us that in his 11 years of guiding these trips, he had never until today seen an ocelot. This made us feel pretty good. With our little camera we weren't able to get much in the way of good shots of the cat, but I'm hoping these will come from my folks, who seemed to get some good shots with their far superior device.

Later in the walk we (and by 'we' I mean Edivam and Paulinho) found a coral snake (not the poisonous variety), and an awesome looking barred spider, which was just hanging out on a big leaf at roughly chest level. We did get good pictures of the spider. Also in there was a nice brown frog, with a big yellow racing strip down his head and back. All told, a good walk.

On the boat -- Day 1, 8/17

Two half-submerged trees are going by our cabin window. The river is up about as high as the place where the trunk first splits into the first branches, maybe fifteen feet or so. I really have no idea how deep it is in these channels.

We woke up this morning early, for our second exciting breakfast buffet, courtesy of the Hotel Tropical. Funny fruits and exciting blended juices, as well as a sort of tapioca flour omelette, were among the highlights this morning. We met our guides for the next week or so, as well as our fellow adventurer-passengers, in the hotel lobby at 7, handed off our bags to some porters, and walked out and down to the river, to our boat. Three levels tall, and roughly 60' stem to stern, the Tucano impressed me some at first, moored 60 meters from the shore. We were picked up in smaller wooden canoes and taken to the boat, and Jessica and I were assigned to a lovely cabin on the first level, out the windows of which I minutes ago watched the half-sunk trees flowing by.
Most days will include no fewer than three excursions off of the boat, two in the smaller canoes, through smaller channels and parts of the submerged forest, and one by foot together. We've already had our first of these canoe trips, on which we saw five or so species of brightly colored -- though mostly small -- birds, several pretty flowers, and some locals doing their washing. A second trip will be going out in an hour. The typical day on the boat will begin with a knock on the door at 5:30, followed by the first excursion out in the canoes at 6. Breakfast at 8 or so will be followed by the day's walking trip at 10:30. Lunch at 12:30 and a short siesta (which I have just enjoyed), and then on some days an afternoon excursion, to a village or a beach or something else. At night, after dinner, there will some days be still another trip out in the canoes.
I'd largely managed to resist building up any kind of expectation about what this boat or this river and it's creatures might be like (let alone questions as to the food on board, the daily schedule, our guides or fellow passengers), and on all counts I find myself -- at this point anyway -- really pleased and excited. Lengthier descriptions of the boat, the crew, and our companions will surely follow, but now I should probably get back out on the deck. The jungle is going by right outside.

We're back! (in Manaus)

We returned yesterday from our 7-day boat trip up the Rio Negro. We're working on uploading our pictures to this page. We did some blogging from the boat, but didn't have the internet to get them up until now. Here they come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

zip-off pants

I might as well tell you before Jess gets a chance: I bought a pair of zip-off pants. That is, they are pants and they turn into capris. But look. They don't have big bulky cargo pockets, they aren't an ugly beige or olive color, and they are very lightweight and quick drying. And we hear this jungle is pretty jungly. It was basically like buying some nice capris that can be pants if they need to be. I will weather your comments.

This is our last day in Oregon until we come back in December. Tomorrow we do a lot of flying and end up in Manaus. We'll spend a day there, then get on our boat early Sunday morning. Hopefully we'll have lots of nice pictures when we return. Maybe of animals like this one.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eugene, still

Middle of August and I'm in a sweater. It's not cold, just more comfortable when you've got another layer on. Another beautiful evening; seems like just about every one here is.

We are going to watch the Olympics. Shawn Johnson smiles like a big happy chipmunk, doesn't she? I mean that in the best and nicest way possible. We are going to eat chocolate cheesecake, and that is going to make me smile like a big happy chipmunk, too, probably.

Monday, August 11, 2008

How nice is Portland?

It's nice. Lovely old bungalows are everywhere. Did you know that you could order those houses literally from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue? I learned that the other day. Catalogue or no, these are sweet houses. I would love to have one. We sometimes scheme about how we could come back here and have one. We are schemers like that.

So as you've read, tonight it's down the road to Eugene, where our days of idyll continue a bit longer, then off at last for Brazil and the jungle adventures that we promised way back at the inception of this blog.

After spending several hours over a couple of days looking at birds and flowers through our new binoculars last week, my eyes were sore for several days. It was really weird, having sore eyes. Anytime I looked up or down, or to the edges of my vision sideways, my eyes would hurt. After a couple of days of this I started to get a little concerned, but then they stopped hurting in pretty short order. I'm going to try repeating the experiment in Eugene tomorrow. Am I the first person this has happened to?

this is what we do

Last day in Portland. Tonight there will be a Coon + Burgess family dinner, then we hitch a ride back to Eugene.

On the agenda for the next few days: finish season 2 of BSG (will we get to watch season 3 in Mexico? in Spanish?), do some linguistics, read on the porch, practice Portuguese, start taking anti-malaria meds, try to think of things we forgot to pack.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Still Portland, and cloudy

Cool and cloudy Saturday in Ladd Circle. The kind of day that in Boston would look tolerable until the humidity got all slick on your skin about 2 minutes after you've left home. Here it's nice. Supposed to rain a little, and it might anytime, but so far it's held off since early morning.

Just watched a BSG episode from a laptop, in a car parked on 28th and Glisan.

That sentence would make more sense, I think, if I were talking about illicit drugs, rather than TV. I might've been going for something like that.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

in Portland

Portland is still really nice. We came into southeast to spend some old Powell's gift certificates and are now sitting in the Fresh Pot on Hawthorne, enjoying the free wireless and Stumptown coffee, and pondering our lunch options. Jess wants to have a milkshake from Burgerville, so we may have a lunch in two parts.

Our plan for the rest of this week includes: more sitting outside on my parents' patio, enjoying the dry air, drinking good coffee, eating good food, and seeing some old friends. This weekend we'll check out the Bite of Oregon, and then head back south to Eugene.

Also, it has been pointed out that with these new rain jackets, we now have two sets of matching outer-wear (if we are to count the different-colored rain jackets as "matching"):

Apparently this is what happens to married people.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

the bride

For the record – and what is this blog for, if not a record? – the raincoats are different colors.

Matching raincoats

We bought matching raincoats. I see no reason to hide from the fact.

Dan and Sarah may have woken up this morning, finding themselves ready for some matching outerwear. Reckon it's quite a thing to wake up married for the first time.

The wedding was a smash; everything came off beautifully, and all the guests looked to have had a great time. The food was really stellar, as wedding foods go, and the dance music brought it with force. Kriss Kross will make you jump.

Mid-afternoon on the farm, and the hummingbirds are really going after it. They never seem to actually strike one another, but this disaster seems always just averted.

Now if only it would rain.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

After a good egg sandwich

So we packed up our lives and got on a plane. Oregon has been cooler and cloudier than you'd expect for this time of year, but it should be lovely for Dan and Sarah's wedding this evening. Liz and Walker just confirmed this morning that they will be coming to visit us in Mexico in November, and I had a great breakfast sandwich only about an hour ago, so things today are really looking fine.

The sun just came out, and all signs point to a beautiful wedding tonight at Chez Hagen. The house and grounds are pretty amazing. There's more custom trimwork in their kitchen alone than in whole subdivisions in West Eugene. This sounds like it, but really this might not be an exaggeration.

Hummingbirds are funny creatures. Tons of them here, all over the feeders and the wildflower garden. They resemble insects as much as birds, and they squabble constantly, which I hadn't really figured on.

moving out

all of the things we will have for the next five months are in those bags...