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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Paloquemao

My first day in Colombia we went to a flower and food market.
The flowers were very pretty, and colorful. After we got enough to make plenty of bouquets, we went inside to the food part.
There were plenty of fruits and vegetables. We bought some interesting fruits that I have never tried before. This morning I tried one called a granadilla. It is orange, and you peel the outside off and eat the inside. It is kind of gooey with a lot of seeds. The gooey part tastes exactly like the grapes my grandma and grandpa grow off their vines in their backyard. You are supposed to swallow the seeds whole, but I didn't do a very good job with that.
The meat part of the market was interesting, and yet gross. I'm not going to lie, it did smell bad. Overall the market was cool.

By the roses

Pig head

I no longer have an appetite

Fruits and vegetables
Anna Buist

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Let the Bidding Begin

We have been here in Clolmbia a year now. A few weeks ago we went through the process of saying "goodbye" to people who were rotating to their next assignment. We have one more year left. Each department does their bidding process slightly different. I have been reading notes of friends around the world who have recieved their assignments for next summer. Med is a bit slower than the other departments. Last night Chad walked in and handed out our bid list. We sat around the table discussing the possibilities. With pen in hand, we immediately crossed off all unaccompanied posts - been there, done that! We then crossed off the Washington posts, preferring to work over seas while the kids are with us. Chad then knocked off a few more before we were left with a list of about 10 embassies. Working from the other direction we then circles the ones that sounded interesting to us. "This one sounds cool!". "I would love to live here!" "Imagine all the places we could visit." These were the phrases we tossed around the table. In Med we have to pick 6 posts - any of which we would be willing to go to. We submit them in Sept and will receive our assignment in Dec. This morning I got up and spent several hours at the computer scouring web sites. Are the schools good? Do they have the Interenational Bacloreate program the girls wish to continue in? What is the weather like? We can't go to a hot place because Maddie really struggles in the heat with swelling and rashes. That killed another 5 posts By early morning I had three solid possibilities. Now to settle on the last three. In the next few weeks emails will be flying as Chad requests more information on specific posts to help us in our decision. Then we wait. I'm actually glad we don't know our next post yet because we live here, in Bogota. This is where I want my mind and energy to be focused. There will be time in the new year to anticipate and plan for the next city. In the mean time we will sit back and enjoy this second year of being settled here in our home. - Kris

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It Helps If You Can Read Spanish


Perusing through the "Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream" book I was excited to try the Chocolate Cherry recipe.  Nothing beats a fresh waffle cone at Grand Haven's board walk with Hudsonville Ice Cream's Traverse City Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream.  Home made ice cream would be a close second.
I bought the ingredients, whipped my eggs, added the sugar, poured in the cream, milk and vanilla.  As a last minute thought I poured the juice from the jar of cherries - to be added later - into the mix.  My mouth was watering as I thought of that extra snap of cherry flavor.  
Following a bad habit I have, I stuck my finger into the mix before pouring it into the ice cream machine and sucked the flavor.
Yuck!  Something went seriously wrong.  A salty, pickled flavor lingered in my mouth.  I grabbed the jar of cherries and stared.  I still had no idea what went wrong.  Taking one out I took a nibble.  Onions.
Now I say that if I could speak Spanish I probably would not have made this mistake, but that's wrong. I never even dreamed of reading the label because what else is the size of a cherry and floating in a red liquid?  If it looks like a cherry it must be a cherry!  NOT!
Fortunately I had enough ingredients to make a batch of vanilla ice cream and my mom had just sent me some m&m's.  Tonight we will enjoy a bowl of home made ice cream!

- Kris

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One year in Colombia



Throughout my first year in Colombia I have had quite the experience. This year in Colombia has been interesting. It has had hard times and better ones. One thing I found annoying and frustrating was that the school here ended about two weeks after the school in the States. That means that all my friends would get out before me. We did have a longer Christmas break but the school year overall felt longer. Mid term exams and final exams are now something that we have to do in this school. In Hudsonville they did not have those so I was not used to the pressure when we did them. The mid term exams are a large part of your term 2 grade and can pull down the overall grade a lot. The finals are even worse. They got to the point where for French I was just trying to pass! If you don't pass a subject with the grade of all the terms and exams added up then you have to stay a couple days after school during the summer. I did not want to do that! School has been a challenge, and an adjustment. Also I have found it hard trying to learn Spanish this year while the school makes me take French. On top of that the teacher likes to teach us in Spanish, kind of hard to keep the languages in line. The soccer experience here has been bittersweet. The good thing was is that I made it onto the girls soccer team with my friend. We both played defense together and had a lot of fun. Our team ended up making it to the finals for the first time in the schools history. A lot of people came from the school to see the final game but sadly we lost. I wasn't to upset though because that was the farthest I have ever made it playing a sport. The bad part of my soccer experience here though was that I didn't really learn anything new. We thought when we came to Colombia that the soccer would be great, but I didn't get any decent coaching. Coming to Colombia its obvious that we would be learning a new language. Learning languages is not my strong spot. My teacher didn't help with that much either this year. We always spoke English in class, and she only took it seriously in the end of the year when someone started coming to the class to check what we were doing. Let's just hope that next year it will be a different learning experience in that area for me and that maybe by the time we leave here I will at least understand it! There have been lots of goods and bads this year, these just to name a few. Overall though I am enjoying my stay here. Every country is something totally new and exciting! Elena

Amazon Day 1 with a monkey

On the first day in the Amazon we got off the plane and were picked up by some people at the airport and brought on about a half an hour boat ride to where we stayed for the first night. They asked us if we wanted to see the worlds biggest lillypads. We agreed and they had us walk to a little hut nearby and there we found some surprises. The man who looked over the little place was there and he greeted us. Then he showed us his friends. A monkey ran up to us and started climbing on us! The man told us the monkeys name was Martin. He really liked Dad from the beginning but Dad handed him over to Maddie. Martin was really curious and liked climbing everywhere. Soon he was down Maddie's shirt! She was kind of screaming but we were all just really laughing. After that Martin followed us up to the hut and the man introduced us to two more of his friends. These ones were birds. I am not sure of what kind they were but they were beautiful. He held one in each of his hands and we each got our pictures with them. Andrew got them put on his shoulders and he was terrified! I was lucky and had them on my hands. Martin was still jumping around the hut when we finished with the birds. Andrew became terrified of the monkey too when we tried to jump on him from a ledge. I really liked him though and it was funny when he climbed on everyone. Finally we were going to see the lillypads. The monkey stayed with us the whole time to them and back. Because the amazon water level rises and falls so much, sometimes some areas are flooded and sometimes not. So that we didn't walk through the mud as much they had bridges. Martin was on Dad's shoulder for the short walk there. When we got to the lillypads they were big. We didn't stay for long but it was pretty cool. After that we went back to the hut and said goodbye to Martin. He didn't like leaving when the man told him to stay though.



-  Elena

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Amazing Amazon Adventure - Days 6 +

Parasites wiped our family out for a good three days.  Sickness, weakness, chills, heaving.  Not fun stuff.  I don't know if it was the water we drank or something we ate.  Despite how horrible we all felt, we agreed that if we knew we were going to be this sick before we went we still would have gone.  It was simply that great of an experience.
In addition to the sickness, Damon and I have had some sort of poison ivy type reaction.  Only from our knees down.  For 3 weeks we have had itchy, swollen spots on our legs.  Now on steroids we both seem to be finding a bit of relief.

- Kris

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Amazing Amazon Adventure - Day 5

Laying in bed my mind turned to packing-up and heading home.  I admit I was a bit ready to be done with the "primitive living" and happy to get back to my bed without mosquito netting, a warm shower and food I truly enjoy.
With a pile of clothes in hand I bent down to put them in my suitcase only to discover that termites had found their way into our cabin and built mud mounds all over the suitcases.  Fortunately everyone's suitcase was closed so the damage was only done to the outside.  I dragged mine outside and slammed it against the walkway several times trying dislodge the bugs that were crawling all over the outside and to break off their new homes.  I was amazed at the work these little bugs could do in one night.  Large homes were built all over.  Getting rid of the mud and bugs I packed up and had some breakfast.
We got into the boat for our last journey down the river.  Four white herons led our way through the maze of waterways.  Flying ahead, waiting for us in trees then lifting off with graceful flight to continue leading us.
The kids, a bit dehydrated, laid down in the boat.  I sat in the front saying "goodbye" to the birds and dolphins.  The breeze kept me cool.  We went down a little waterway that was a "shortcut" on the river.   The waterway which would be dried up within a week saved us an hour on our journey.


We stopped in a modern town along the river in Brazil.  The town was built on stilts to protect it from the flooding.  Andrew stayed behind, not feeling well.  We ordered some lunch.  I got the wild game suggested by our guide.  A thick, fatty skin gave the meat a savory flavor.  I pulled off another piece then "crunch".  Thinking I had bitten into a piece of bone I spit it into my hand.  A bullet.  Truly organic meat probably caught earlier that morning!

We returned to the boat to find Andrew puking over the edge.  After 6 hours traveling down rivers we landed in Laticia, got a taxi back to the airport, got our very weary selves on the plane and said "goodbye" to the Amazon.
I wouldn't trade this adventure for a more plush trip.  To experience the Amazon in the raw and understand what it means to survive in this place was priceless.  It is one thing to watch a documentary on Discovery Channel and quiet another to tramp through the thick mud, jump in the river and grab a cayman, take a cold shower, live without electricity, watch a breathtaking sunset while being hit by jumping fish and be dive/bombed by a humming bird while sitting on the toilet.

- Kris

If you are  interested in visiting the Amazon via Laticia here are some guides and hotels to check out:

Heliconia - this is the company we stayed with.  They took care of every detail from airport pick-up to a guide, meals and lodging in their Eco-hotel.  I highly recommend them if you are in the adventurous spirit!
http://www.amazonheliconia.com/

Our guide has his own tour company with a home in Laticia he rents.  I would suggest him as a tour-guide as well.
tuirupu.blogspot.com


Our friends recommend their tour guide who is a native Ticuna. 
Anibal Aspajo Montes: 313-231-8678.


Another local tour company is:
 Pastor Orlando Rodriquez and his wife, Auri orlandorodriguez63@yahoo.com






Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Amazing Amazon Adventure - Day 4


This morning found Chad and I tiptoeing out of the cabin without waking the kids.  Our guide met us and we were off on a morning hike.  Miguel, a local guide, took us through the jungle pointing out different trees and plants and explaining the practical purpose of each.  From fibers for weaving, medicines to food sources the jungle is a treasure house of resources.  But with the invention and access to all of our  modern conveniences, the locals are loosing their knowledge of how to benefit from the resources around them.

After breakfast we got in the boat once again and rode with Miguel to his village of Palmai in Brazil.  This town was not as impressive as the one we visited yesterday.  There was trash laying around and people seemed to have a look about them lacking purpose in life.  I passed one very primitive house and glanced in the window to see a large screen t.v. with a Disney movie playing.  I was shocked to see how with limited electricity and little income this family had made t.v. a priority.  Things don't change if you are in Detroit or the middle of the Amazon.
Miguel is in the process of building a  hotel.  He would like to bring tourists to his town to enjoy the Amazon.  His hotel is coming along quiet nicely.  A two story on a bluff with a fantastic view overlooking the river.  I wish him success in his endeavor.  He has a dream that he is working very hard to see come true.
Miguel led us on a path through their town, through the jungle to a pristine stream to swim in.  The water was cool.  We rubbed the mud from the banks on our legs, let it dry then washed it off in the stream.
We headed back to camp, enjoyed a lazy afternoon in hammocks and an early evening.

 - Kris

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Amazing Amazon Adventure - Day 3


We awoke just as the sun was rising.  Cousin Andrew opted for the option to sleep in but the other three jumped at the idea of going for a morning "bird watching" boat ride.
Bleary eyed, we got in a dug out canoe, grabbed a paddle and made our way out of the small stream to the larger bayou.  We enjoyed watching nature come awake.  Birds darted around fishing for their breakfast.  Hawks, Eagles, King Fishers, and a myriad of other small birds flittered around.
As we pulled back into camp I noticed the other group getting ready to head out for an outing.  As they settled into their little canone, their guide came walking down the path with a small motor thrown over his shoulder.  SERIOUSLY???  We've been paddling all over creation, trying not to tip over and encouraging the kids to "keep at it" and we could have had a motor?  OK.  I am actually glad that we put our muscle into our activities getting around by our own manpower.  And how peaceful is it to early morning bird watch with a motor buzzing away?
Breakfast presented a bit of a disappointment.  Corn in the scrambled eggs.  yuck.  I picked around the corn, nibbled at an arepa and filled up on fruit juice.   I am discovering that I am a bit soft in the food department.  The older I get the more particular I am becoming with what I put in my mouth.  I don't think I could have popped weevils in a concentration camp to survive.  I just don't think I have it in me.
We had a nice relaxing morning of hanging out in hammocks, and after a good lunch we got back into our blue and yellow canoe with a motor and headed out to see a "big tree, take a hike and visit an indigenous village".
"The big tree"
Damon climbing the vine
First stop was the "big tree".  I don't remember what type it was, but definitely amazingly large.  We walked around discovering a bat cave inside the trunk.  On another side a vine twisted up the side.  All the boys gave a try climbing up Tarzan style.  Looking up made me a bit dizzy.
Before leaving camp I had quizzed our guide on appropriate foot wear for the hike.  Flip flops, tennis shoes or boots?  He assured me it would be a nice, packed trail and flip flops would be a good option.  Nope, a few minutes into the hike we discovered that the receding water had left a thick mixture of clay and mud.  Soon we ditched our flip flops and barefooted it with each step sinking in past our ankles.  The thick slurping sound of the mud followed each slow, tedious step we took.  About every 20 minutes our guide would stop and look around.  We appeared to be at a dead end.  He would tell us to "just wait here a minute", then start hacking in all directions at the growth.  Eventually he felt the trail had been found and off we would go, sluffing through the mud.  What was supposed to be an hour hike turned into two.  I was actually completely amazed when suddenly with one hack of his machette we stepped into a village.  I had been a bit nervous as the sun was getting lower on the horizon.  My mind had been going places like "How do we keep the kids safe and warm tonight?".
Hacking through the Amazon
Note the mud up our legs

To be considered an indigenous village by the government of Peru you  must speak your native language as well as fish and hunt in the traditional way.  About 200 Yagua people lived in Santa Rita, Peru.  They had been hit very hard by the flooding of the river this year with the water level rising to a few feet into their houses.  These houses are high up on the bank and on stilts.  Outside of building your house in a tree, what else can one do?  A woman carrying her baby greeted us.  I was struck by her gentle manner and an aura of peace and happiness about her.  She showed us her crafts and we picked out a few piranha jaw necklaces.  We lingered a bit and began wandering on.  We noticed our guide deep in conversation with the woman then they disappeared a few moments later with a cup of yucca juice.  The creamy, white liquid wasn't really that bad.  South Americans love their juices.
We continued on and once again our guide excitedly told us the woman had invited us into her home to "see something special".  The homes in this town were very minimal.  Wood buildings with straw roofs built on stilts.  Inside a hammock was strung-up to rest in, a picture on the wall and a few essential tools.  The kitchen was immaculately clean with pots and pans hanging on the wall.  I was struck from the moment we stepped foot in this village with the cleanliness.  No garbage littered the path.  Yards were tidy and the houses taken care of.  They didn't have much in the way of worldly possessions, but they held a pride to their village.  It showed in how the village looked and the joy of every person we encountered.

As we walked into the kitchen we saw a very large fish laying on the floor.  The pirarucu is a tropical freshwater fish found in South America.  Because of heavy commercial fishing in the early 1900's it's numbers are low and only the indigenous are allowed to catch it for consumption.  It's considered a delicacy because of its large, boneless steaks.  The village had just caught this fish that afternoon.  The fish swims on the surface of the water so in their tippy canoes they come-up along side of the fish and spear it.  6-10 of these fish are caught by the village a year.  It was a very special treat to be in the village on the day of the catch!  We had everyone lay next to the fish for a picture.  The fish was larger than all of us!  The scales were the size of a hockey puck.
The sun was now getting low.  The sky turned brilliant shades of orange.  A volleyball game broke out.  We got back in our boat headed to camp.

Soon it was pitch black as we slowly made our way down the rivers.  Prime time for cayman hunting!  Our guide had a spot light that he swung back and forth across the banks of the river.  I kept thinking "You're never going to find anything, you're swinging that light way too fast.".  But he knew what he was looking for and before I could blink he had zeroed in on what looked like a red glowing marble in the distance.  The driver headed that way.  The guide lay suspended over the bow, his feet hooked in the sides.  He snatched at something but missed.  We continued in this fashion for about 30 min.  Spot the red eye, creep over, snatch and miss.  The next sighting we creeped over all of us hanging over the edge to see the cayman.  The next thing I knew, my husband was in the river proudly holding up an 18" cayman.  What happened??  He hopped back in and we all got a good look at it.  The driver showed us how strong the jaw is on even a small cayman like this one.  Pictures taken, relief that Chad still had all his appendages we settled back to enjoy the rest of the boat ride home.
I sat down in the bottom of the boat, put my head back on the side and gazed at the clear sky and full moon above.  The stars sparkled brilliantly.  I spotted the Southern Cross constellation.  This constellation always brings a warm feeling - the familiar memories of spotting it while in NZ.  I was in a state of complete relaxation.
Wack.  Something hit me in the side of the head.  The peaceful moment became a distant memory as I watched Chad and Damon scramble on the floor of the boat trying to get the fish that were jumping in.  About 45 minutes later and 30 fish thrown back in the river with another 30 dead under the floor boards we arrived back at camp.
The other group was standing on the shore holding a very small cayman.   They were having fun looking at it.
"Did you catch it?"  I asked.
"No, our guide wouldn't let us."
"What did you do today?"
"We saw a big tree and an indigenous village."  They replied.
"Did you hike from the tree to the village?"  I questioned.
"No, our guide said it would be too muddy."  (You think??)
"Did you see the big fish?"
"No, there was a big fish?"
Do I think they really experienced the Amazon, peddling around with a motor, not doing muddy hikes, not jumping into the river and not being bold enough to develop a quick relationship with the villagers to see their big fish?  Nope, we had the best day of all.  One that will live on in our memories and growing into tall tales as all true adventures do!

- No worries, Kris



Sunday, July 8, 2012

Our Amazing Amazon Adventure - Day 2

We awoke with the sun, enjoyed some scrambled eggs and enjoyed a few moments before heading down-river. 

We leaned on the deck and watched some little kids checking their fishing nets not far off. They noticed us and paddled their wooden canoe over. They had a nice catch of fish in the bottom of their boat. They would be enjoying a nice meal today of catfish. Throughout this trip I watching hundreds of boats, young and old, men and women checking their nets. Slowly they work their way down the net, lifting it out of the water and gathering it in their hands. Carefully untangling a fish then letting the net drop back into the water. They continue to work, meticulously moving down the net. Holes are not good so they are very careful. Life revolves around survival from the river in the Amazon.

We settled in the boat for the next 6 hours. Our journey took us down the Amazon river with Colombia on our left and Peru on our right. After a short time Colombia turned into Brazil on our left, the river always dividing the countries.

 After a few hours we needed to pee. Our guide looked at us like we were nuts.
 "You can't wait?"
 Nope.
The boat pulled over to the shore, we stepped out, and sunk. The water level of the Amazon is constantly changing. In rainy season the level can rise up to 40 feet and then it drops in dry season. We were visiting in the beginning of the dry season so the level had dropped by about 12 feet. We could see the difference in the colors of the leaves and the trees had a line where the water level had been only a few weeks ago. The banks of the Amazon this time of year are mud.
Note the mud up my legs!

We turned off the Amazon river onto the Rio Yavari. The Amazon has a thick, muddy brown look to it because it originates in the Andes Mountains. The Yavari has a lighter color because it originates in the rainforest. According to my guide book, "Within reach of large stretches of virgin forest, the meandering Rio Yavari offers some of the best opportunities to see the Amazon up close and undisturbed." - Yeah!

Rio Yavari opened up a new world of nature to us. We were soon watching grey river dolphins jump. We kept our eyes peeled. We were on the look-out for the Pink Amazon Dolphin. The pink dolphin is an endangered species living in the fresh waters of the Amazon. The female can grow up to 8 ft. in length. It's fin is a low triangle so they don't jump out of the water like we typically think of dolphins doing. We watched for them to surface enough to blow the air out of their hole before sinking back into the water. We began to become pretty good at spotting them and yes, indeed they are pink!

I need to make a little note here. The dolphin thing was very cool, but after having experienced swimming with Moko, having her freak me out by swimming between my legs and fighting with her to let my kayak into shore in NZ, seeing a dolphin 50 feet away was a let down. I had to get on the computer to see what they looked like and to get a feel of their size.
Grey dolphin

Six hours on the river can be a long ride. The kids sat in the bow of the boat, read, and slept. I found myself gazing at the life around me. Birds darting between trees, dolphins jumping, fish jumping into the boat, people fishing... In the stillness there is so much activity.

 Towns were very far apart and only had access to one another by the river.  We made a short stop in the town of Atalaya, Brazil to stretch our legs and check out the local market.   From the Rio Yavari we made another turn onto a little tributary that we were told would be dried-up in a month. We traveled for another 30 minutes before arriving at our lodging. An eagle soared overhead guiding our way.

We settled in, got over our shock of having to look at trees while sitting on the toilet and rested.

Piranha fishing was our next adventure. We piled all 6 of us plus our guide into a wooden canoe and paddled out to a lake area. The guide unwrapped his raw beef and began faithfully baiting our hooks. No more was needed than a stick and a hook with some meat before the fish were biting like crazy. We couldn't keep up. There were 3 types of small fish we were catching. We kept the piranha and another pan-fish type thing and threw the rest back. All was fun until Chad cried out in pain. He got bit. So if you ever wonder if it's really true that piranha will eat people, yep, it is!

After fishing the guide had the brilliant idea of paddling to the end of the lake before heading home. I paddled along thinking the whole time "we still have to paddle back". It was a long trip but we made it.

Looking forward to a shower I grabbed my things. Another 3 sided deal looking out into the woods. Fortunately it was getting dark out. No worries. The water for the lodge was collected in large containers from the rain, so no hot or cold. After lots of squealing I was clean and headed to dinner.

A bowl was placed in front of me with a piranha floating there. I was really hungry but I just looked down at that fish looking up at me. I sipped at the broth and picked at the fish. It wasn't really that bad - very heavy in the cilantro department - and I should enjoy the fruit of my labors but I just couldn't do it.

Wearily I headed to bed. I looked at the mosquito netting and noted the spider on the outside. Good enough for me. I climbed in and made sure the netting was nicely tucked in around my mattress. A little while later, Chad came it. Spider on the netting was not good enough for him!

 Safe and secure under the netting, we snuggled in and enjoyed the sounds of the night before drifting off into a deep sleep.

 - Kris

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Our Amazing Amazon Adventure - Day 1

I looked out the window of the plane and felt awe overtake me as I gazed down on the beginnings of the Amazon Basin in Colombia. The Amazon Basin covers 1.7 billion acres most of which is covered by rainforest. This region involves 9 nations, the majority of it is in Brazil - 60%, Peru - 13% and Colombia - 10%. The Amazon contains over 50% of the earth's remaining rain-forests and is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. All I could see in any direction was thick, lush rainforest. I was absolutely amazed by the vast size and density that I was looking at. I could not see any villages or any roads. Roads simply were not possible. Small waterways spread out like a spiderweb prohibiting any easy form of land transportation. I was just beginning to get a small glimpse of what it is like to survive in this area.
We landed in Laticia, a small town on the Amazon where Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet. 500 miles from the nearest highway the only access is by plane or boat. Holding true to Faber tradition, we tossed the typical tourist attractions to the wind and embarked on an adventure to see the Amazon in true fashion. The sweltering heat hit us as we debarked the plane and walked into the one room airport. The clunking of the luggage conveyor bounced around the room growing louder as the gears would get stuck from time to time.
 Leaving the airport I knew we were in for a true adventure as I searched for my guide and spotted a young boy flapping a paper with my name. While other travelers were leaving in air-conditioned hotel vans the dad of the young boy waved down two taxis and told us to jump in.
Ten minutes later we arrived at the docks. My jaw dropped open. I had not in any way been impressed with the town. It felt very dirty and rushed. Motorcycles zipped every which way cutting in and out of traffic. Garbage lined the streets. But the docks were disgusting. Vultures circled overhead lazily scouting for more trash. Groups of 50 vultures picked at garbage in different areas on the bank. Refuse littered the water line. Boats crammed around the docks. Twenty feet of thick mud stood between me and the dock with a plank stretching across. Houses on logs lined the river, some bare wood and some painted bright colors. A man ran up to grab my luggage. I said firmly the universal word "NO" and headed across the plank and into the blue and yellow boat that was to be our means of transportation for the next 5 days.
As we departed the small port the filth of the city left and the cool breeze of the river cleansed us. We stopped for a Navy checkpoint then left all means of civilization behind. We were headed one hour down the Amazon to a floating hotel for the first night. The "hotel" consisted of two rooms upstairs with several beds each. Each bed was covered in mosquito netting. Hammocks lined the balconies. The main floor was a kitchen and dining room. The perfect, relaxing way to spend the first night.
We stopped on shore and took a short walk to a little bay where we saw the world's largest lilly pads. The Victoria Amazonica lilly can have leaves up to 9 feet in diameter. Strong spines on the back of the leaf allow it to support the weight of a human being. The flowers are white the first night they open and pink the following nights. They were really quiet impressive.
A little monkey in the area played with us, curling up on Chad's neck as we walked along the path. Back at the floating lodge we enjoyed dinner of fish and rice while the sky gave us a beautiful show lighting up the Amazon sky as it set. We settled in under out mosquito nets and fell asleep to the soft lull of the river.

 - Kris