The poor tread lightest

Header photo: Lorimar & daughter:  Piria Para Brazil

 

I still find it very difficult to sit down and write, having spent all of my working life on my feet and never worked in an office environment. I constantly feel the urge to get out and about and do something physically constructive, even if it’s just walking somewhere! (No psychoanalysis please!)

After almost three weeks of frustrating, unavoidable, logistical obstacles and having to return to Belem twice, I managed to get walking again, this time from the unusual long riverside town of Piria to the big city of Breves. (See map below)

After a 9-day crossing of the rainforest I’m now in the city of Breves, where I’m repairing and preparing gear for the walk to Gurupa. In Breves, I watch women ride side saddle on motorcycles, with no crash helmets. They whizz past  texting on Whats App or applying makeup. Music blares out from all corners of the market, next to the hustle and bustle of a big busy river port.I have just returned from Piria for a day after going by boat with my guide to his home town. It was good fun to hear him telling the story of walking barefoot to Breves to a captive audience of members of his family and the local community.

Again, very difficult terrain and many river and jungle lake (swamp) crossings to reach Breves. It’s difficult to put into words – you’d have to experience it first hand to fully appreciate the difficulty. At one point even my guide, who has worked and lived in the rainforest all his life, wanted to turn back, but we were at a point of no return and I thought it best to go forward rather than back. We only saw two snakes over the 9 days, but as you can imagine, most of the time you can’t see where you’re putting your feet, so I guess it’s luck as well as judgment we don’t tread on any snakes or venomous barbed flatfish (they call them raia here).

My Ribeirinho guide Jesuio, despite the obvious dangers and visible scars he bears of previous encounters with venomous snakes and barbed Stingray, liked to walk barefoot through the forest, deep swamps and rivers. I purchased a pair of boots for him, but he just kept them wrapped in the packaging they came in, still unopened in his backpack. He moves swiftly and treads lightly through the forest as if on a hunt, traversing with ease the thinnest of slippery fallen trees, across swamps and rivers, whereas I with my expensive but excellent Altberg jungle boots, slip on the logs and tread loudly while he waits patiently and amused for me to reach the other side. I’m guessing his plan is to return the boots to the shop and get a refund. He and his family eat only locally-produced farinha, beans, açai, an incredible variety of fruits, and fish, chicken and occasionally animals caught in the forest traps (when I first visited the house they had caught an Armidillo and were preparing it for cooking. I did not have any). He lives with his family in a simple wooden house on stilts with no phone or electricity. The river provides all water needs and of course a multitude of amazing freshwater fish. In comparison to my carbon footprint, theirs is almost zero, and it reminded me of something I recently read:  “The poor tread lightest on the Earth”

When I’m in a community or town, I stay in the cheapest places possible, or better still with local residents. So far I have never had to ask – people offer to feed me and put me up, which means that I have to interact much more with the people on their level, a truly immersive experience and rewarding not only for me but, I hope, for them too.

Everyone knows each other here in Piria. I don’t know for sure, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of bullying, exclusion, distrust or theft between community members. There are no locks on doors, and they share what they have. I’m sure they have their own problems and issues at times, as all of us do. I don’t think they have any envy of me or my possessions, whereas I do feel at times a little envious of their seemingly uncomplicated existence. A few of the houses have satellite dishes, refrigerators, televisions, and generators, and now that a newly installed electric line to the city is currently being connected to various parts of Piria, people will gather in one house to watch a very popular nightly soap about the wealthy people in Sao Paulo. Like every new development, I guess it has its positive and negative effects, but on a positive note, mass communication and information = education, and perhaps awareness of the global importance of the safe-keeping of the incredible rainforest on their doorstep.

Even so, had they the chance, I’m sure they would want the same things the financially well-off have. And they do purchase some products from shops – as we all do – that probably have a negative effect on the health of the planet. I guess it’s the people who manufacture from unsustainable sources without putting anything back or somehow balancing their consumption that are ultimately responsible, and not nessassarly the consumers, poor and uneducated as they often are. I suspect that with the present economic situation here in Brazil it will be the poorest who will suffer the most but also cope best, because they have always got by living day to day and making the most of the limited resources they have.

Thanks to Lorimar and daughter & family (Header photo above) for helping me out when I was on my own and ill in Piria – and for the cool fishing trip!

In my opinion, the poor really do tread lightest on the Earth.

 

IMG_3866My guide Jesuio Niesdos Santos who walked barefoot from Piria to Breves

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IMG_3606House on stilts in the Piria community: Piria has a 2.5km of walkway along the riverbank

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The giant Blue Morpho butterfly. Side view. We came across many of these

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A captive pet. The Agouti is an important part of the forest system, and is the only animal that can open the Brazil nut pod and spreads the seeds, without it, the Brazil nut tree would not exist.

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Producing Farinha. The very popular root vegetable is crushed and dried ready for consumption

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My Delorme Inreach map shows where we walked, also the location I sent messages from. The gaps are either where the forest is very dense, I forgot to turn it on, or the battery ran out. I had previously swum the first two big rivers in advance. We had a small boat take us to the first island to cross and then to the second, but my Inreach was left in the boat!

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The weekly football match at the small community of  Menino Jesus Bocas next to the stunning Rio Mutuaca where we stayed in a partly constructed church next to the graveyard. I’m ashamed to admit that at night I went to the loo in the graveyard, unaware of its sleeping residents below!

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 Manually unloading goods at a port, a frequent sight in most river towns.

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Interactive map:  Pan and zoom to see more detail


5 comments on ‘The poor tread lightest’:

  1. Clive Maguire

    Nice photos and and an interesting story developing!
    Well done on reaching Breves, which marks the end of Marajó island, I believe – an achievement in itself.
    Hopefully in a few weeks or so you’ll have left the swamps behind.
    Good luck on the next leg!

    Reply
  2. Vincent Kingsley

    Hi Pete, hope all is well, great to read your story and see photos so far.
    Good luck, Vince

    Reply
  3. Piotr Chmielinski

    Pete, unfortunately Dawid Andres and Hubert Kisinski from Biking the Amazon River Expedition passed Breves on Feb. 19th. At this moment they are in Poland and they say Hi to you. Congratulations with your progress. Check this next time you have access to better internet: http://www.pangeamagazine.com/polish-travel-oscar-kolos-for-amazon-bikers/ http://www.explorersweb.com/oceans/news.php?url=lessons-from-the-amazon-biking-the-amazo_145815653 and http://www.explorersweb.com/news.php?url=new-on-adventurestats-amazon-and-expedit_145660701&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

    Reply
    • Pete

      Hi Piotr, and thank you for the message and interest. Unfortunately i was delayed for 3 weeks due to unforeseen events so our paths didn’t cross at the right time, it would have been good to meet up.
      Congratulations to David and Hubert on their amazing achievement. ( Biking the Amazon ) Good to hear they are safely back in Poland.
      I am behind schedule but hope to gain milage on some of the higher ground soon.

      Reply

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