19/10/2018, I’m headed to the Brazilian Amazon to meet the Baniwá community, an indigenous tribe who supplied us with the Baniwa chillies for our Pineapple, Mint and Chillies Saison brewed back in March of 2018.
After the beer launch, in collaboration with the Indigenous Organization of the Içana River Basin (Oibi) and the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), we organized a trip to São Gabriel da Cachoeira, northern-west part of the Brazilian Amazon, where Brazil meets Venezuela and Colombia, home to the Baniwá’s and another 30 indigenous tribes and where 23 languages are spoken, for a cultural exchange, to learn more about the local communities, taste and learn about Amazonian products and how we can help to create awareness about the importance of traditional, organic and sustainable methods of cultivation for the local communities.
Leaving the brewery for 3 weeks and specially leaving my business partner on his own with all the load-work that this involves was something that was clearly bothering me the whole week prior to the trip, and for the most part the flight, while I was trying to get some work done. So I went for a coffee and had the pleasure to meet Linda, one of the crew members of the flight KL791, who brewed me a coffee while we chatted away about the trip and the time I was about to spend in the Brazilian Amazon.
I got my coffee and went back to my seat. Trying to relax a bit, I started flicking through the airline TV and found a documentary on a drug used to treat and prevent malaria called Lariam, wildly prescribed to tourists visiting high risk areas, as well as British and American army forces deployed in Africa, Asia and South America. The documentary focused on the side effects of the drug: anxiety, hallucinations, depression, transient emotional disturbances and suicide were reported among troops and tourists alike. I immediately checked the drug I was prescribed to prevent malaria and, surprise! Some of the same side-effects were described in the drug leaflet.
Well, I have a history with mind altering drugs like say... beer, so I chose anxiety, hallucinations and depression over malaria.
Towards the end of the flight to São Paulo, Linda approached me and gave me a card and a little gift on behalf of the flight KL791 crew that immediately brought back to my mind the importance of the trip to me and to everyone else involved. Unfortunately I did not take a picture with Linda, but I hope that this post will reach her somehow, for I want her to know how wonderful she is and how that gesture put me back on track. Thank you, Linda!
After 18 hours flying I am finally in Manaus, the capital city of the state of Amazonas, Brazil. It’s 11:30 pm local time, I arrive at the fisherman hotel I booked after a 3 minutes taxi run from the airport. Shower and bed, woke up at 6:30am, no jet lag at all, but soon realised I left my charger adapter home, which was sort of a big deal for I had some other stuff to deal with, like the suitcase full of beers from Hope Beer, Metalman Brewing, Lough Gill Brewing, Rascals Brewing and of course, some of Hopfully stuff, that I could not take to the middle of the jungle for a bunch of reasons.
Had some coffee at the hotel and met Mr. Gil, a taxi driver and Mr. Fernandes, a porter at the hotel who offered me to leave the suitcase in the hotel while I’m away in the jungle, even though they don’t provide such service. Both man absolutely friendly and helpful. Went to the nearest grocery store, about 1km away from the hotel, walking on a highway by the jungle, and the fact that there is no side-walk didn’t surprise me at all.
I am not really a fruit eater, so I guess I had forgotten how beautiful, aromatic, flavorful and delicious freshly picked fruits can be. Bought some local treats, I’m happy! And believe me, you want this! I don’t it breakfast ever, but in this case it just felt right.
Suitcase problem solved, after the full Amazonian breakfast feast I’m headed to town to find a camera and a phone charger, and whatever else awaits for me there.
On the bus, with my phone on flight mode to save battery, trying to take a few pictures with the driver speeding up insanely, I was approached by a guy selling a candy made out of the root of a tree that, as he said, would cure any sort of lung illnesses, sore throat and cough for 1 Real, about 25 cents. Sure, I want this!
I am not a stranger to the sight of people selling food on traffic lights and the contrast between the less fortunate and the lucky ones. But this time, after 5 years without setting foot in the country, it somehow felt strange.
I jump off the bus somewhere in town, and my first thought? Food! I stop at Aunt Ana’s food stall and order a local dish called Tacacá, an intensely bitter vegetable broth. The base of the dish is Tucupi, which is used in many dishes in the north, made out of Mandioca Brava. Some Jambu, a green herb widely found in the northern region of Brazil that makes your tongue numb, some garlic, spices and shrimp. Half way through my bowl and unable to feel my tongue, I ask Aunt Ana what is that gooey stuff in the dish and, after explaining it to me she goes on to say: “oh, and by the way, that can kill you if not cooked properly”. I pay for my dish, and not dead yet I’m off to wander through town.
It’s hard not to be dragged into politics in Brazil right know. In a town surrounded by military bases, where everyone is fighting, literally fighting for every square inch to sell their stuff on the streets, from bananas to electronics, water to orthodontic braces, it’s not hard to understand why people is looking for a change in the political scene. After 16 years of the Workers Party in power and the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, the alternative is a clearly ignorant guy, who often times displays a wild range of homophobic, racist and violent behavior. The future does not look bright for my home country whatever the result of the election is.
Changing the scenery, the Amazonas Theater is an opera house located in the hart of the Amazon. It’s a stunning place and one of the most important theaters in Brazil. The theater architectural style is considered typical of the Renaissance Revival. The roofing tiles were imported from Alsace, the steel walls from Glasgow, Scotland and the Carrara marble for the stairs, statues and columns, from Italy. The dome is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles painted in the colors of the national flag of Brazil.
Right across the road is the Justice Palace, Manaus first courthouse. Where let’s say, a different sort of play used to be enacted years ago. Today is a cultural centre.
On the other side of the Amazonas Theater is located Amazonica Gallery, an initiative of ISA (Socio-Environmental Institute) and PWA (Waimiri Atroari Program) to enhance the art of traditional people of the Amazon through the Fair Trade pieces by artisans from over 30 different indigenous communities of the Amazonian regions. There, it’s possible to know the origin of each piece, the people who produced it and the region. Without intermediaries, the gallery is directly related to the local associations and pays the communities directly.
Off again, I find the Municipal Market, a local food market where you’ll find all sorts of meat, seafood and local produce. They also seem to have the cure for all illnesses: herpes, hepatitis, diabetes, diarrhea, gonorrhea, syphilis and, if only I knew, malaria! I tried some cachaca with Jambu, a typical Brazilian spirit, and pickled Jambu, only to have my tongue completely numb for another while.
The intensity of the town, it’s wonderful people constantly shouting and fighting for a space to make a living, and the predominant smell of urine and naphthalene balls take its toll on me. Dripping sweat and tired, but not yet defeated by the malaria, or the malaria drug, or the Tacacá, I need a beer. So one more time I decide to take some risk. I hire a moto-taxi, a cheap version of a taxi where the vehicle is a motorbike usually piloted by a guy with very little care for his life, or yours. Speeding up between cars, I try to record a video with no success and wonder if the idea of risking my health trying to record a video on a moto-taxi is a side-effect of the malaria drug, but this very same thought sets my mind at ease.
This is just the first part of my trip in Amazon, I can't wait to meet the Baniwá tribe and bring more of my adventures to you. Stay tuned!