Friday, August 31, 2007

Coração de Negro wood

If you're going to be using a mortar to pound the heck out of coffee, corn, urucu and other agricultural products, you sure want one made of a solid, hard wood because it's going to take a lot the beatings. Coração de negro (Chamecrista negrensis) is up for the job. I've used this one very little but I keep it in the reception center more for show. It's heavy as lead! This one has been turned on a lath, for sure. Most mortar and pestles are hacked out of trunks of trees with axes and machetes. Maybe that's the reason we don't see many of these things made out of coração de negro wood!

Coração de Negro

It's probably not by coincidence that yellow is one of the Brazilian national colors. The yellow of gold, yes, but also the many yellow blooming trees found throughout the country. There are several of these in the Santarém region, including coração de negro (Chamecrista negrensis), a tree found in the backyard of the Bosque reception center. I should say trees because there are many of them in the immediate vicinity. They are heavy bloomers, making for a carpet of yellow underneath the trees. When I look at one of these trees, I remember two details. One being the yellow flowers and the other being the extremely hard wood. A few years ago I lightly injured my right hand trying to cut through the trunk of one that had fallen. The axe didn't fair any better. Next image, the wood.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Smoked rubber

This was originally a smoked rubber ball but there's not much roundness left in it anymore. Maybe it could be referred to as a rubber pancake instead. I bought it almost 20 years ago from Milton Marques, who was the largest rubber dealer in Santarem at that time. I remember him taking me into his very large warehouse to see tons of rubber, which for the most part was made up of smoked rubber balls and the smelly coagulated latex mentioned in the previous post. I had gone there specifically to buy a sample for my collection of forest products at Bosque Santa Lucia. I selected the one you see in the image and, yes, it was almost as round as a ball. We didn't have a reception center at that time, so I placed it in Sr. Teixeira's casa de farinha, a shed where he and his family processed manioc. Over the years it got bounced around by visitors but it lost its shape. After all, it's a heavy, solid piece of rubber. If you look closely you'll see that bees are slowly but surely carrying the rubber off to their nests. For what purpose, I don't know.

Rubber tree

Someday I need to do a rubber tree count to see actually how many trees are on the Bosque Santa Lucia property. There are certainly dozens of older ones on the trails I use for tours. I always make it a point to tap a tree to show visitors the latex, which is the origin of what we call rubber. In the image you can see the latex oozing from a cut I made with a fast whack of a machete. When Sr. Teixeira or one of his sons tap a tree, they use a professional tapping knife, which I'll show in another image. We don't commercialize rubber at the Bosque, so my cuts are only demonstrative. In the "real world", there are two cuts in a fish bone design with a small cup-like container fastened to the tree for collecting the dripping latex. In days gone by, the latex would allowed to coagulate in this container, or it would be smoked over a fire before shippment to market. Today most latex is kept in liquid form by adding ammonia. This is the prime rubber used for making surgical gloves and condoms, among other products.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Vine snake

Before leaving the Bosque late this afternoon, I remembered that I hadn't watered the açaí palms. As mentioned in an earlier post, açaí is a palm that loves water. It's natural habitat is on the waterways, especially around the Belém area. I've been successful in keeping a few of these palms alive on the Planalto because I give them extra water and I also mulch the ground around them with discarded organic material, including pruned palm fronds. This litter is fairly thick, so it was no surprise today to see this beautiful vine snake come out from underneath to escape the water I was unknowingly pouring onto it. After some posing, it returned inside the litter.

Building materials

The Cultural Fair for the Lower Amazon is now underway at the Praça São Sebastião here in Santarém and on a visit there I met many old friends from the forest. Some people, yes, but I'm referring to the building materials for the community stands. As I posed to take this picture, I nearly stumbled over a meter long piece of monkey's vine thrown into the street. I must have muttered the name of the vine because the lady inside the stand smiled, as to find it strange that a gringo would know the name of the ribbon-like vine from the genus Bauhinia. You may remember that I described the vine on this blog only yesterday. She went on to show me how strips of the vine had been used in the construction of the stand. You can see how they were used to tie fronds of palm leaves on the post to the left. The lady also confirmed that the vine is medicinal, as it is used to make tea for treatment of diarrhea. The thatching material for the roof and walls of the stand are from the fronds of the babaçu palm (Attalea speciosa).

Wild passion fruit continued

This is a better view of the two wild passion fruits shown in a previous post. Notice the remnants of flowers just above the fruit and the "mother" vine over to the left. I took this picture yesterday at approximately 15:00 hours. It was dark enough in the woods that I had to use the flash on my camera.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Passion flower and fruit

The area between the reception center and the entrance to the Bosque is a mass of vines and I dare say that most of them are of wild passion fruit (Passiflora sp). The production of passion flowers and fruit certainly doesn't match up with number of vines. Maybe because it's rather dark in this patch of woods. In the image you can see one flower and two passion fruits.

Wild passion fruit

In this image you can see the vines, buds and fruit on a secondary vine coming off an older vine. Down below you can see a larger vine yet. I wonder how old it is? It must take years to reach this size.

Pata de vaca, continued

Yet another variety of cow's foot. This one has a much larger leaf and it doesn't turn into a vine, like the one described in the previous post. But it becomes a small tree and produces very large, white flowers. I'm not sure, but I think this is the species that's used in the treatment of diabetes. It's said to produce vegetable insulin.

Pata de vaca

There are a number of different plants and small trees called pata de vaca (cow's foot). They are all of the genus, Bauhinia and at least one is used in the treatment of diabetes. The one in the attached image is noted for its transformation into a very large, leafless vine called escada de jabuti (tortoise's ladder, or monkey's ladder). It's always a favorite show and tell plant at Bosque Santa Lucia. Lower image by Robert Dalton.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tarantula in the palm

I was pruning a Licuala grandis palm this week to find a tarantula between two fronds. Peek-a-boo! There was some evidence of web material, so I assume it is a young female preparing a home for her future family. Two days later I had another look to find that the tarantula was still there.

Soils, litter continued

I remember a visitor's comment that he couldn't understand why the tropical soils were so poor in nutrients. With so many leaves and other forest debris falling on the ground, why don't the soils become richer in organic materials? I don't have a scientific answer to explain the process but I know that as the rainy season gets under way, the litter on the ground begins to get compacted. By the end of the rainy season in July, there's very little left. The ground is almost bare! Where did it all go? For food, of course. Remember that once we get beyond the thin topsoil, there aren't many nutrients around from which the trees and other flora can feed on. Termites and microorganisms decompose the litter into a form that root systems can feed on it. The demand for food is so great in the dense tropical forest, very little, if any nutrients can be stockpiled. The forest is hungry!

Soils, litter

Most trees in the Amazon are deciduous, i.e., they lose their leaves at least once a year, normally during the dry season. Depending on aberrations of rainfall, it's common to see some species of trees putting on new leaves and then shedding them again as the dry season continues. The forest litter can be quite thick in September, especially under the Brazil nut trees. I find myself being more careful to look for snakes during these times because there could be anything among all those large, loose leaves. Image: Arthur Daniel Alexander.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tropical soils, continued

Given that most tropical soils are lacking in nutrients, it only makes sense that trees don't waste a lot time putting down taproots. They send out surface feeders to consume the nutrients in the top soil. Sometimes we see very large roots snaking along the ground in pursuit of food. Clearly there are mattings of smaller roots underneath taking on this task. In this image you can see part of the root system of a tree that was blown over by the wind. No taproot, only surface feeders. The tree wasn't a small one, it must have been at least 25 meters high. Surface roots provide some stability for trees but not to the extent that taproots do. Maybe a comparison can be made between boats with keels. Deeper keels, as in sailboats, provide for much more stability than flat-bottomed boats.

Tropical soils

When we drive from Santarém to Bosque Santa Lúcia, we go from a tropical savanna environment to the Planalto (highland), where soils continue to be nutrient poor. The attached image is on BR-163, going up to the top of the hill where the Brazilian Army base, 8th-BEC, is located. This cut in the road is an excellent chance to see what our soils are all about. Some years ago I took the time to collect samples from every different layer of terrain from the top to the bottom. I ended up with more than 30 jars of samples in the approximately 120 meters in difference of altitude. Except for a very thin layer of organic soil at the top, the rest was made up of very poor soils of clays and sands rich in aluminum and ferric oxides. In some very isolated places there are also outcroppings of latterite rock, a reddish colored rock formed by millions of years of percolation of water through these minerals.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jacarandá do Pará, seed pod

In earlier posts I have talked a lot about jacarandá do Pará (Dalbergia spruceana) as a tree and also as the source of a very expensive lumber that ends up in Frankfort, Germany for making musical instruments. I have a few of these trees planted at Bosque Santa Lúcia and one here at home in Santarém. I was surprised to see the one here at home producing seed. Not many, maybe half a dozen pods at the most. After checking the larger trees at the Bosque, I found that they are also producing a few bean pods. Hopefully they will be viable seeds, and hopefully, I'll remember to collect them for planting.

Licuala grandis

Licuala grandis is the name of this very popular palm, which is originally from the Soloman Islands. I say "popular" because occasionally I give friends a palm and when I let them choose, they make a beeline to Licuala grandis. The result is that I only have four left! I'm not sure how many of these palms are in this region of the Amazon. Not many, that's for sure. Mine are from seeds received from palm collector, Ricardo Assis in Rio de Janeiro, in September of 2003. The only other ones I've seen are at the airport in Belém. I look forward to the day when these licualas produce fruit. Even though the palms don't get more than three meters high, they produce long stems of bright orange/red fruit.

Roadside flowers

We're in the middle of our dry season and it's that time of the year when we see these very colorful flowers along the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway. They are called Flor-de-São-João, which translates into Saint John's flower. The scientific name of the plant is Pyrostegia venusta. The family is Bignoniaceae. It's a vine and it's native of Brazil. I'm not sure why the association with Saint John, except that the all-saints festivities in June are always very animated events with lots of square dancing, regional foods and participants dressed in colorful hillbilly clothes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cultura Inglêsa, new location

Per my last post, Cultura Inglêsa (school of English) has a new home on Morais Sarmento here in Santarém. Claúdio and Bernadette like to receive English speaking visitors at their school and you can be sure that you'll get the royal tour of the facilities, plus an opportunity to visit with students. Claúdio's brother, Gil Serique, is our leading wildlife guide and it's quite possible that you'll get a chance to meet him at the school. If not there, on his surfboard out on the Amazon and Tapajós Rivers.

Açaí seeds and orchids

Late yesterday afternoon I placed the açaí seeds in the orchid vases, per attached image. The Maxillaria amazonica is the only orchid in bloom right now and the flower isn't as beautiful as the last one, which was posted on this blog some months ago. Click in on the thumbnail for a better view. The açaí seeds will help, for sure. Better yet, I'll invite Claudio and Bernadette Serique to the Bosque for some professional expertise. By the way, the Seriques have inaugurated their new home for the Cultura Inglêsa school of English. As we might guess, Bernadette has filled every nook and cranny with orchids and other plants.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Palm, Livingstonea chinesa

This palm, Livingstonea chinesa, has been in a vase on the back veranda of the reception center at the Bosque for at least three years. The trunk is getting to be quite large, so in the next few months I have to make a decision as to whether it goes to the ground, or to a larger vase. The seeds of this palm were given to me by Carlos Eduardo Godinho, a friend who passed away one year ago, at the age of fifty. The matrix is an eighteen year old palm located at his widow's home here in Santarém. I don't remember how long it took for the seeds to germinate but it seems to me that it was less than one year. I have two survivors of the palm, this one and another one that is in the ground. The latter is still quite small, half the size of this one. Carlos had warned me that it was a very slow growing palm. Given that the soils at Bosque Santa Lúcia are very poor in nutrients and heavy in clays, I'm inclined to keeping this chinesa in a vase for as long as possible.

Insects, pair

It's seldom that I get close enough to flying creatures to take their pictures. I don't know the name of this pair but they were so "dog-tired", I didn't have any problem taking the leaf they were on to my studio, which is an old plank table on the front veranda. I wonder what the survival factor is for insects in this situation. They are clearly "sitting ducks" for some hungry bird.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Açaí seeds, continued

I don't plant a lot of açaí at the Bosque because it's a palm that likes lots of water, which we don't have during the dry season. I use the seeds mainly for the few orchid plants I maintain at the Bosque reception center. A mixture of açaí seeds and charcoal seems to be the mix that most orchid collectors use in their vases. I follow suit but it's necessary to interrupt the germination process before using them for this purpose. Boiling them in water for 30 minutes or so will prevent them from becoming a mass of palm seedlings. In the attached image, the seeds after they've been boiled.

Açaí seeds

Whenever we buy açaí juice, I normally ask permission to bag up some of the palm seeds for use at the Bosque. In the attached image you can see the ones I brought home today. Except for the seeds and some fiber material, hardly anything is left over from the mechanical process of removing the dark purple pulp from the açaí fruit.

Açaí juice, continued

There are different qualities of açaí juice. The best ones are those which haven't been watered down and they are more expensive. In the attached image you can see that the juice we bought this morning is the real stuff. It's so thick, it hardly runs down the side of the jar. We make sure it's ice cold before adding farinha de tapioca and sugar. The tapioca is the starch of the manioc root, the same byproduct we use to make tapioca pudding. Açaí reminds me a lot of that melted chocolate some of us like on top of our ice-cream. The sugar factor is also similar. The more sugar added, the better it is! Áurea tells me that the better açaí in Brazil is served in Macapá and Belém. It's even thicker than that we bought today here in Santarém. She paid R$ 5,00 (around US$2.50) per liter for this açaí. In Belém, some of it goes for R$ 10,00 per liter.

Açaí juice

I see in one of Olle Pettersson's blogs that açaí is has found its way to Sweden. Olle remembers açaí well because he took many photographs of the palms when he was here in the Amazon year before last. Açaí is the name of the palm (Euterpe oleracea), as well as the name of the fruit and also the juice. Coincidentally,
Áurea had a hankering for açaí this morning, so we stopped by our favorite place for buying the juice. The pulp from the berries is literally removed from the seeds right in front of your eyes. It's not a marketing prompt, it just that they sell it about as fast they can process it. We bought two liters, which you can see in the plastic bags next to the coffee thermo bottle. The next step is to put them in the freezer for a few minutes to get the juice cold.

Foam nests, update

Quite a few posts back I showed some unidentified foam nests placed on the leaves of a clump of lemon grass. At first I thought they might be the work of tree frogs, but as it turned out, they were insects. What insect, I can't say, but one day I collected some of the foam and found this insect inside. When I first separated it from the foam, it seemed to be in a larva state. A few minutes later it got cleaned up and this is the result. Eventually it took off on its own accord but I don't know if it walked away or used wings. Our friend is composing itself on a rolled up lemon grass leaf.

Geometrid caterpillar

I discovered this little beauty on one of the walking trails at the Bosque Santa Lucia this week. It's a caterpillar, but one of the odd ones called geometrid, or inch worm. I bet everyone knows the humor associated with its strange walking habits. It's suggested that the caterpillar is measuring us up for a new suit of clothes as it doubles up, moves forward, doubles up again and on and on. What makes these caterpillars different from most is that they don't have legs, only a clasper on the terminal end. Caterpillars are known for their astronomical number of muscles. I wonder why they don't move around like a snake?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Miriti boat

Daniel brought this neat little toy boat for me when he came to Santarém last week. It's made of wood from the miriti palm (Mauritia flexuosa), more commonly called buriti here in this region. I don't know how it compares to balsa wood but it's difficult to believe that it's heavier. It's very easy to cut, even with a knife, and I guess that's the reason it's a favorite with the many arts and crafts people making toys these days. In an earlier post I showed another toy boat that had been trim painted. It, as well as this simplified version, are examples of what can be done to satisfy the toy-phase of childhood here in the Amazon without spending a lot of money, if any at all. The pleasure in crafting a toy like this must be so much greater than buying some mass produced product in the toy department of the local shopping center. Whenever I see toys made from miriti wood, I always remember a documentary film produced by Jim Bogan, professor of art and film-making at the University of Missouri and Diogenes Leal, a noted cinematographer from Belém, called The Adventurers of the Amazon Queen. It's a tale woven into a fabric of poetry, fantasy and muddy river water - always returning to the construction of the featured riverboat by a young kid whose workshop tools consists of an old kitchen knife. I'm not sure, but I think Bogan and Leal won an international award for this documentary.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Santa Luzia

My eyes are feeling better already after having placed an image of Santa Luzia in the reception center at the Bosque! As you might know, Santa Luzia (also called Santa Lúcia), is the patron saint of the eyes. In this presentation, she's holding a chalice with a pair of eyes inside. Every community has its patron saint and in the case of Poço Branco, where Bosque Santa Lúcia is located, it's Santa Luzia. As noted, even the Bosque takes on her name. The image was donated to the Bosque by our friends, Jeremy and Maddy Campbell, researchers from the University of California.

Let there be light

Well, it looks like I'll have to change that message posted on the bathroom mirror at Bosque Santa Lucia; the one that warns visitors "in need" that there's no electricity or water on the premises. I have to admit that few people ever saw the note because once they closed the door behind them, it was much to dark for them to see. In the same message I asked people to flush the toilette with a jug of water, but few ever got to the task. Most people just wouldn't say anything after looking in vain for the flush cord on the empty water box. More concerned folks would discreetly ask me how to flush the toilette. There are a few days of the year when we have cruise ship traffic at the Bosque and the bathroom is the most popular place in town. Things can get messy real fast, so on these days I hire a neighbor to do nothing but look after the bathroom; that is keeping the toilette flushed and the place clean. Last week we hooked up to the new power line that's been under construction since the beginning of the year. Wow! We can now see all the dust accumulated on wood samples, and everything else. We also see a few frogs hiding out in what were once dark corners of the buildings. To celebrate the occasion, my kids gave me the lamp you see in the attached image. It's so much nicer than the glaring light bulbs on the ceiling. The lamp is the work of local artisans, who are gifted in the use of natural resources. My lamp is made of the sheathes (upper part of the lamp) of a palm tree, bamboo and wild vines. As you can see, it's a very simple lamp, but very striking in what was once a rather dark environment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BR-163, potholes continued

Some stretches of the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway, BR-163, are better than others. Although the section shown in the attached image isn't without its potholes and eroded edges, it's lasted much longer than other parts of the road. As I best remember, this part of the road was paved by the Brazilian Army around 1984, which makes it more than 20 years old. There are kilometers of pavement further down the road which didn't last a year! Ask people who live in Belterra, they know only too well. I used to do many tours from Santarém to Belterra and I remember when there was only a dirt road going out to the turnoff to Belterra. Then the road was paved on to kilometer 100, some kilometers beyond the Belterra turnoff, and most of us wished that it hadn't been paved at all! Within a year, much of the asphalt broke up, making for difficult driving conditions. Quality control seemed to have been left out of the dictionary of local road construction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

BR-163, potholes continued

This is the second car brought to cruel stop by a pothole in the road. Behind it is another vehicle belonging to people who stopped to help. Even further down the highway, you can see our friend's car, which was the first one to blow out two tires. It's not very visible, but our car is just behind it. We were coming back from a picnic, so we made cake and fruit juice available for the family, which included a couple of hungry kids. Aside from some strong cursing on the part of the drivers, we all scratched our heads over the ridiculous situation of the road. I guess we're all used to potholes in the city, but the highway has long stretches of good road ... and then without any advanced notice, you're staring into holes, which can't be avoided at 80-90km per hour. People who drive the road every day know when to slow down, zig-zag, get off onto the side of the road, etc. But those weekend drivers going out to have lunch at the barbecue restaurant are caught off guard. Our unfriendly potholes are several months old now and it's beyond my imagination whey they haven't been repaired. The Army Corps of Engineering headquarters is on this section of the highway, as is the Federal Highway Police. In addition, our only national congressman for this part of the Amazon lives only a few meters from the edge of the highway. Yes, it makes one wonder!

BR-163, potholes take their toll

Some weeks ago I reported on the dangers of traveling on the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway (BR-163), referring to the many unexpected potholes in the road. The situation hasn't changed at all. On our way back from the Bosque this past Sunday, we spotted a friend and his family on the side of the highway in a very distressful situation. Two of their tires were blown out from the impact of hitting one of the craters. Not only were the tires flat, the hubs were also heavily damaged. That's not an easy affair, two flat tires, two dented hubs ... and only one spare tire. They were lucky to hail down a passing taxi, who took one of the family members to a tire repair place down the road. While we were waiting for the taxi to return, another car came to a flopping stop just ahead of us. You guessed it ... two more flats.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Caterpillars, update

To celebrate father's day, Áurea invited some friends out to the Bosque for an improvised breakfast. It didn't take long for the small group to disperse onto some of the closer trails, one being where hundreds of black caterpillars are aggregated on the trunk of a wild ficus tree. Interesting that nobody saw them! Later I took them back to see have a look. Nobody could believe what they had missed. The caterpillars seem to be in the same status as reported on yesterday's post. I'm curious to see how long they stay on the tree before taking off to the next stage of being butterflies.


On the way back from Bosque Santa Lúcia today we made a stop at the São Camilo Hospital (alias Maternidade Hospital) for Áurea to see a patient. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon and hotter than Hates, so I parked the car inside the hospital compound under a shady mango tree. I told Daniel that it was common to see iguanas munching on fallen mangoes around here. I didn't see any from inside the car, so I got out to have a look. I didn't take more than four steps before spotting this very large iguana resting on one of the lower limbs of the mango tree. It tried to put some distance between us but Daniel got some photographs before it disappeared up the tree.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Vanilla orchid on the porch

I have two orchid plants at the reception center, one on the front porch and another one in the back. The one in the front has bloomed once and produced a single bean, which I photographed and posted earlier this year. This orchid in the attached image is on the back veranda. It's the youngest of the vanilla orchids and I think the easiest to see. When and if it blooms, it'll be hard to miss. By the way, it's easy to find the other posts on vanilla, or other orchids on my Tropical Biodiversity blog. Type in "orchid" in the search blog section in the upper left hand side of the page. The Blogger will bring all of them together for convenient viewing.

Vanilla bean opened (Orchid)

As described in the previous post, the vanilla bean I found was overly ripe. Not to the point of being rotten but it was a dark brown/black color and the seeds inside were sort of a paste. I gather from the little reading I've done on vanilla, the beans are removed from the vine in a green state and then they go through a curing process that can take up to 4-6 months. So who knows, maybe this bean was being cured by nature.

Vanilla bean (orchid)

The vanilla orchid isn't known for its high production of fruit, unless manually pollinated. Thus, I was surprised to find this overly ripe vanilla bean on the ground under the first one I planted several years ago. I placed the cutting next to a hogs plumb tree (Spondias), which wasn't the best choice on my part. The tree is quite large and the branches quite high, making for difficult climbing conditions for the orchid. It goes up and up and at some point, maybe 20 meters high, it falls back. Then it starts climbing again. If it can ever get to the first branch, it'll have something to hang onto. I've never seen a bloom on the orchid and this is the first fruit I've seen from it. In the attached image, you can see another vanilla plant, which is climbing around the rafters of the back porch. I'm holding the bean next to one of the leafs.


Earlier this week I was sweeping some debris off our footbridge to discover a very large infestation of black caterpillars on a ficus tree nearby. I don't remember ever having seen this variety of caterpillars, anywhere. Except for the orange head, they are totally black and quite large. I didn't take time to count them but there must have been hundreds of them aggregated together on the lower part of the ficus trunk. I'll be going back to do an update of them tomorrow morning.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Marimari da terra firme

This time of the year the woods are full of blooming marimari da terra firme trees (Senna multijuga). Despite the number of these trees around our region and the brilliance of yellow flowers, I could never find a name for the tree. After 4-5 years of searching, I finally found a picture of the tree in a book at ICBS (Instituto Cultural Boanerges Sena), a cultural institute belonging to my friend, Cristovam Sena. It seems that there are some variations in this species from one part of Brazil to another, but I'm almost certain that it's Senna multijuga. Regardless, it's a beautiful tree, especially when in bloom.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Book now available via

I'm receiving a few messages from persons wanting to purchase my book saying that they aren't getting responses from the Missouri Publishing Company contacts listed in an earlier post. Sorry, the problem is that the book was published almost the same day that the university volunteers were taking off for their well deserved vacations. Things should normalize in the next few days. In the meanwhile, the book can be purchased via You can use your plastic for the purchase. Please continue to contact me, if you have any problems. All the best. Link to

Monday, August 06, 2007

Marri, update II

This is one of the many mariri vines at the UDV Center and I hope I see the day when our vines at the Bosque reach this size. You can see how the vines climb on top of one another, creating a very entrancing relationship. Look at those little flowers coming off secondary vines. Cut up pieces of the mariri vines are smashed with wooden clubs against a ceremonial log and then added to the brew that eventually becomes the ayahuasca tea.

Marri, update

As described in an earlier post, marri is the indigenous name for Bannister caapi, a woody vine used in making the ceremonial tea called ayahuasca. Some cuttings were given to me by my Swiss friend and fellow guide, Pierre Swartz, more than a year ago. I kept them in a vase until a root system had developed and then transferred them to the ground next to a small tree. Mestre Joaquim at the UDV center outside Santarém, told me that the vine is quite delicate in the formation stage and that it would be better to use a string or wire network for them to get started climbing. That I did with some old discarded telephone wire. As you can see in the attached image, the vines are growing along the wire and also up the tree. What I've discovered is that the vine likes to grow up but not along the horizontally directed wires. After some careful training, they move along the wires but them double back on themselves. So, now I'm taking the attitude that the vines know better than me. Let them do their own thing. I only hope that they grow into the very thick vines used for making the tea, as depicted in the next image.

Not all that's yellow is gold

Some years ago while hiking in the back lands of Alaska, I unexpectedly met a father and son team who were camped out around the source of the Kobuk River. As the father told it, they lived in the "lower 48" part of the year, but they always returned to the Alaska during the summer months in pursuit of that yellow stuff called gold. Being curious, I asked if they had found any. "Not really" he confessed. "It's more of an obsession, an addiction. You know Steve, if you were to see a dime in a street gutter, you wouldn't take the time to pick it up. But if you ever found a speck of gold worth a dime, you'd spend the rest of your life looking for more." I don't remember how many years this person had been coming to Alaska with this objective in mind, but quite a few. Duranta repens must remind people of gold because the most common name for it is pingo de ouro, gold drops.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sour oranges

I was surprised to discover a sour orange tree at the Bosque this week and it was loaded with fruit. I took a few of the ripest oranges home for cleaning fish and salad material. Some people also use the juice for making teas and medicines. I find that a little juice from the orange with lots of cold water and diet sweetener is a delicious drink. We have to drink so much water here in order not to get dehydrated, anything that adds taste helps.

Pau Formiga (Ant tree)

Triplaris or pau formiga is found in the baixadas (lowland areas) where water accumulates during the rainy seasons. It's called pau formiga (ant tree) because it hosts untold numbers of fierce red ants in its hollow trunks and branches. It's a symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna. Like some of the other ant plants described in the blog, the ants get very comfortable homes and the trees get protection. Not many rural workers like to clear these lands because they get eaten alive by the ants. As one field hand told me, when we cut these trees, we need leather clothes. From time to time I have to prune some of these trees around the bridge walkway and I can tell you that they're easy cutting but be careful with the ants. I find pruning shears the best because it's one fast cut without the high impact created by an axe or a machete. The more the tree is impacted, the more the ants get thrown onto the predator.

Soybeans harvested

My neighbor, Lira Maia, harvested his soybeans this week. Timing couldn't have been better because the beans were ripe and field was dry as the Arizona desert. The harvester chewed into the crop meter by meter until the field was was clean as a piece of toast. Seeing the the operation reminded me that nobody here had ever seen mechanized agriculture up until 6-7 years ago. The former owner of this land, Sr. Arthur, was a subsistence farmer, producing what he could via the slash and burn system of agriculture. He worked the land most of his life until old age and sickness forced him to move into the city, where his wife became a seamstress to help support the family. The land was fairly much abandoned for the few years it took him to sell it. Sr. Arthur's land and our Bosque Santa Lucia became one. When Maia bought the land, it had to be surveyed to determine boundaries. He then opened up this small service road, which today separates forest from a soybean field. I take pleasure in walking under the shade of trees and he takes pleasure in making lots of money from agriculture. Maia was mayor of Santarém for eight years and it was his government that opened the door to mechanized agriculture. He is currently serving his first year as national congressman from Pará. I forgot to mention that he is an agronomist.