Friday, November 30, 2007

The way it used to be

I don't remember the year this picture was taken, but I assure you that it was long before the word "blog" appeared on the scene. It was also long before mechanized agriculture made its debut in this region. Subsistence farmers raised their families on what they could plant and sell via the use of an ax, machete and sweat of the brow. The road into Bosque Santa Lucia wasn't much more than a trail, as you can see in the image. Today the road has been widened to accommodate logging trucks, transportation of soybeans and other traffic. But some things never change, for example the quality of road maintenance. It's still easy to get get stuck in the mud, as it was back then. Remember all those images of dust I've been showing over the last few days? Well, today it rained and all that stuff turned into the slickest mud ever invented. I got to the Bosque without a lot of problems. The old bus bringing in two natural history groups from the Spirit of Adventure cruise ship got in with some slipping and sliding on the road, but it got the passengers in for their tour. The light rain continued and the mud got thicker ... and there are some low grade ascents on the way back to Br-163, alias Santarem-Cuiaba Highway. Jasper, the owner and driver of the bus, has years of experience driving the Santarem/Belterra route and he did his magic of getting the bus out. I came behind about 30 minutes later and there was no way to find traction between the tires and the muddy clay road. Try as I might, there was no way out. Finally I "tucked my tail between my legs" and managed to get back to the Bosque reception center, where I left the car. Cleper, one of the woodsmen for today's tour, and I walked back to the highway, where I took a bus back to Santarem. Early tomorrow morning, I'll go back to see if the mud might be more compacted for getting the car back to town for a bath.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bosque Santa Lucia, what it's all about

The beat of coming by water has been hot and heavy over the last two weeks. I often wondered if it weren't better hauling water, as I've done over the last 25 years. As I watered down several plants late this afternoon, I realized that conservation of a little piece of forest is indeed worth whatever it takes to accomplish it. Sometimes it's difficult to see beyond the dust lifted into the air by passing vehicles and wind; and there are times when the brilliant tropical summer sun blinds me with its exaggerated brightness. Then comes a break. Water at last - and nature contributes to the cause by providing a darker sky and a light sprinkle of rain to wet the red pedals of wild passion fruit flowers, only meters from a string of electrical wires going to the new well. Almost magic, a family of howler monkeys approach the reception center to eat flowers from the top of a yellow blooming tree. Then the music of two toucans as they chatter to one another from a distance of 100 meters from one another. Darkness falls and it's time to return to Santarem.

Well, the water box continued

I'll have to admit that it's a strange looking sight to see that huge blue water box and tower over on that side of the reception center. Nothing I would ever ask for Christmas, but given that it brings plenty of water for my plants, I'll overlook any resemblance to civilization. For the time being, no water in the bathrooms. The next step will be to have a plumber figure out the idiosyncrasies of the construction and how to connect things up. There are two bathrooms. One seems to be rather straight forward in terms of toilette and sink connections. The other one has a toilette vase that just doesn't match up with the flushing apparatus above because it's a few inches off to the side. Odd? Yes, but it's because two push-out windows above prevent the proper alignment of the two. I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Let the plumber figure how to connect the two. Like when one has health problems. What do we do? Take them to the doctor, of course. Let him figure it out!

Well, the water box

The 2,000 liters water box arrived too late for the well digging team to set it up, but Sr. Assis was back today with one of his men and an electrician to get it up on the tower and make the electrical connections. The "box" is made of fiberglass, so it's relatively light. After pumping nearly 2,000 liters of water into it, it's another story. I had some fear that the weight might be too much for the tower infrastructure, but there was no sign of stress on the wooden structure. Ney, the carpenter knew exactly what he was doing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Well digging, final farewell

After working so hard over the last nine days, I don't know how the team finds the energy to flex their muscles. Not only the backbreaking work but camping out at night on the back porch of the Bosque reception center and cooking their meals over an open fire. I take my hat off to this fine group of young men. Thanks for the water and friendship.

Well digging, departure

And the welling digging team readies for departure. They'll be taking some of our dust back home with them, but they'll be leaving plenty of water for Bosque Santa Lucia.

Well digging, packing up

There's still a lot of work to be done to get the water system in order, but the drilling job is done and the team makes ready for departure. They leave in the same way they arrived - in a small compact pickup loaded to the hilt. Every piece of equipment used over the duration of the operation of nine days is on that vehicle!

Well digging, water at last

The electrical system was connected and the magic moment arrived. At first there was only the sound of air being pushed out of the pipes and then came water! Large quantities of sand came along with the gush of water, but in about half an hour it cleaned up. Cleuson and I quickly got our buckets out to use some of the water for trees and plants around the reception center. How sweet it was to give them the water they need. As we find time, we'll clean off dust from the leaves and fronds. End result: the well is 60 meters deep; 21 meters of water in the tubes; and an output of approximately 7,000 liters of water per hour. For the time being we'll take water from the pipe you see in the image. The water box should arrive tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Well digging, pipes

60 meters of pipes being lowered into the well with the pump. The black cable is the power cable for the pump and the white cord is for lowering it all down. It'll remain in place for the purpose of bringing the pump back up in the future for maintenance.

Well digging, pump

The submersible pump being attached to pipes, which will be placed inside the large tubes.

Well digging, capped off

The larger tubes capped off and cemented into place.

Well digging, gravel

A bucket of gravel is placed in the well to help with the filtering.

Well digging, happy days

When it rains, it pours! This morning our weather pattern changed from a dazzling hot sun to a cloudy sky and a light sprinkle of rain. Enough to wet leaves and lower the dust factor. And best of all, the well drilling team finished up their work. We got water! In the image they lower the larger tubes, all 60 meters of them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hosing down the road

My neighbor, Olivar, decided to hose down the very dusty road in front of his place yesterday. It was a real test for his pump and newly drilled well. The operation used a lot of water, but he managed to cut down the dust factor considerably. I figure that our own well will be ready in the next few days, so I'll join in the fun. I'd like to think that we'll get some rain soon, but every day is another day of blue skies, blinding sunlight and winds roaring up the Amazon Basin onto the Planalto (highlands). Even a full moon isn't helping.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Well digging, food

Daniel Spurgeon asked if the meat strung up on a pole next to the camp fire was from wild game. No Daniel, it's beef provided by the team leader, who circulates between two and three well drilling teams. The workers don't really have time to hunt, even if they wanted to do so. Secondly, I don't allow hunting on the premises of Bosque Santa Lucia. In reality, I can't really enforce the law because it's a big area surrounded by small farms and ranches. Traditionally all of these people hunt and not always out of necessity. There used to be a lot of game in the immediate region of the Bosque, but not anymore. The Bosque is now an island of forest surrounded by lands which have been deforested over the last few years for the planting of soybeans.

Well digging, first tube

The first tube to be lowered into the well will be this one. It will be riddled with slits, thus allowing water to enter without infiltration of debris. The submersible pump will also be placed in this first tube, about 2 meters from the bottom of the well.

Well digging, preparing the tubes

The fittings for 60 meters of tubes are prepared by heating the ends of the tubes over a fire. They are then connected and after cooling off, separated again. The next fitting will be the permanent one in the well.

Well digging, mud

A closer look at some mud that was brought up from the hole. I normally don't get excited about mud but right now anything associated with water is good news.

Well digging, mud and water

Mud never looked so good! Better yet, the drilling team told me at midday that there was 12 meters of water in the hole. The next move will be to go down a few more meters to get to the sandy layer of soil and the main source of water. Evidently that will be soon because the larger tubes are already being prepared for lowering into the hole.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Well digging, new electrical box

In an earlier blog post I showed the electrical box provided by Celpa on the inauguration of the power line. It was for the basics of 110-120 living, like lights, television and so on. The electrical necessity for operating the submersible pump for a well is 220 watts of power, which means that the system had to be changed. Celpa didn't charge anything for adding the 220 option, but the wiring, box and other material ended up costing nearly 500 reais, some US$ 290! Fortunately, the cost was split into three equal payments.

Well digging, the tubes

60 meters of tubing wait for the happy day when they'll be lowered into the "hole" to shore up the cavity left by the well drilling team. Smaller plastic pipes will be inserted inside these, along with the submersible pump, for pumping water up to the light of day.

Well digging, pulverized rock

This pasty mud is the last material to come out of the well hole. I assume that it's the impeding rock that was ground to dust by the "needle", as shown in the previous post. It's quite possible that the drilling team will hit the vein of water by tomorrow. I'm told that the rest of the operation goes much faster. I hope. The dust on the road is getting to be more than a problem. It's getting to be dangerous.

Agulha, the rock buster

By 10:00 the well drilling team had gotten through the rock, thanks to the agulha, which is pictured above. The word translates into "needle" in English, but I prefer to call it the "toothpick". It's 80 kilos (176 pounds) of steel with a needle-like point that knocks the poop out of anything it hits. This impact tool is connected to a rope and dropped from the top of the hole onto rock, which it eventually pulverizes. I didn't see any sign of rock, so I assume what I saw was the pulverized version. To celebrate the occasion, the team took the rest of the day off to visit Cleuson, who lives about 3 kilometers from the Bosque. A well deserved rest. They've been working direct since Monday morning.

Old wood, continued

As a follow up to my last blog post, these are the jarana support timbers in place. There are actually four of them, but one is cut out of the picture. That's Ney, the carpenter, up on the top sawing roof timbers, which is of newly bought lumber.

Old wood

Thinking positively, I decided to build the support tower for the 2,000 liters water box, plus a third porch for setting up the old casa de farinha (manioc mill) that has been on the ground for the last two years. In pricing lumber, I discovered that I could afford very little of it. Prices have gone up so much for lumber, few people can afford it for anything. In the end, I finally decided to use what I had left over from other projects in the past. Ney, the carpenter, is a genius at making use of anything like that. In less than three days he built the basics of the porch and the support structure for the water box! The four esteios (support columns for the porch) are jarana (Holopyxidium jarans), which were cut from forest areas for planting soybeans several years ago. As you can see by the attached image, the outer surfaces are damaged from years on the ground, but the heart wood is solid enough to hold up an elephant. The log underneath is a different story. It's Brazil nut (Bertholetia excelsa), which doesn't hold up for very long, if left to the elements. What interesting is that both Brazil nut and jarana are from the same family, which is Lecythidaceae.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Well digging, rock

At more or less 44 meters, progress came to a screeching stop on the drilling of the well because of rock. How much rock, we don't know yet. It could be one the seize of a truck, or something small. In the meanwhile, the drilling team removed the auger from the train of steel pipes and started dropping the agulha (needle) down the deep hole onto the rock. I had to leave the site early today but I look forward to seeing the results tomorrow. I'm tired of dust. I want to see water!


The dust factor, shown in the previous posts, continues to increase by the day. At Bosque Santa Lucia we try to maintain two spring breakers (lombados) on the road to keep traffic speed and dust down. On the unpaved streets of Santarem, we have the same problem. Local dwellers aren't very tolerant of dust and they resort of all kinds of tactics to deal with the problem. Most of the time a lombado is built up from dirt in such a way that drivers have to slow down in order not to damage their vehicles. Some people do the reverse; they dig a ditch across the road. And then some neighborhoods show political rage in their maneuvers to deal with unpaved streets. I could believe what my eyes were seeing when I came across the lombado shown in the attached image. This exaggerated lombado is probably the work of several neighbors.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mud hole full of dust

By midday the sun beats down on the dusty road going out to Bosque Santa Lucia with such intensity, I use a pair of Solar Shield sun glasses to see where I'm going. That gigantic mud hole that we face during the rainy season is just ahead in the lower image. Full of the wet stuff above.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Where's the rain?

It gets hotter and drier by the day. The dust factor is enough to kill anyone and everything, including younger plants and trees around the reception center at the Bosque. This once very small dirt road is now being used as a shortcut by dump trucks hauling asphalt to a road that is being paved to Mojuí dos Campos. Other trucks also use the route to make a connection between BR-163 and the Curuá-Una Highway. Dust, dust, dust! And where's the rain the weather man promised for the month of November?

Well digging, wet and sticky

At 36 meters the soil type has changed. Now it's wet, as you can see by the mud on the side of the auger head. It's possible that the crew will hit water tomorrow, if they can get down another 10 meters. So far no rock! The crew members are tired and a bit hungry because their boss man didn't bring food supplies. They used my cell phone to talk with him and he promised to bring food out yet tonight. This is super heavy work, the kind that requires FOOD. I would be more sympathetic to the problem but I pay an extra fee to cover food costs. Let's see what tomorrow brings. In the meanwhile, the dust gets thicker every day. I would love to see some water coming out of that well by this weekend!

Well digging, 36 meters

36 meters down and the merry-go-around continues topside. Notice that more counter weight is needed for the auger to bite into the earth. The are two men now providing the weight while two others turn the chain of steel rods connected to the auger.

Well digging, the dirt

The amount of dirt accumulated from digging a well with an auger is considerably less than that of one dug by a man in the hole. In the attached image you can see the volume of dirt produced by 26 meters of drilling. The reddish soil is the latest layer to be drilled. So far no rock! But the probability of hitting a piece of laterite rock is fairly high, so I won't be surprised if we do.

Well digging, the auger

The auger full of pay dirt is lifted out of the hole and placed in a position where the compacted soil can be removed. Then burned motor oil is put on the cutting blades and lowered into the hole for another round. I see several types and sizes of augers around the work site but so far only this one has been used.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Well digging, continued

The well drilling team of 4 persons seemed to have faired well in camping out on the back porch of the Bosque Santa Lucia reception center last night. The howler monkeys came for a visit and kept the crew awake part of the night but everyone was tired from a full day of work. On this second day of drilling, the men made remarkable progress in turning the auger. By late afternoon they were at a dept of 26 meters! At this rate, it's quite possible that they'll hit water in the next two days.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Well digging, continued

The well drilling team is responsible for cooking their own food, since we don't have a kitchen or cook to carry out these tasks. One of the team members quickly rigged up a camp-like kitchen on the edge of the woods. In little time the team was eating barbecued meat and a stew with rice. The first meter of the drilling is coming up.

Well digging - day 1

The decision to dig a well and to find the means to finance it isn't an easy one. I guess for that reason I've been hauling water all of these years. Now it's time to get on with the program. The summers (the dry season) are getting longer every year and the dust thicker. The tires on my car are wearing thin, as is my patience for the lack of infrastructure at Bosque Santa Lucia. Early this morning Sr. Assis arrived in his small pickup loaded to the gill with his team of four men and equipment for digging the well. By midday the equipment was in place and the drilling scheduled to begin in the afternoon. Depending on obstacles, like rock, it's expected to take 2-3 weeks. Assis tells me that his men are capable of drilling down to 80 meters with the auger, if necessary. The average depth for this kind of well in the neighborhood is about 60 meters.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Turtle skull III

An image of the two skulls together. The giant river turtle (Podocnemis expansa) and the yellow-spotted Amazon turtle (Podocnemis unifidis). For more information, refer to my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town, or do a fast internet search. There are mountains of references and I see no need in reinventing the wheel.

Turtle skull II

I'll leave the final decision up to the biologists but I think this is a tracajá (Podocnemis unifidis) skull. The common name in English is yellow-spotted Amazon turtle. Coming up, an image of the giant river turtle and this one together.

Turtle skull

I can't remember where I came by this river turtle skull but I've had it for years. Maybe from one of my many trips into Peru. There are several varieties of turtles in the waters of the Amazon River. This was obviously one of the large ones and we can be sure that it was fully utilized for making an assortment of turtle dishes. River people are crazy for foods made of turtle.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fern rhizome updated

That fern rhizome I showed a few days ago, the one on the old fallen log, has taken on some new features. Note the new fronds (the white nodules) developing from the rhizome. I'm anxious to see if they will look like the fiddle head ferns I used to see in Alaska.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Correction on Kalanchoe post

It's always great to receive comments on my posts, especially when it's a learning experience for me. A student of medicinal plants at Padua University in Italy alerted me to the fact that the plant in the attached image, formally referred to as Kalanchoe pinnata, is now classified as Bryophyllum pinnatum. The student's name is Jacopo Simonetto. His blog address is Check out his pictures taken in Ecuador. Fantastic stuff! Thanks Jacopo.

Yellow ixora

First blooms on a yellow ixora (Ixora chinensis) at Bosque Santa Lucia. I also have the red variety, Ixora coccinea. Red is by far the most popular kind.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


New leaves on an angelim (Hymenolobium sp) tree at Bosque Santa Lucia. There are different species of angelim trees but I suspect that it's angelim pedra (Hymenolobium petraeum). I planted this one from a seed I collected from an older tree near the entrance to the Bosque.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kalanchoe pinnata flowers

These are the flowers of kalanchoe pinnata, a plant that spreads like a weed in the semi-shaded areas of Bosque Santa Lucia.

Kalanchoe pinnata

Despite the lack of rains recently, the Kalanchoe pinnata plants are producing abundant numbers of flowers. The two most common names for this medicinal plant are pirarucu and folha grossa. The nomenclature "pirarucu" refers to the very large scales on the pirarucu fish (Arapaima gigas) and "folha grossa" depicts leaves that are very thick. An image of the flowers coming up in the next post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Paper wasps II

This paper wasp nest is being build under the roof of the front porch of the reception center at Bosque Santa Lucia. Actually the nest may have been completed already. It appears that some of the comb cells have received the queens eggs and have been sealed off. Now comes the question, which one is the queen? Click in on the image for an enlargement of the image.

Paper wasp nest, abandoned

Paper wasp nests come in many different forms and shapes but in general the combs aren't enclosed, as the case of the bell wasps. The one is the attached image, which was built in a Pau Brasil tree, is a very elongated comb. Construction was started several months ago and abandoned after the reproduction process. It seems to me that the structure is fitting of another family, but nature says only one time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bell wasp nest II

This is a bottom view of the wasp nest with the only entrance to the 8-story building. I'm sure that these nests are 100 waterproof when in use. They are always placed out on the end of a high tree branch, where predators have difficult access. I've read that the wasps secrete a chemical on the tallow that supports the nest that wards off ants and other insects wanting to invade the palace.