Neblina Expedition part 4

From: Fernando Rivadavia Lopes (
Date: Fri Feb 26 1999 - 19:58:32 PST

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 19:58:32 PST
From: "Fernando Rivadavia Lopes" <>
Message-Id: <aabcdefg602$foo@default>
Subject: Neblina Expedition part 4


        Once down from Neblina and back on the river, we stopped at the
Ianomami Indian village where our three porters lived. There were
between 50 and 100 people in the village, half of which were small
children. No old people. They were dressed in shorts and T-shirts and
living in mud-walled houses with thatch roofs. The houses were arranged
in a loose circle. We hung around for a while taking pictures and
enjoying the commotion we were causing. Or more specifically, which Ed
was causing, with his 1.9m of the fairest skin they\222d ever seen and
his flaming red hair. They couldn\222t stop staring at him and when we
were finally about to push off with some bananas and oranges we\222d
bought from them, they began asking us to leave Ed behind. The chief of
the tribe even made some jokes with very explicit sexual nuances about
what the village women wanted to do with him! I told him we\222d
\223sell\224 Ed for two bananas.&#61514;&#61514;
        We\222d already met a few natives along the way and bought
        touristy things
from them, especially at a house maintained by FUNAI. We camped at this
house on our way to and from Neblina. There was a generator to feed a
TV, a fridge, a few light bulbs, and a radio. The radio was used to
communicate with other FUNAI outposts and Indian viallges. Most of it
sounded like gibberish to me, like a soprano Darth Vader was on the
other side. I got a blast at one point from hearing Morse code over the
radio! I couldn\222t believe it. Here we are, last year of the 20th
century, communication technologies evolving faster than ever, with
those new Iridium cell phones already on sale, and there are still
people using Morse code somewhere in the world!!
        Anyways, after two days hiking down Neblina, one and a half day
        on a
boat, and an hour by pickup truck -- some of us bouncing dangerously on
the back as the car sped its way along the dirt road \226 we were
finally back in S.Gabriel. CIVILIZATION!!! Well, not quite, but after
so many days in the forest it sure seemed like it! It was hard to
believe we\222d all made it back in one piece with only mosquito bites,
scratches, bruises, and leg aches. Fortunately nobody got seriously
sick either, only minor things like the flu and the shits -- which led
us to a small toilet paper shortage crisis at one point.&#61514;&#61514;
        That night we gorged ourselves in our first real meal in 2
stuffing our bellies with a big barbecued meal. We invited our 2 guides
for dinner, hoping that this would make it easier when it came down to
paying them the second half of their salaries. But as I expected, a
huge discussion ensued between us and the guides (in relation to how
much the guides thought they deserved for the extra day spent at the top
and for having carried \223so much\224 of our weight) and between
ourselves (about how much we should tip the guides).
        The morning after we arrived, it was time to begin with the
Our group began breaking up after nearly a month together, as the
Neblina expedition members started their long trip home. First Andreas
and Christoph caught their plane back to Manaus and then Joachim,
Katrin, and Mauricio did the same the following day. But Gert, Ed, and
I caught a boat down the Rio Negro: we still had a bit more CP hunting
ahead of us. Numerous ships navigate the large rivers of the Amazon,
carrying cargo and people all around, acting as trucks and busses in
that vast rainforest where roads are simply unfeasible.
        Meals on the boat were self service, layed out on a long table
        next to
the kitchen at the back of the bottom deck, and typically Brazilian.
Breakfast was a very light snack, with bread and coldcuts washed down
with milk and very sweet coffee. Lunch and dinner were hot and heavy
meals, consisting of rice, beans, beef, chicken, pasta, salad, and
\223farinha\224 (roasted manioc flour). We spent two days and one night
on that boat, stopping at the town of Santa Isabel on the first night.
We sat around writing in our journals, talking, drinking, playing
dominos, talking to a few people, and watching TV. The scenery was
really beautiful, but boring after a while: a thick wall of forest along
the distant riverbanks, occasional small villages, Indian or not, and
lots of islands -- the two largest river archipelagos in the world are
on the Rio Negro. Just before the first sunset, we had a brief glimpse
of Neblina and surrounding highlands far away in the distance. The only
animals we saw were river dolphins, which we\222d already seen plenty of
around S.Gabriel and during the boat ride to and from Neblina. I\222m
sure we saw the black dolphin, but not so sure we saw the larger pink
dolphin since these animals only surface briefly and quickly to breathe.
        Our boat, although large, was really crowded with people. The
bottom decks were colorfully packed with hammocks. The top deck was
roofless, with a bar, chairs, and even a satelite dish for the TV. But
a guy had to stand by the TV all day, to continually adjust the antenna
as the boat zig-zagged downriver and lost its tracking on the satelite
transmission every few minutes (or less) \226 turning every TV program
into a frustrating game of connect the dots, as we tried to guess what
had happened or been said during each session of pure static, each of
which lasted a few or more seconds. But there wasn\222t much else to do
on that boat anyways and most people didn\222t seem bothered by the gaps
in the TV programs.
        I\222ve noticed, while travelling around outback areas in Brazil
        and other
countries that TV seems to have a special hipnotic effect on rural and
small town people. They just sit in front of the TV, staring wide-eyed
as if in a trance. I often doubt they understand any of what is being
said, especially when the news is on, with all that political/economic
talk and all those names of countries and places which they have
absolutely no idea where or how far they are. And I notice they often
don\222t understand simple plots of movies, especially sci-fi. Or what
about those huge cities they\222ll never see, machines they\222ll never
use, and other modern things which they have no inkling about their
functions? What do they think of when they see something completely out
of their reality, like snow? In fact I\222ll never forget one guy who
called the polar bears in the Coca-Cola ads \223cute white dogs\224.
        What these people see on TV often has absolutely no relation to
day-to-day routines and I\222m sure the Amazonians on our boat hought
all those fair-skinned TV people had very strange accents as well \226
and let\222s not even get into what the Ianomi Indians we met at the
FUNAI house on the way to Neblina were thinking while sitting in front
of TV! What keeps their eyes glued to TV, I kept asking myself, when
it\222s something so alien to them? So I tried putting myself in their
shoes and suddenly realised that I would probably also gawk stupidly for
hours or days if placed in front of a weird electronic gadget which
showed life on another planet, even though I wouldn\222t be
understanding a bleep of what those little green men were uttering.
        Anyways, back to my adventures, when Gert and I had arrived in
at the beginning of the expedition, nearly a month before, we had the
chance to take a quick look at a large herbarium. We saw several
interesting specimens of Drosera, including a few unidentified ones from
a place called Serra do Araca. When we asked where this was, we were
shown a picture of a beautiful tepui and told that it was north of a
town called Barcelos on the Rio Negro. So that\222s why we were on that
boat from S.Gabriel, going downriver to Barcelos, where we hoped it
would be possible to organize na expedition to the Serra do Araca. Time
was short but we were miraculously already on a boat heading N out of
Barcelos less than 24h later. The trip to Araca was quite expensive
because of all the fuel used by the powerful speedboat we took and
because of the distance involved -- we went further north than Neblina,
near the border between the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Roraima
with Venezuela, crossing the Equator once again.
        As usual, things didn't work out exactly as promised to us.
        What was
supposed to be a 10h boat ride to Araca became 18h -- with rain and cold
weather during one full day on the boat -- and our 2 guides became too
lazy to climb the mountain once we were there. Luckily we got another
guide with a family living out there by the river. The Serra do Araca
was a perfect tepuy, with the plateau at about 1100m and a few higher
peaks up to around 1500m, but unfortunately too far for us to hike to in
our limited time. Because of the delay in reaching the mountain, we
were only able to spend one day at the top, although in the end we felt
it was enough since the CP variety up there was rather low.
        We found only two specis of Drosera: D.roraimae and what may be
        a new
species which was especially common and variable, in some places nearly
indistinguishable from D.roraimae. Only a few Utrics were found, the
most interesting of which was U.longeciliata, with compact rosettes of
thick narrow leaves, but no flowers, only old scapes. There was also an
unidentified affixed aquatic species with yellow flowers, U.subulata,
U.amethystina, U.pubescens, and possibly one more species growing with
the latter. Reading Taylor\222s, I realize we may have missed at least
one Utric on Araca: U.alpina. We didn\222t see any cloud forest there,
but maybe it occured on the higher peaks mentioned. Yet considering how
much confusion sometimes surrounds the names of faraway places like
Araca, the plants mentioned by Taylor may actually have been collected
on some other nearby highland.
        Like on Neblina, we saw no Genlisea on Araca, which was very
and unfortunate. Sadly, no Heliamphora either, although there were some
very good habitats for it. Not enough altitude I guess. BUT.... over
to the NW of Araca, we could see several high tepuys, reaching maybe
2000m, which would be VERY interesting to explore for Helis and other
CPs in the future.
        We slept at a very nice and large wooden garimpeiro house on top
        of the Araca. The miners were there in search of a mineral called
tantalite (from which the metal tantalum is extracted) and the operation
was rather well organized. There was even a lady who was the cook,
maid, and who knows what else... Anyways, they invited us to have
dinner with them, which we gladyly accepted, to escape from our usual
drab camp meals.
        As we sat down and began enjoying the rice, beans, and "beef",
        one guy
casually mentioned how good the tapir tasted. "TAPIR?!?!" I asked in
disbelief and surprise, thinking he was just pulling the legs of the
stupid tourists. I didn't believe him until he pointed over to the
tapir head lying next to the stove. Wow, we were actually eating a
Tapirus terrestris they'd hunted right on Araca!! For those of you not
familiar, the tapir is the largest mammal of S.America, a very shy
creature about the size of a large pig and with a long snout. I've
never been lucky enough to see one in the wild, although they're
widespread in Brazil. And there I was eating one!
        Luckily the ride back to Barcelos was ONLY 12h long, although
        again we
got lots of rain which lasted a whole day. It sure made us quite sick
of riding boats! We became literally sick on the boat we took from
Barcelos to Manaus. Everything was fine while we floated downriver past
countless islands of the Anavilhanas Archipelago, which divided the Rio
Negro into numerous narrow channels. But once past the islands, we
reached an open stretch of river where the margins were amazingly
distant from each other and where water extended all the way to the
horizons both upriver and downriver. And that's when the storm hit us!
The chilly wind roared past us, the boat was suddenly going up and down
large waves like on a roaller-coaster, the hammocks all swung back and
forth together like huge pendulums. As a result, our stomachs turned
inside out, wanting to return all our lunch. Aargh! I never knew
"riversickness" could be as bad as seasickness! Luckily it only lasted
an hour or two and our lunches stayed in place, although I at least was
still feeling sick when I went to bed that night.
        In the morning Gert and I said a quick goodbye to Ed at the
airport, since he was returning home, while Gert and I had to dash off
to Venezuela in hopes that we'd have time to climb Mt.Roraima. We first
flew to Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, and from there
caught a bus to the town of Santa Elena de Uairen, just over the border
inside Venezuela. These few hours on the bus were tremendous torture
for us, seeing tons of good CP habitats in the beautiful savanas north
of Boa Vista but not being able to stop and explore.
        Actually, there was a single stop at a roadside bar, where the
driver shouted out "10 minutes". Those were the shortest 10 minutes of
my life! I ran straight out into the bush, heading for a small river
surrounded by the typical buriti palms always found along waterways in
savanna areas of Brazil. The grassy fields bordering the buritis are
always a great place for CPs, and sure enough we found plenty of
U.simulans and a tiny reddish Drosera, which may be D.biflora, with
spatulate leaves in small, loose rosettes and very short, delicate
flower scapes with usually only a single flower, none of which were
open. The bus driver almost left without me, although Gert was doing
his best to hold him up while I clumsily dashed back across the plains
and through the tall grasses in my flip-flops.


Fernando Rivadavia
Sao Paulo, Brazil

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