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Wednesday, January 1, 2025

Welcome



If you just happened upon this little blog or came over from Aunt Michele's Stories or the Cactus Flower blog, first of WELCOME!  Originally this was a travel log of our big road trip all around mid-south Brazil in April of 2017 in a Mitsubishi Pajero.  

In September/October of 2017 Byron traveled to the northern states of Pará and Manaus and visited four of the major rivers of the Amazon River system.  He traveled by car, bus, slow boat, fast boat, small plane and commercial jet, UBER taxi and motorcycle.   

This blog displays posts in the order they are published.  So if you want to start at the beginning of the Big Brazil Trip, click here > 2017 Brazil Road Trip. Then scroll to the bottom of the page and work your way back up.  If you just want to see just the Amazon entries click here > 2017 Amazon Trip.  The Amazon trip posts are numbered.  Look for #1 to start at the beginning.

However you want to read, Enjoy!







Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Complete, Unedited Amazon Travel Diary

Just in case you wanted to read the whole story from start to finish... Byron is still making some correction and additions, but it's mostly done - rough and no Michele editing. 



Analysis of My Trip {AM Trip #20}








23 days, 11,000 km, 8,000 miles, 14 types of transportation. 5 (6) rivers (4 major) and a fair amount of money (haven't figured that out yet). So, what did I gain from the trip. I didn't go for adventure or sight-seeing and several times consciously made decisions to that end.  I didn't even really feel it was an adventure. I felt at home in the local culture and speech and only mildly frustrated by communication and transportation complications. I saw a lot of interesting things but few things seemed strange and I never felt I was in the "jungle" or in danger. 

Maybe it's because I'm naturally kind of easy going, or maybe it's because I've been here 20+ years. My visit was quick and superficial and because of family illness in one place I visited and a couple of boat problems, I was not able to do some of the in-depth visits I had planned. Too late I had the idea to go back to Barcelos and rent a boat and visit river communities there. It was my first survey trip and there were some things I should have done differently (taken maps & gps for example).

But here's what I took away from the trip so far. (I'm still analyzing).


1) Life and ministry there are difficult and expensive because of travel.

2) Ministry is complicated because of FUNAI (Brazilian government Indian organization).

3) Efficient ministry is difficult. A lot of time is spent "just living" and the pace of life is slower. Everything lakes longer.

4) There has been a LOT of investment in the region. There are old, mature works there and a lot of money has been invested. There have been and are many projects started though few ever get off the ground, much less last. There's something "romantic" about going or sending someone to the Amazon Jungle.

5) It's much more modern than I expected. A/C, electricity, cell service, internet (if slow and spotty), power along most of river (except the Negro). If your boat dies, you'll see someone or some house before long. (Where I went. Obviously you don't have to stray far to be remote, and some of superficial appearance belies the dangers just out of sight.)

6) There are a lot of churches in cities. Mostly charismatic and contemporary, but the conservative churches that remain are even more conservative (attire and music) than those where we are now. Many are old, mature works, but many are also struggling and static - not making much effort to reach those just around the bend.

7) Assembly of God is an exception. They are good at grass-roots growth. I was not able to assess the quality and am told that many of these "works" are weak, scandal ridden, and name-only. Which is the down-side to the Assembly of God method where someone was a drunk yesterday, converts and starts preaching today and is a drunk again tomorrow.

8) The afore mentioned Jehovah Witness push is making inroads. My observations and those of others, as well as the comments by a member, and the Halls I saw all lead to the same conclusion.
 

9) There is still a great need. It seems to be similar to the need hear in NE and many needy regions are prohibited now even to Brazilians. Mechanical abilities and decent support to operate a team boat ministry seems advantageous and viable. BUT I didn't sense an urgent, desperate, specific call to any place or the region in general. In fact, it opened my eyes to the possibility of a similar ministry here.

Homeward Bound {Am Trip#19}

10/18/2017 Wednesday

MUCUIM (moo-coo-WEEN). That's the word for chigger and I've learned it well. I used American repellent before going to Mato Grosso. Silly me forgot that the mucuim in Brazil can't read English labels and thought the repellent was steak sauce. Looks like they found it rather tasty! Man, am I itching to get rid of them.


We got up, ate breakfast, saw inside the church and parsonage there in Anori (the current pastor is in Manaus) and started walking with our bags hoping to bump into a mototaxi (as in motorcycle taxi). 


Pr. O stopped to show me an açaí grinder (closed), and bananas. Finally we spotted some mototaxis. One of the drivers thought the boat had already left. Since my plane home leaves in some 12 hours, that made me nervous. 


This Expresso doesn't come up the creek to town. A small put-put boat (like a mini-recreio) goes out into the main river to meet and do a mid-river transfer. The man was wrong about the time and we made it. Even had to wait. Downstream tickets were cheaper than upstream. 

Pr. O said vazante (land uncovered when the river recedes) used to be covered with planted corn, etc. before Lula (beloved, but recently scandalized President who started many free-money social programs). 
 
vazante
 



This is the nicest boat yet. Two 600hp Scania engines and speeds of 50+km/hour (30+miles/hour). Luggage is limited and overweight charged to keep weight down. Interesting tunnels on the prop outlets and the pilot dash in good condition. Nice lunch on fancy plate - beef, not chicken and real Coke. (Most boats gave water, once got what was either cheap orange soda or detergent for washing engine. Probably soda since they care about the paint on the engine.) Saw part of "Wonder Woman" in Chinese. She had a patch over 1 eye and a parrot on her shoulder (pirate).

Pr. O sat somewhere else and talked to a passenger he knew. He kept talking over top of me and I may have muttered something he may have heard. Or he just may have wanted to talk to his friend. I had already seen this part of this river but I did go out to look until the shade was gone. I used earplugs (because of the noise of the engines). I didn't find any pilots that were interested in talking - even about their boats so I stayed off the front.


Pr. O's daughter was waiting for us when we arrived in Manaus. The mucuim were complaining about their food being smelly, so I took a bath and then re-packed my suitcase and clean hammock (and rope). Ate tambaqui (fish) stew, toured Igreja Batista Regular Israel (the church across the street he started). 


 
My route, as shown on map, is Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife, Petrolina, Sobradinho. I have to change seats, change planes, change planes and airline, and get my car that is to be waiting for me after being repaired while travelling. 

At the airport, the wife and daughter disappear. I express concern several times but Pr. O says they'll find us. Eventually they show up with a bag. I'd commented that I had tried several times to buy a souvenir and it hadn't worked out. During this leg of the trip every one kept asking either if I spoke Portuguese or if I shouldn't be in the elderly line. I started thinking I'd have to punch them in the nose just to show them how young I was - or put my teeth in and bite them. 

I said good-bye and headed for security. I passed okay, but the x-rayer got this funny look on her face and started running my bag back and forth until it almost glowed green. She called the guard over and he asked what was in the bag. It was then that I uttered the absolute worst phrase you can ever spew from your lips - "I don't know, someone just handed me the bag while I was in line." I quickly tried to explain that it was bought in the gift shop, but to no avail. They had to see it. Was it a model gun or Indian arrow or Jungle ninja throwing knife???   

No, a thousand times worse IT WAS A WOODEN TOUCA-A-A-A-A-N. . . With 2 holes for pens (available separately at additional cost). Yes, it was the avian suicide bomber known as Toucan Blam, believed to be responsible for ruining the paint on hundreds of freshly washed cars. I left the gift bag open in case someone else should be suspicious, but managed to smuggle it the rest of the way home unmolested.
 

On the BEL-FOR leg a woman got on and sat beside me. She had several purses and looked kinda lost or nervous. She kept looking around and finally asked for water. We spoke briefly as the plane taxied to the end of the runway. The lights were darkened and as the engines revved-up she pleaded sheepishly, "Can I hold onto your hand."  I gave my best fatherly smile and stuck out the hand on that side. She quickly latched on during the take-off. Firmly. After a couple of minutes she relaxed a bit and settled in for the trip. 

Her name is Viviane and she was on her way to a Life Coaching seminar. Her ex-husband was an airline pilot and she had flown often but never got used to it.  I asked about her bracelets and she asked about the wordless bracelet I had on. One was a rosary and she seemed to be religious. She listened with interest as I explained the Gospel using the colors and even commented. I took it off and offered it to her and she seemed genuinely excited to have it. I asked her to review the meaning and we went over it again. (ED: Remember to pray for her.)
 

The trip was plane, plane, plane, car, & smile. The mechanic was waiting with the car (and a bill) but the air wasn't working. At this point I didn't care and quickly went home to a smiling wife and a hot lunch.

p.s. On 10/20/2017 I received message from Missionary Jaimeson that he could meet with me now. (See Post #14)

Side Trip to Mato Grosso {AM Trip #18}

10/17/2017 Tuesday


Off to Mato Grosso (not the state)!  It was about 9ish.  Went on motor bike. About 22 km (14miles) and takes 40-50 minutes. Mostly asphalt. Part way there's a road west towards Codajás. Pr. O doesn't think there are many communities in that direction, yet but later we saw several motorcycles going that way. 





The whole area floods with just islands here and there. A large part of the forest along road burned awhile back and the smoke made a lot of people sick. Saw buffalo, castanha do Pará (Brazil nuts), a strange bird nest (white tube), a dugout being made, a toucan, the Coari/Manaus natural gas pipeline, (the city generator station was the nicest I saw, uses natural gas) and Açaí (some with bags over the fruit). 





Açaí is out of season but is the major cash crop. Each tall (25 m,80 ft) skinny little tree is climbed (clumb, clomb - they go up it) at harvest.  The only protection is on hands and feet so they can slide down fast. The show-offs go down head first. Sometimes they move tree to tree without descending. Didn't get a lot of good pics from back of bike.
  




In Mato Grosso we saw the church. He has a little room in back. It's wood on stilts with a wood floor. The shower drain is just a couple of holes in the floor. I wondered about the PA, because he has a soft hoarse voice that wouldn't carry well. 

He had installed 2 donated A/C's but the electricity to the outlets wasn't connected. Since new red wires entered the wall and old white wires came, out I had some difficulty verifying the wiring. Amazonas is 110v, but the A/C units were 220v. Since he had installed 2 phase I just went phase to phase. One of the breakers couldn't handle both units together. 

We also installed a rural cell phone (more power and external antenna). For lunch we had chicken cooked on a pan w/ a whole in the middle. Wouldn't mind finding one of those. This was the last of some 15 times I had chicken on this trip. I ate so much chicken that when I laughed I cackled. When I went to shave, I saw it wasn't hair, but fine down growing on my neck and my legs . . . well, I already had chicken legs, but  in the street any chickens I saw fled in panic squawking "Here comes the chicken assassin!"  They even accused me of "hen"acide. But I would have sought professional help if I'd laid an egg. (you probably think I've cracked.)

We walked the villa. There was a Southern Baptist church but it closed.  But there are 4 Assembly of God churches for 500 people, the Roman Catholic and his church (Regular Baptist, around 18 people). It's part of Anamã and the bishop is from here, but much closer to Anori and easier, too. 



Saw some fiberglass light posts on the ground. I had first seen them in Barcelos. They are more expensive to manufacture than concrete (wood is outlawed and most have been removed and thrown away), but have the advantages of being easier to transport, longer lasting (no steel to rust) and can be installed by hand as I saw in Mato Grosso. I walked up to one and picked up the butt end. 

We walked through the grass and looked at the lake which connects to Anamã.  There are a couple of communities on the lake that have Assembly of God. While Pr. O was finishing up business, I did the evangelistic magic tricks with some children. More kept showing up and finally 1 adult tried to watch without looking too interested, Adilson. I called for the other adults and when they wouldn't come, I took the kids over there. 

Pastor O was eyeballing the sky worried about rain so we rushed off. We didn't get real wet, but the road did and it got really slick. Cars slide like in snow and motorcycles fall. The gooey mud builds up until it rubs the fenders. Many push. I offer to walk - plead, even - but he insists and we creep along and make it through. 


Back home at the house in Anori, we talk of the British adventurer who was murdered by addicts near here. She was warned it was dangerous, but camped out anyway.  She was first mistaken for a trafficker, then robbed and killed anyway. Perps were caught because they unwittingly turned on SOS messing with her GPS.   Pr. O's 57 year old brother was killed 5 years ago (2012?) on New Year's Eve by a similar group in same area. He had no money, but may have been killed because he recognized someone.

Still few mosquitoes. Little malaria around even in rainy season. Feet are starting to itch. Should be less to write from here on in - I'm heading for the barn. (home)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The City of Manaus {AM Trip #17}

10/15/2017  (light rain)
 

Sunday. Counted my days and washed enough socks and whites to make it home.  Pastor Wellington had spent most of Friday night at the hospital with a sick church member. He was tired and asked if I could do Sunday School. I didn't feel I did very well. After Sunday School there was a big sessão (biz meeting). 

the congregation
 
 
Igreja Batista Esperança
The church has a Haitian family. The man came after the earthquake looking for work. The church worked hard to sponsor and pay for the rest of the family to come. They come a long way across town for the services. 

Pr. Wellington had already asked me to speak at their congregation at night since the usual speaker couldn't make it. Most of the afternoon I spent prepping and dozing. Couldn't get my outline to congeal. Finally while sitting at the congregation waiting for the service to start, it came together. "The Bonzai Christian". 

Graça, ("Grace") the mother church, has an orchestra. The congregation, Antioquia, has a flute. I was told to take the minimum on the next leg so was up to 1:00 am re-packing. Taking just a backpack. Some clothes were damp even with a fan on them all day.

10/16/2017

At 5:15 am got up, left before 6. First we took the pastor's daughter to military school. Picked up Pr. Osmar and left my suitcase and hammock. I'm going with Pastor Osmar to visit his work up the Solimoes.  Pastor Osmar's wife (Antonia) asked if she could wash my hammock, and I said no need. Now we took Pastor Wellington's son to his school. He was dressed as Gaúcho for something special (someone from Southern Brazil) and had no books.  When he arrived at the school he panicked and wouldn't get out of car for fear he had gotten the wrong day. 



Bad traffic (like most every day in Manaus) - especially now that a main bridge is out. Very hilly city, some so steep the tires spin on the asphalt. It took 2 hours to get from Pastor Wellington's house to the port. There was some concern we'd be late. 


The expresso
 

Pastor Osmar and I made the boat on time.  We went by expresso but there was no air conditioning. Lunch was bought separate.The Solimões River is low, too, but it's rising. When the river's high there's a shortcut, but we have to go downstream to the mouth and start up. Banks are high like the Madeira but darker colors - black, red and tan. Seems to have more stuff floating - even entire trees and seems to have more as we go up river. There are some brown sand beaches that grow and move. 

Pastrr Osmar is from here so he knows the area well. He says sandbars silt over and become the black land that's now eroding to silt over somewhere else.  We see more floating houses and shops than I remember on the Madeira.  There were very few on Negro. There are some private boat rails and ramps. Houses are almost continuous and many have electricity. Seems more populous than Madeira and definitely more the Negro. 




The expresso was showing some kick-boxer movie on the boat. At Manacapru (accessible by road from Manaus via bridge), the boat filled and started stopping about every 3rd house. May have picked up lunches that were phoned ahead. I had chicken. Pr. O brought own food for health problems. He split his lunch with our seatmate. 

If I had a dime for every time he pointed and said "that's an island", or "the river covers that" this trip would have turned a profit. He and his wife are really, really nice people, but his speech quirks drove me nuts, "entendeu?"



grocery store

remains of thre three boast that caught on fire the day before
Went up a creek to Anamã and then later up another to Anori. Saw the 3 burned boats M saw on the news and an enormous floating house. Anori, our first destination has +/-18,000 people. 


Toured city. Motorcycle battery was dead and we pushed it half way back to Manaus before it caught. The whole area floods at high river and becomes one big swamp - especially in  2015. There are water marks on many houses and people just raise the floors of their stilt houses or put the fridge on a table. 

Saw a man carving wooden animals and decided to come back and try to buy one later. Pr O's got a nice truck that's been broken for a year because of  his sick wife. She's "famous" for the first Brazilian brain surgery while awake. 


 

Saw the church and parsonage which he left for the current pastor. Pr. O built a smaller, wooden house on the corner on the church lot.  I'd wanted to go into a wood house. The bath and floor were brick and concrete. The wood walls were fairly sealed and painted. Wooden windows slid in tracks. Small, but I liked it. We went out for churrasco (grilled chicken on a stick). He insisted I sleep in his room. Talked to M on the phone and went bed.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Plane Ride to Manaus {AM Trip #16}

10/14/2017

Had breakfast and said bye to Dona (Mrs) Marlete.  She shared some of her burdens and life. She has a habit of pausing after a phrase and saying "é" (here the equivalent of "yeah") and then repeating the last phrase before going on. Some else did the same thing and I wonder if it's a local speech habit, perhaps from Indian influence. 


Another quirk I noticed was the listener repeating the end of the last phrase of the speaker. Overall, however, speech (accent) in the north is not too different from the northeast, perhaps because a large part of the population descends from people from the NE fleeing the droughts. And if they were looking for rain they came to the right place. I felt quite at home. The only difference in speech was in the "s" which some say as "sh". (Pash the toasht, pleash). The laid back, unhurried manner was the same and a certain lack of ambition. Even the food I found similar.


Pastor Moíses cut it kind of close coming to pick me up. While I waited outside for him I talked some to a neighbor. I was surprised when I came out to see Seu (Senhor = Mr.) João's scooter, the man I stayed with, on the sidewalk. I was pretty sure he wasn't up yet so I asked the neighbor if it had "slept" (or should I say "shlept") outside. He said "Yes, every night.  But he takes the key out". 


I had commented earlier to the man under the house that none of the canoe motors had chains or locks. The pastor later explained that João is well known and, more important, there are no roads out of the small town so, where would a scooter thief go? A joy ride maybe?

Outboard motors are another story. It's also a different story on the Solimões River which is like an interstate highway (international). A lot of towns, a lot of traffic, a lot of drug running from Columbia = a lot of crime. In Santa Isabel I remember seeing one window with bars (not one house, just one window) and the Foursquare church across the street didn't even have windows, just holes.
 

 
As I said, I was talking to the neighbor while I nervously, because of the time, waited for Pastor Moíses. But the planes were late. There was a fishing group there. Two planes were coming, the Caravan and a 19 passenger turboprop twin Bandeirantes. There were no ticket counters, no staff or salesmen and as the luggage was carted off I tried to follow. When I was stopped, I said I had paid to be on the flight. When he asked me if I had a receipt I got nervous. Idiot me just gave R$500 and my name to someone in a dime store and walked out thinking I had a plane ticket. The man who stopped me said this plane was full and that I must be on the Sunday flight. I said there was no mention of a Sunday flight, and the Tuesday flight (which would have been perfect for me) was full, and that my ride was waiting for me today, the day I paid for a ticket for. 

After some more asking around someone pulled out a cell phone and looked on WhatsApp (a popular social media messaging app here). There I was. They asked me to go on the second plane which was going to the air club.  I said I needed to go to the main airport as that was where my ride was probably already waiting. They let me on the first plane. 


It was only 2/3 full. It was a bouncy, cloudy ride. The high-wing plane would have had better visibility but I saw some rivers and the city of Novo Airão. Once I arrived I had to wait for Pastor Wellington to come from his house. It took awhile because he lives over near the air club. Where the other plane went. The one that didn't have wings blocking the view. Sigh.


We ate a late lunch with a policeman friend who drove to pick me up with the pastor and his family. They bought a roasted tambaqui fish and a chicken. When I stepped into the house I was surprised to see a pile of instruments, mostly string (cello, bass, viola), but also brass and woodwind and a real wooden piano. Where's Greyson when I need him! There's even a daughter his age . . .  


Later I found out Gabriela (Greyson's "friend" from music week) knows Pastor Wellington.  The pastor and I talked most of the afternoon and night. He's very energetic, always rushing and sickly sweet, but sincere. It's obvious he has a really good family relationship. He's very conservative and he, too, struggles with the growing reformed movement. He thinks even in the Northeast, Fiel's (a reformed theology group) influence is waning as many are beginning to see their ulterior motives and the "reformed package". 


I said I wasn't so sure as the "local" seminary just had a big reformation conference. He asked my position and we were both surprised to find we were on the same page. I get so tired of being the odd man out on everything in the region where we are. As the afternoon cooled, the park across the street filled with kids. There is a slum on the canal. Missionary opportunities! I hoped to get my ropes and go out, but wasn't able to.