Friday, February 29, 2008

Aerosols and Anaconda Bait.

Caipirinha: $4 ; Mosquito Repellent: $12; Night at Amazonian Eco-Lodge: $180 ; Having your dessert stolen by monkeys: priceless.

On Monday afternoon, I was walking out of the dining hall at our workshop hotel with a piece of cake in my hand so I could eat my dessert outside. Before I could even register what had happened, a monkey had jumped on my leg, climbed up my back and down my shoulder and stolen my cake out of my hand. The impudence!

I should explain: I have been out of the field site for a five-day workshop on Aerosols in the Amazon. The workshop is being held at this eco-lodge on the Rio Negra just north-west of Manaus - the Ariau Towers. The workshop consists of about 80 aerosol scientists from around the world discussing various aspects of the science. As for the location... well, when us field types got on a boat, we knew we were in for a shock. Upon arrival at the hotel, we were greeted with a dancing girl, musicians and a wooden "treehouse hotel" (slightly euphemistic) built on stilts on the river edge, complete with paper mache scarlet macaws and river dolphins. Emerging from the woods and walking into Disneyland is a truly surreal experience. Not a bad experience when viewed with the appropriate sense of humour. But a surreal one, nonetheless.

This workshop has been quite a fantastic experience! The science has been educational and challenging - but I won't bore you with details on that. Much more exciting, on Monday evening, I got to hold a caiman. Our guide jumped out of the canoe and scooped this one up (small) and told us all sorts of interesting information about her. On the trip back, we were told about the local anacondas - they get to the size of 12m, and can swallow small cows. Don't worry. After they've swallowed the cow, they sit in a tree for a long time and digest. Apparently you can even pat them on the head at that point. Just don't try that when they're hungry...

Other highlights have included: front row seats for the complete lunar eclipse, seeing a three-toed sloth in a tree, watching bats fly over the river at night (fishing?) and drinking caipirinhas with my friend Colette. But the highlight of the trip - perhaps of the entire Brazilian experience - was being able to hold a three-toed sloth, after we (the royal we - actually, our guide) had rescued her from near-death: as we took the boat (16-person motorized canoe) back in a rain storm from our jungle walk, our guide noticed the sloth struggling in the water. She had been caught up in reeds - either while swimming or having fallen into the river from a tree, and wasn't able to get herself loose. So our favourite guide, Alan, plucked her from the water, cut the tangled reeds off of her with a machete, and then let a couple of us hold her as we went to the nearest tree and hung her back up.

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