Friday, March 25, 2011

Ilha de Marajó

At the mouth of the Amazon river is the largest island surrounded by fresh water in the world. About the size of Switzerland, the island is home to a wealth of natural resources and unique landscapes. I am not quite sure what moved me to visit the island, but the welcoming people and lack of tourists led to a very personal experience with this corner of Amazonia.

The island is crawling with thousands of buffalo. They provide food and transportation, and are the foundation of the island's economy.

The buffalo's hide is processed by hand and used to make shoes, clothing and all kinds of other necessities. I had a rare opportunity to photograph leather being made completely by hand.

The largest city on the island is Soure, and this is it's cemetery.

A boat tour took me to incredible private beaches and deep into mangrove forests. Along the way, I got to experience more of the rainforest. On this riverbank, locals remove the husks of these coconuts and send the rich center to be sold in larger cities. The husks rot, creating fertilizer that is returned to the forest.

The mangrove trees created beach landscapes unlike any I have seen before

When the tide comes in, it brings tons of trash from cities on the coast of mainland brazil. A local told me that no matter what they do, the water just brings more trash.

I then got to experience the mangrove forests so closely that I can only describe the experience as spiritual. Even though this fragile pathway was suspended five feet over quicksand, I felt completely at ease.

The Marajó experience wouldn't be complete without a buffalo ride.

While the island landscapes were stunning, my favorite part of this particular trip was interacting with the people. No matter where I went, I found children who were eager to share their knowledge with me.

I asked these kids if I could take their photo, and instead of posing for a picture they laughed and broke out into a hysterical mud fight.

Praia do Pesqueiro

On Pequeiro beach I met a group of young boys in search of fresh fruit. They eagerly led me from tree to tree, presenting me with a wide variety of fruits along the way. They caught shrimp and crabs to show me, and after a couple more boys joined our group they caught me a goat!

I was interested in seeing how they lived, so they took me into their village. Our group got bigger and bigger as I walked the town's main street. Even though I was obviously foreign, I felt completely welcome.

The wealth of seafood and buffalo lead me to believe this island should enjoy modern conveniences and monetary wealth, but this was definitely not the case. When I asked locals where all the money from these resources goes, they responded "corruption."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Amazon Rainforest

Sometimes plans fall through to pave the way for even better plans.

My second day in Manaus, I organized a trip to see some beautiful waterfalls in Presidente Figueiredo. I considered tours into the jungle organized by travel agencies, but they were insanely expensive. Going to the waterfalls would get me into to the jungle and save me a lot of money. Unfortunately, my transportation never showed up. I sat in the lobby of my hotel, frustrated and without a backup plan. One of the hotel's travel agents approached me. I was very skeptical, but listened to the alternatives he presented me with. He offered me an incredible price on a two day excursion into the jungle. He made a lot of promises which included a private room, all meals included, and private canoe trips into the jungle with a native guide. I was hesitant to trust that it was all true, but the tour was leaving in 15 minutes and I decided to take the risk. I wasn't disappointed.

Getting from Manaus to the hut in the rainforest was an adventure in itself. First was a taxi to the docks where a boat took me across the Rio Negro and passed over where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon River. Then I transferred to a van which drove me to another river to wait for a second boat. I hoped my fate would not match the fate of these little canoes.

After another hour on a second boat, I finally arrived. The entire trip took about four hours, so I was pretty deep in the jungle at this point. My small hut was pretty fancy considering its remote location. I had electricity and running water that came straight from the river. I got acquainted with the hotel's resident monkey, Chico. He was the second Chico I met on my trip. The first was a large bull in Peru.

After lunch, my guide arrived. He looked like an ordinary guy in a tshirt and shorts until I noticed that he was barefoot. He only spoke portuguese and quickly proved how deeply connected he was to the rainforest. After a few minute's ride in a canoe, he pulled up to a bank and pointed out a sloth high in a skinny tree. We got out of the canoe and hiked into the forest to the base of the tree. Then, before I had time to process what was going on, my guide (still barefoot) scooted up the tree like a monkey! He broke the tree in half with his body weight, and pulled the sloth out of the tree. She even had a tiny baby clinging to her. I flew through all my different lenses, completely overwhelmed by how unexpected and beautiful the experience was.

Then, the guide let me hold her and even took a picture for me. I'm glad, because without this proof I would probably think it was all a dream.

After we let her go, we got back into the canoe and ventured further into the forest. As we paddled quietly, the sounds of the forest became louder and more intricate. Hundreds of birds sang and when the guide made alligator calls, alligators actually responded to him. I felt very privileged to be able to communicate with my guide in portuguese, it made the experience much more personal. The fresh air, perfect weather, natural music and perfectly reflecting water were so beautiful I actually cried.

After a couple of hours surrounded by countless birds and distant river dolphins, I returned to the hut. I snacked on fresh fruit from the trees outside my window until dinner. Every jungle meal included a variety of fresh fish, exotic fruit juices and other typical Brazilian food. After nightfall, my guide returned. Our mission: catch an alligator. We drifted slowly down the river as my guide scanned the water with a flashlight. After only five minutes, he dove his hand into the water and plucked out a small alligator. Completely dumbfounded with the ease of the catch, I began my first alligator portrait session.

Then my guide asked for quiet, flipped the alligator onto her back, and started petting her stomach gently. Within a few minutes, the alligator was completely still, hypnotized on her back. Unbelievable.

The next morning, I went another two hours further into the forest to visit a native village. It was an honor to capture candid portraits of some of the people I met.

That afternoon I took the two boats and two cars back to Manaus. I am so grateful to Claudio ( at Amazon Backpackers for setting up this incredible two day trip for me. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Manaus: Gateway to the Amazon

In all the times I've visited family in Brazil, I never had the opportunity to visit the Amazon rainforest. This trip I finally made it happen. I started in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, Brazil.

I am a theater girl at heart, so when I visited the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus I was floored by how gorgeous it is. An orchestra was in rehearsal when I visited, so I had to resist the urge to jump on stage and sing.

River boat tours are very popular with tourists in Manaus, so I made my way to the banks of the Rio Negro. The sights were a stark contrast to the beautiful theater.

River boat tours are fairly expensive, so I decided to see the Rio Negro by taking the boat that the locals ride to cross the river. For only a few dollars, I enjoyed beautiful views of manaus and discovered that I really like boats!

Back in Manaus, I wandered the streets and markets. I couldn't believe how many things could be purchased on the streets. I saw everything from home cooked meals served from pots to a tattoo artist giving real tattoos to people sitting on the ground underneath a tree! My favorite street vendor was this watch repairman who worked from a makeshift booth on the sidewalk.

In the center of Manaus is an amazonian oasis called INPA, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia. There they preserve a snippet of amazon rainforest where researchers care for animals and educate the public about environmental issues. It was a really beautiful preview for what I was soon going to see in the actual rainforest.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fire and Mud

Michael and I have been friends for a couple of years now, and every year or so we get together for an epic, creative photofest. He is an awesome dancer and model who has created all kinds of crazy art with me in the past.

He has been growing out his hair for a very long time. One of my favorite parts of our shoots together were when I could fro his hair out into an enormous fluffy mass. Sadly, the time came for the hair to go. Michael decided to get rid of it with a bang! He called me up and we arranged a photoshoot during which his mom would shave off his famous hair. This was quite an event, so he asked that I wait to publish this blog until he surprised his friends with the new cut.

Before we could go ahead with the actual shaving, we immortalized his locks with a couple of fun photos.

Eventually we knew we couldn't stall the shaving any longer. Michael's mom came along to perform the buzz cut while his brother filmed and I photographed.

We decided to only go half way and create the tallest, fluffiest mohawk known to man. All of the hair stood on it's own using hair spray and a blow dryer.

The grand finale was a portrait using Michael's newly bald head and all 4 elements (earth, air, fire and water.) While Michael's mom poured water onto his head, my dad lit and controlled the fire. I lit this using studio lighting outdoors, right outside my garage studio. That way, I could use my black backdrop without bringing the fire inside. This took a lot of trial and error, but we are thrilled with how it turned out.