Blog #1: Travel Tribulations

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Rio Japurá, Brazil
© J.M. Bates
Arriving in Brazil

I often think about how difficult old-time expeditions (before air travel) must have been, when traveling long distances in an ocean-going boat and carrying immense amounts of heavy gear were the norm. Well, we still carry quite a bit of gear (see the stack of stuff on my baggage cart in Photo #1 below), although high-tech materials have lightened the load, and due to air travel, we fortunately don’t have to travel weeks, months, and years to reach remote field sites. However, it’s still a schlep (a tedious journey) to get to some of the places that we go, and that’s certainly true for our Japurá expedition.

In preparation for the trip, we spent several weeks packing gear at the museum: ordering everything from small tubes for storing tissue and parasite samples, to archival pens for writing field notes, to ziplock bags for keeping gear dry. We also used a combination of lockable plastic crates and duffle bags, and weighed these carefully to avoid overweight charges at the airport. Of course, in the end, we still had so many crates and bags that we had to pay extra baggage charges—but at least these were cheaper than overweight!

On the morning of July 5th, we arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, where we checked in, expecting things to go smoothly for our flight to Miami (bet you can guess where this story is going.) From Miami, where we were supposed to board a direct flight that was scheduled to arrive at midnight in Manaus, Brazil. That meant that we would have had the entire day on Friday to run errands in Manaus, including exchanging money for the expedition.

The plan was to stay two nights in Manaus, where we were supposed to meet Alex Aleixo, our Brazilian collaborator and team leader, on Friday. Then on Saturday, we were planning to fly from Manaus to Tefé, where we were to join the rest of the Goeldi team, who were shopping and preparing gear on the boat that we were renting for our trip across the Rio Solimões (this is the Brazilian name for the Amazon River above Manaus) and up the Rio Japurá.

This all seemed really straightforward. One of our friends had given us the address of the currency exchange in Manaus with the best exchange rate, which was important to stretch our expedition funds, because we wouldn’t be able to get a good rate anywhere in Tefé. However, the key issue is that the place wasn’t open on Saturdays, which meant we needed our day on Friday to run this important errand.

Well, John and I made it to the airport early, checked our mountain of gear successfully, made it through security, grabbed some food, sat down to wait for boarding...and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually we heard that the flight was being delayed due to a damaged window on the plane, and it became clear that we were probably going to miss our flight from Miami to Manaus.

Well, we crossed our fingers and were eventually booked on a new flight that we boarded for Miami. On the way, we heard that many flights leaving Miami were delayed due to weather, so as soon as we deplaned, we looked at the flight schedules and discovered that our flight had apparently not left yet, but soon would.

We sprinted through the airport hoping to make the flight—only to find out that it had left just 15 minutes before our incoming flight had landed. Thankfully, the folks at the gate desk understood our need to arrive in Manaus as early as possible on Friday, ideally during normal business hours. We were rebooked on a flight that left that evening from Miami to Saõ Paulo...then from Saõ Paulo to Brazilia...and then on to Manaus—essentially an overnight trip and an additional 3,000 miles of travel. 

Now weary from more than 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Manaus (see above photo) on Friday at noon and took two taxis (we needed two to carry all of our gear) to the hotel we’d booked. The hotel was situated kitty-corner to the Manaus Opera House (see Photo #2 below), an absolutely gorgeous building that we had no time to tour because we had to immediately leave the hotel to exchange money for the expedition. (Fortunately, we were succcessful!)

Next, we ate some lunch at the local mall food court, then we sampled some delicious Brazilian ice cream, our last for a while, at the Cairu ice cream shop. One of my favorite things about Brazilian ice cream is the diversity of fantastic and exotic flavors...everything from corn (not my favorite) to Açai and Cupuaçu (a wild relative of Cacao).

Later that afternoon, we met up with Alex at the hotel, where it was great to visit and catch up. Alex and I had been graduate students together at LSU, where we’d begun our collaboration and become close friends. It was during graduate school that I went to Brazil for the first time and fell in love with both the country itself and the Amazon. 

With memories of that first trip still in mind, I gratefully caught some shut-eye that night and dreamed of new discoveries on the trip ahead of us.

More soon,
Jason

© J.M. Bates
Picking up Our Luggage
© J.D. Weckstein
The Opera House