So, early start with a 8 am briefing by George – 14 Earthwormers joined by experts in ants, termites, soil microbiology and a terra preta archeologist. Coordination in the field is everything, and the amount of work and tough conditions mean these 18 people have to work together like a well oiled machine…… So you must use the international language of tera preta – Portugease. In our group joining the Brazilian hosts we have French, Colombian, Peruvians, Portugease and One English guy (me) guess who the only one who can’t speak Portugeuse – thanks goodness for a well know internet translator !!
After the briefing we do last minute equipment / reagent preparation. Make up various earthworm extractants, preservation ect load the vans up and head out.
Sounds dynamic but you have to understand that Manaus is a city approaching 2 million people and so suffers like all big cities of grid lock – so we take 20-30 minutes just to get onto the bridge over the Rio Negro. But then we are out into the forest. I immediately amazed by the quality of tarmac but soon this is forgotten as the sites of the rain forest fill the vistas passing the windows.
Obviously coordinating 18 people has taken a little longer than anticipated and instead of going straight to the sites we stop at a very unassuming road side restaurant – the menu is mainly fish, even with pictures to help those linguistically challenged like me ! the meal that is served up is a magnificent banquet. We had grilled ‘Tambaqui’ – a magnificent fresh water fish about 1/2 a meter long and grilled in cages in over charcoal in a chimney like oven. Others had a fish soup that had fist size chunks of fish. Quiet incredible meal especially when the bill came to £5 a head !!
Then it was time to dig for our dinner. A few more miles of tarmac and we hit dirt – well dirt and mud. I was worried that the two people-carriers would not be able to deal with the deep ruts and mud but George and Thibaud are experienced track drivers and navigated things that would have terrified me. About 30 minutes from the main road we entered a farm yard sitting on the banks of the Amazon. Yes, even in the middle of the jungle you still have to see the farmer !! But hear the danger was not a fierce farm dog but a herd of too friendly pigs!! But the view of the Amazon was well worth the retreat from the pigs.
After exchanging pleasantries we moved on to drive to the site. But as we moved closer the roads deteriorated so badly that we had to park the people-carriers and track the last few km by foot – luckily the EMBRAPA truck with all the kit made it nearly all the way.
But I was totally unprepared for what was to come. Since speaking to the farmer we had been travelling down a seriously over grown track for 10-15 minutes and before that, another 20 mins of mud track from the main road and we walk out of the track which had stranded all of the vehicles into a maize field. In the middle of jungle mile from anywhere there is a 1-2 hectare cultivated field maize field. And as we walked down the side of the field we could see lots and lots of pottery shards – this site has not been ‘lived-on’ for hundreds of years but it is clear that some time in the passed it was a center of a major civilisation. Some of the pottery fragments had leaf or flower patterns – quiet elegant. Obviously, today’s farmers know where the best soils are and still cultivate them.
So it was time for ‘earthwormers to assemble’ in what was a trial extraction. Our first observation was that the tera preta went into the secondary forest at the back of the site, allowing us to look at both soil under agriculture and secondary forest. Thibaud had to take his favourite machete and cut a trial – and boy talk about hard work. This was a trial run – and we needed it. I was not the only one to have to hike the 2 Km round trip to the vehicles for stuff we had forgotten. All in all, no disasters – but then it reached 5 pm and things changed…the forest came alive with Mosquitos. From a occasional annoyance they were suddenly everywhere. We rapidly wrapped up and ran for the car – then there proceeded the strangest dance, with 7 people throwing their arms about trying to kill the swarm of biting creatures that had invaded the vans.
Overall a successful day – the real test will be seen tomorrow when we attempt to complete the 18 holes on the site, but that’s tomorrow. After a two hour slog through the traffic clogged streets of Manuas we are now eating pizza and comparing Mosquito bites !!
Tomorrow has got to be easier !!
……I will post this as is but hopefully we will be able to integrate for video footage later.