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A Day in the Azores

I'm not generally the easiest person to wake up in the morning, but on port days on cruises, I'm up before the old people. It helps to have free access to the best alarm clock invented-- free scheduled room service. Such was the case today, when our ship stopped in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores. I've wanted to go to the Azores for years, ever since a guy named Eric Bomblatus, whose family is from there, told us about how beautiful it was. Sometimes all it takes is planting that seed.

At eight a.m. sharp we were off the boat and walking down the cool sunny streets of the city. I remarked that I wished I had a motorcycle to explore the island with. Ten minutes later we passed a motorcycle rental place. Prices were checked, found to be reasonable, and a plan practically wrote itself.

Between the five of us (Todd, Ben, Carl, Christophe, and me) we rented every motorized vehicle they had left. We got a 650cc motorcycle, a 125cc motorcycle, two quads, and a 125cc scooter. A mother-daughter duo we had befriended on the ship stopped to say hi, and were added to our party as passengers. Driving down the street, we looked like a post-apocalyptic gang.

When The Bug Bites ...in the AMAZONAS

On to be defined

The itch to explore is superseded only by the itch that accompanies me on my flight back to Rio. I am wearing bug bites like war scars...having survived my sojourn into the wild Amazonas.

An early morning flight landed me in Manaus midday good Friday, and it was a boat+pickup truck+boat ride past the meeting of brown and blue river waters, and over the high(water)ways to the place where the mouths of rio Mamori and rio Juma meet and where the Lake Juma lodge resides. i'm the one-who-came-late and the tour boat swings by to pick me up before we head out for a spot of piranha fishing on the lake. No skills needed, just stick a piece of frango (chicken) on the hook, dip the wooden rod down low and wait for the nibbles. The trick is to be swift once you feel the bite. My level of patience is not quite suited to the waiting sport of fishing, so either it was luck or impatient me whipping up the line each time i felt the tug of a bite (so that I would not lose my bait too often to pirate piranha), i was rewarded with two piranha catches! These were not the most vicious breed (out of the 25 species) that would chomp one's fingers off, but hey, a piranha is still a piranha! And every living creature deserves a second chance, so back they went into lake, to bite another tourist bait another day.

After a sunset tour of the large lake, we head back out for cayman spotting after dusk. The boat skimmed the shoreline as the guides flashed their torches into the vegetation. It's always the eyes that show. (Flashback: I recall the Masaai guard swinging his torch around the bush at the serengeti camp and knowing which animals were out there just by their eyes shining in the dark). So whilst our untrained eyes looked blindly into the dark forests, the guides jumped out and waded into wet grass to catch the caymans. Just over a foot long, these reptiles have a flat lone & powerful tail, webbed hindfeet for swimming, 4-fingered forefeet for climbing and 72 sharp teeth for chomping... complete with eye lenses and ears. However, it seemed that evolution deemed a tongue as unnecessary but the cayman is certainly no dumb creature, be careful to keep its mouth shut as bites are potentially nasty bacteria-laden infections.

Since we had put the sun (pôr do sol) to sleep that first evening, we naturally had to wake up at dawn to watch it rise over the rainforest. That was the intention anyway but the cloudy sky merely made it a serene morning boatride as the dawn gave way to daylight. The mornings somehow always carries a certain magic with the freshness of a newborn day. The surface of the lake wobbles like a dark green jello as our boat floats gently by in the still cool morning air. It's a game drive on water as we cruise the shores on the lookout for forest creatures.

Day 2 is explore-the-forest day. We gear up and head out after breakfast, ready to meet & greet the residents of the rainforest. Forest survival 101: 1. Keep to the muddy trail and follow the guide's footsteps, 2. Do not touch underside of leaves (the residents there don't like to be disturbed), and 3. Beware of walking into branches and spider webs. .. i think. So the bunch of us city folks keep in step behind our guide whilst his native eyes picked out armadillo and tarantula burrows, giant ant colonies, grasshoppers and tiny tiny frogs that pack a poisonous punch. The dense forest is a treasure trove of nature's own medicine from antiseptics to mosquito repellant (involves mashed ants) and superfruit such as trendy açai. If you are into a hi-protein diet, try snacking on firefly larva. Then there were the trees the natives used for weapons or communication or shelters... and the ones that smelt of menthol vapour rub or essence of rose, not forgetting the fascinating walking tree and the 600 year old Brazil nut tree. Three hours later, seven pairs of wet muddy shoes returned to the lodge...except for our guide who was wisely and cheerfully dry in his rubber boots. By mid afternoon we were ready for our second foray into the forest...this time for a sleepover under the stars.

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