A Short Trip

I spent three days back in Santarém, practicing my Portuguese, getting ready for my work, and taking the time go to a Forró concert -  popular Brazilian music and type of dance.  To get into the field as quickly as possible, I decided to accompany someone, Fabio, who was taking a two-day trip to speak with several communities about arapaima management and population surveys.  This time we traveled in style on a larger boat with a bathroom, shower, kitchen, and space for our hammocks.  Unfortunately, the breeze that felt so nice before we set off picked up across the width of the Amazon and filled the river with swells that made the trip rocky and me sick.  I set up my hammock and rocked to sleep, waking now and then when we hit a large wave and I swung into a post.
Our boat (home) for this trip

Long shaft motor boat (the type of transport we used during my first outing)

Fabio went from one community to another to discuss arapaima ecology and promote arapaima management efforts. It was great to see his outreach presentations and the communities taking a serious interest in what he had to say.   Arapaima support the livelihood of many people and are an important resource to harvest sustainability.  However, the future of arapaima is threatened by not only overfishing, but also changing land use practices.  The habitat that arapaima need is increasingly degraded by cattle, forest clearance, river bank erosion, and more.  These interrelated problems affect the lives of the people, the arapaima, and all life in the várzea.
Cows climbing a bank (or trying to)

Erosion along river banks of the Amazon

During his presentation, Fabio also talked about a survey later in the year to determine the status of arapaima across a large area.   Arapaima breathe air and can be counted when they surface.  In fact, arapaima can drown if they can’t surface (yes, this fish can “drown”).  The dry season is the best time to do this since the fish are all in lakes and channels.  In January, the rains begin to flood this entire region and join all the water bodies with the mighty Amazon.  I went to two lakes and, although I didn't see any arapaima nests, I did see arapaima coming up to breath.  The fisherman said that the first, with a small pop and splash, was a small fish probably less than 1 m.  A few minutes later, with an incredible pop and splash, a fish at least a meter and a half.  The arapaima can grow to 3 m in length and 200 kg in weight… a massive size… but it usually harvested before it gets that big.  I will try to record a clip of arapaima breath and post it .
Two very different lakes with arapaima

The várzea is home to many animals

In the evening, we played dominos at one of the communities.  Four people sat at the table, slamming down the dominos as if they were trying to catch a fly.  They asked if I wanted to play and I hesitantly agreed since I hadn’t played dominos in a long time and I didn’t have enough time to make sure that that’s what they were playing.  I played their game and slapped the dominos down but my last piece I laid down softly- I won the first three games (to the surprise of all).  An older lady was especially surprised (and slightly upset) that this “gringo” was winning.  After my first three wins, I won a few more times but didn’t have another streak of luck.
The sunset is always stunning

Before I knew it, I was back in Santarém and had to plan to go back into the field soon.  If only it was more like playing dominoes…

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