OK, so speaking of being behind on my blogging, this entry is about what we did yesterday, Friday the 30th. At about 7:30 in the morning we all piled onto a tour bus that Dr. Ouverney had arranged, and drove north out of the city. There's a road that runs from Manaus all the way up to Venezuela, and we took that road for a couple of hours, well out of Manaus. It's hard to see primary rainforest anywhere near a road in the area of Manaus, and even on this drive all of the areas we saw were logged; the biggest trees were absent.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant that had some yummy banana bread made with yuca flour (it's surprising to me how universal yuca is in the food in Manaus, since I don't expect it grows anywhere near there; perhaps it's an imported taste from the more southern parts of Brazil). They also had various other curiosities, like candied cupuaçu; we had a good time sampling their various offerings.
Then we moved on to a spot where we could hike in to a waterfall a short way into the jungle. It was a lovely hike. We saw bees busily pollinating, tiny frogs, what seemed to be ant-lion colonies with hundreds of pits in fairly close proximity (the ants must regard that area quite warily!), lots of spiders, caves that hosted bats, a charming little yellow wasp, lots of fungi of all sorts, and a moth as big as my hand. When we reached the waterfall, it was a surging, torrential flow; we were a bit surprised by its vigor, since it is no longer the wet season, and since we had seen so little rain during our visit. The water were deeply colored by tannins, which in some spots made it look creamy (when it was foamy), in other spots like wine, and in the deepest waters, simply black. We hiked out along a different trail that went right alongside the waterfall, providing some dramatic views of the torrent from just feet away. There were lots of bromeliads on the way out. Bromeliads are a type of plant that often lives on other plants, although not parasitically; they just perch on top of other plants and grow there. Pineapples are the best-known example, and other bromeliads often look similar, with the spiky leaves arranged in a spiral.
One waterfall is good, but two waterfalls are better, so we piled back on the bus and went to another spot for a little more hiking. This area was more developed, with bigger trails, some benches, and even a (closed) restaurant part of the way along. The waterfall itself was quite spectacular; with several cascades side by side merging into a single roaring deluge. In the middle of all this was a little shrine to the Virgin Mary; it is difficult to imagine how somebody got that shrine there, unless they used a crane. This hike wasn't quite as rich in wildlife, or perhaps we were just getting tired; but there were some very pleasing orange fungi, and we saw what seemed to perhaps be a lone soldier army ant with an absolutely enormous head and set of mandibles, and a molted skin from a cicada that was quite perfectly preserved intact, and of course lots of exciting plants that I'm unable to describe since I know so little botany.
After this hike we went on to dinner, which was outdoors in a little tourist area next to a river (everything is more or less next to a river in Amazonia, it seems). Before we sat down we discovered a huge scarab beetle, about as long as my index finger, slowly making its way across the grass; we all agreed that it was the biggest beetle we had ever seen in the wild! The food was good; barbecued chicken, a churrasco platter (not sure if I'm remembering the word quite right) with grilled sausage, beef, and more chicken, a dish of fish cooked in coconut milk and palm oil that was very yummy (and probably about a million calories per bite), and the usual tasty rice with beans. It tasted very good after all that hiking.
At the end of the meal Dr. Vida Kenk gave a presentation about bromeliads and the fauna that live inside them; I'll post that as a separate entry as usual. We had planned to go to a local festival after dinner, dedicated to the cupuaçu fruit, but after dinner it started to rain very hard, and we found out the festival wouldn't really get underway for several hours (Brazilians seem to begin their festivals around 10 PM), and so the decision was made to drive back to home base. This decision was influenced by the fact that the road to Manaus had nearly washed out in one spot due to the rains in that region the previous night, and the bus driver was worried that if we waited too long, the road might prove impassable given the strength of the ongoing storm. In any case, we got back home safe but soaked!