Where I Have Been Map

Friday, July 6, 2012

A, B, C – easy as … wait which train do we get on?


Learning the subway system has proven to be quite a feat. With all the transitions and the constant changes in the subway stop schedule, it no wonder how newbies can get so lost in the city. But lucky for me I had just recently purchased the one “cheat sheet” item that has made my transition to the city a breeze… the iPhone.  This particular day, my sister and I were going to test out how long it takes to get from my apartment in Brooklyn to my internship in West Village, Manhattan.  After typing in the address of my internship in a subway app on my iPhone, it gave us step by step walking directions to the nearest subway and exactly which transitions to make, and which stops to get off at. 
I felt a completely different vibe of my neighborhood as we walked to the subway stop early that morning. The trash man greeted us with a tip of his hat and a friendly “good morning”, strangers would ask us if we needed help if we had a confused look on our face, and the sounds of Creole being spoken from one neighbor to the next was intriguing and made me feel as enthusiastic to learn about these people as I do when visiting another country. Only instead of a 15 hour plane ride I just had to walk a block out of my apartment. 
After fiddling a bit with the metro card machine and receiving very agitated answers to our questions from the woman working behind the glass at the station, Cindy and I hopped onto our train and headed Uptown.  The 45 minute train ride was a long one, but far from boring. At one point I looked up at the artwork placed above the seats and saw a picture representing everyday New Yorkers riding a subway. Sitting side by side in the picture were tourists, punk rock kids with short spiky hair, Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, street performers, business men and women, and hipsters drowning out the ride with their iPods.  When my eyes fell down from the picture and onto the seats in front of me, I amusingly found the group of people not to be very far off from that portrait portrayal. Cindy and I played a game of how many languages being spoken on the train we could name. 
Artwork in the subway

Cindy and subway riders dozing off

When we got off the train and stepped into West Village, I instantly fell in love. Instead of daunting skyscrapers and fast-paced crowds, my eyes gazed upon a village of cute restaurants and tree lined roads leading us straight to the antique railing on the steps of my internship. I was quite alright with the realization that most of my time would be spent in this part of the city. I asked myself why I didn’t try to find a place to live around here, and was quickly answered by the “For Rent” sign on an apartment nearby with one too many zeros after 2’s and 3’s for monthly rent. 
After getting to know the area quite well, Cindy and I met up with a friend for lunch in Time Square. We had seen time square from one angle the day before, and were surprisingly unimpressed. It was just a building with ads. However, after being directed to the CORRECT side, I found myself wanting to spin in circles to take in the whole site. 
Time Square
 
In a large area made just for pedestrians, I spotted various people dressed in Disney costumes, Statues of Liberty characters, and street performers dotting the huge group of tourists snapping pictures like their life depended on it. We walked farther and a door of a building opened slightly revealing a glimpse of a giant Ferris wheel. I looked up to see the sign “Toys R Us” and Cindy and I raced through the revolving doors to witness the mini amusement park inside, complete with a giant Ferris wheel.

Outside
Inside

 From door to door, we “revolved” into the most interested places including a giant lego store, candy bar, and the infamous Rockefeller building.  After a tour through NBC studios and a much needed iced-coffee energy boost, Cindy and I groggily took the subway back home.
Picking our feet up one after another up the outside stairs to my apartment proved to be torturous on our sore calves.  I fumbled tiredly with the keys, and was briefly distracted by a group of girls coming around the corner yelling loudly and playing. Or so I thought, until I felt a nudge from Cindy to hurry up. As the group got closer I began realizing what I thought was playful banter was actually obscene threats. A fight was about to break out right on the corner. Cindy and I hustled inside and bolted the door behind us. Once safely away, instead of turning on the TV we sat in the living room with the perfect view to our very own “Real World: Brooklyn”.  Sitting with our knees pulled up to our chests and occasionally pulling back the blinds to get a better view, I mentioned to Cindy that those girls had to be no more than 14 years old. She looked at me and replied, “Yea, but Annie - they could probably beat up our dad.”

The Amazon to the Big Apple




From living in the Brazilian Amazon to moving to New York City, I was told I would experience a true jungle-to-jungle lifestyle.   In the 3 short days since I moved in, hiking through the Amazon seems like a walk in the park in comparison to the hustle and bustle of this city. The journey from Tampa to New York may have only been a 19 hour car ride, but I feel as if I am in a foreign country halfway across the world.  With wide eyes, a racing heart, and aching feet, I have tried not to blink for fear of missing out on seeing so many new things.  
Three days ago, my hands were tightly gripped on the wheel as we were approaching the city. My eyes wanted to wander to take in everything as we turned on the first road in Brooklyn, but I had something more vital to focus on. I was getting my first taste of New York driving and was quickly learning how to weave in and out of cars double parks, pedestrians running across the road, and impatient honkers behind me. At every stop light I took advantage of the break from road concentration and was surprised to see such an eclectic amalgam of cultures represented amongst the pedestrians.
The most prominent group in that particular area was a Jewish community. Women walked across the streets in long black skirts and men proudly marched in their black suits and top hats, with short haircuts, except for the two curly strands of hair falling from either side of their hats. Cindy tried to point out the hair style to me, but for lack of better word – referred to the men’s curls as “doodly-doos”. I loved seeing the little boys walking around in their miniature suits, and miniature “doodle-doo” hairstyle. 

A honk startled me out of my cultural fascination and it was back to the real world of driving in the city. I felt as if I was in a Mario kart game, if only I could have just power boost my way through the traffic. It took almost 20 minutes to get 4 miles from the interstate to my new apartment.  As we drove closer to my street, the buildings began gradually jading.  The supermarkets transformed into small corner grocery stores with handwritten signs in the windows stating “We accept Food Stamps”.   A woman on the sidewalk distracted us with her flailing arms in some sort of confrontation with presumably her husband. Her eyes were bugged out as she shouted loud profanities which we could hear clearly despite our closed windows. When my GPS finally announced “I had arrived at my destination”, I looked to the left and met the gaze of a group of hoodlums in wife beaters and flat bill caps, chilling on my apartment steps.  I suddenly regretted not bringing along my Bon Qui Qui Halloween outfit so I wouldn’t stick out so much. 

As I pulled my luggage up the steps with the help of my parents, I was greeted by silent stares from my new neighbors. I felt overwhelmingly unwelcome, until I spotted my new roommate leaning out of the window waving down with a warm smile on her face. Once behind the bolted door, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful apartment with a room bigger than I had imagined. My roommates were incredibly friendly and I liked them immediately. One from Brooklyn and the other from Trinidad, they informed me that the majority of people in this part of town are from Trinidad and Haiti. They told me it was a safe place to live as long as I don’t get stuck in the wrong part of town at the wrong hour of the night. They also warned me to be aware that my 16-year-old face and Southern mannerisms (meaning smiling) definitely make me stick out, not only in this part of town – but in every part of the city. I was going to have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Shows from Bonnaroo 2012


10. Trampled By Turtles/Two Door Cinema Club

At a tie for 10th, I thought Trampled By Turtles and Two Door Cinema Club were equally incredible… although very different genres.

We walked up to Trampled By Turtles a little late, but got there just in time to see the front crowd in a full on hoedown. The best way I can describe their music style is a modern day blue grass, and that fiddle and banjo combo will get your feet moving. At times the beat goes so fast, you could hardly see their hands strumming. This band is from Minnesota, but they have been traveling everywhere and will be playing at Lollapolooza in August! 


I had never heard of Two Door Cinema Club before, but decided to check them out at a friend’s suggestion. We sat pretty far back, but as soon as the band started playing their first song our eyes widened at the impact they had on the crowd. We had to move as close as we could before they ended their set. My favorite song by them had to be “Something Good Can Work”. It was incredible live and is one of those songs you could blast in your car and find yourself using your steering wheel as a drum set. 


9. The Alabama Shakes
Playing on Thursday night, this was the first band we saw… and what a way to start off the Bonnaroo experience. This band is such a unique mix of music style of rock and soul, but what really hooked me was the band’s look. From a pretty far distance back, I imagined the lead singer to be your everyday male rocker with skinny jeans and long hair. Imagine my surprise when the crowd parted and I see a younger Diana Ross look-a-like with a curly afro and glasses absolutely rocking out on her electric guitar. Wearing a flowery shirt and pink pants, she didn’t care at all to change her look to be the lead singer of a rock band. And with a voice like that, she quite simply didn’t need to.


8. Temper Trap
I knew this band from their hit “Sweet Disposition”, which I had heard on a Chrysler commercial back in the day. The electric guitarist in this band was so entertaining to watch. Wearing a beret and crazy printed shirt, he was getting so into the music he would sway back and forth whipping his long blonde hair all around.  But the real draw of this band was the lead singer’s incredible voice. He could so effortlessly hit some of the highest notes that at times I would confuse his voice for the melodic synthesizer, it was that flawless. 



7. Childish Gambino
It was a very last minute decision to see this rapper, but he made a lasting impression. He apparently is also an actor from the show “Community” and his comedy act and acting expressions gives him the edge over so many other rappers I have seen perform live. His lyrics are all written in clever wit, and his “Childish” face is so entertaining to watch as his eyes get really big and excited as the lyrics start going faster, I couldn’t help but compare him to a grown up “Lil P-Nut”.



6. The Stooges
While we were strolling through Centeroo taking a break from the concerts, we see in the distance a crowd of people coming towards us. A brass band blasted by us and a good crowd of people began following them, including us, as we all paraded through the grounds. The band finally stopped in the middle of the vendor stands and started jamming out some Jackson 5 and everyone was dancing right in the middle of it all. Little did I know this was an actual band from New Orleans called “The Stooges” that had apparently played earlier in the day. The fact that this band was so pumped to make sure as many people as possible had a good time listening to their music that they took the show outside of the stage well after their concert won me over. 








5. The Joy Formidable
Having not heard a single song of theirs before, I told myself I was going to download their whole album after this concert was over. This band is from England, and their main singer was a 5 foot girl with short blonde hair wearing a dress and a punk rock attitude. Every single one of their songs had such an intense guitar section that blasted through the speakers and pumped up the crowd.  During their last song, the guitar player started jamming out and slid down to his knees to play, then he jumped up and grabbed the drum sticks which he started chucking every which direction. To make up for the lost drum sticks, the lead singer started using her own guitar to hit the symbols on the drums. The energy in the tent was unheard of as the band finished their final note and threw their guitars to the back of the stage letting them crash on some speakers and walked off.




4. Foster The People/Silent Disco
Mark Foster is a born entertainer. With a stage set-up looking like something out of “Legends from the Hidden Temples” the lights, the music, and the energy of Mark Foster all combined made it impossible to tear your eyes away from the big screen. I came into this concert only having heard “Pumped Up Kicks” and came out of it with at least 5 new favorite songs. Every single one of their songs has such a catchy upbeat melody it is hard to not want to put them on repeat. Even though Pumped Up Kicks was an incredible song live, with Mark Foster jumping off the stage and into the crowd, the best song in my opinion was one called Houdini.


But the show was far from over, later that night we got word that the silent disco was being DJ’d by Mark Foster himself. After waiting in line for a stunning 2 ½ hours, we got an up close and personal experience with only 300 people on the dance floor dancing like crazy to music that could only be heard by them.  After his time at the disco ended, Mark Foster ran over to another small stage by the fountain to play along with a band I had never heard of. He went from one thing to a next energized by the music and the crowds. 



3. Skrillex
If you had told me a few weeks ago that I would be in the pit, front and center of a Dub Step concert I probably would have laughed. I had always thought of Dub Step as more of a headache than music, but that just goes to show you can’t write anything off until you experience it for yourself. The Skrillex show was one of the most incredible performances; every single person in the crowd was dancing. Before Skrillex even came on stage, the energy was sky high. As we walked into the pit area, we found ourselves being pushed by a crowd trying to squeeze into the tiny passage way that led to the front rows. The security guards were screaming at everyone to put their hands up so they could check our wristbands. We struggled through and found ourselves maybe 3 rows back from the empty stage with a giant space ship. Then a countdown began, and out from behind the space ship comes out Skrillex. The crowd was screaming as he climbed into his ship, the lights all on him, and then he played his first beat. With that one beat my breath was literally taken away. The hairs on my arms and top of my head were vibrating, my teeth were chattering with the vibration, and the impact of the bass knocked my breath away. My friend Linda and I just looked at each other with wide eyes wondering what was about to come next, and were answered with a show that was so high energy and intense, we never knew where Skrillex would take it next. As he would build up the momentum, the crowd calmer at first, but as the beat grew gradually faster and faster, until finally Skrillex turned it up to maximum volume. At that moment the crowd would throw thousands of glow sticks into the air which would fall back down and look like little fireworks exploded right over the crowds heads. After the concert was over Linda and I walked back to the campsite so energized, and so very deaf. We had to scream to one another even though we were standing right next to each other, but no worries after a couple hours – the ringing stopped and our hearing came back.


2.Dispatch
Even though hadn’t played live or come out with a new album for years, but their songs had withstood the test of time because everyone in the crowd was singing at the top of their lungs. And even if you had never heard a single Dispatch song before, it was so easy to learn as you go and sing right along. During the song “Elias” I was even surprised to hear how many people in the crowd knew the words to the introduction, which is in a different language. Then as the song hit the chorus everyone held up their hand and reached out to the stage. But my favorite song they performed live had to be Flying Horses, which got everyone dancing.


1. Fun.
In my opinion, there was absolutely no question that Fun. was the best concert of Bonnaroo. For a band that is fairly new, with only one hit on the radio, the fact that most of the audience was singing along to every single song says a lot. I just heard of Fun. a couple months ago, and after curiously youtubing a couple of their songs, I couldn’t find one that I wasn’t absolutely obsessed with.  The lead singer’s voice has such a unique sound, and even his normal talking voice was unique. I have a feeling this was his first concert in front of that many people, because you could tell he was so humbled by the crowd’s enthusiasm. At one point in a song he stopped the music for dramatic effect, and the crowd started cheering so loud he had a hard time starting the song again because he just could not stop smiling. Of course a huge crowd favorite was when he started singing “We Are Young”, and at least 15 people started crowd surfing at various parts of that song. It was so hysterically ironic that as the crowd was singing the lyrics “I’ll carry you home tonight” they security guards were literally carrying crowd surfers out of the stage area. I honestly cannot pick a favorite song that they performed because every single one of them was incredible, but if I had to pick one that made the biggest impression… it had to be the band’s encore. Yes, Fun. was the only band I had seen during the entire festival that received a chanting encore which brought them back out for one more song.  They performed a cover of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the audience went crazy. It would not surprise me in the least bit if by next Bonnaroo, Fun. will be a headliner.

The Bonnaroo Experience



We pulled the car into our camp spot and I peered out the window through the hundreds of tents, trees, and cars lining my view - trying to get a grasp on what Bonnaroo was about to be like. As I hopped out of the car I had to jump aside quickly as I realized I had walked right in front of a moving golf cart. There was no angry honking, however. Instead as the cart cruised by, the man sitting in the back with long black hair and aviator sunglasses smiled and gave me the peace sign. At that moment I knew I was going to like it here just fine. 

Our campsite


How did I get to go to Bonnaroo? Well my friend Linda works for a news station in Knoxville that was covering the event, and I got to be her plus one! 

Sam shooting some interviews for News Channel 6
          
This was incredible for so many reasons. The first reason was of course the free ticket, the second reason was the amazing company of my friend and her reporter Sam, and the third reason was the fact that our press pass tickets allowed us so many amazing benefits. Not only was our camp site right next to the main Bonnaroo grounds and stages, but the press pass also allowed us into the press tent area. In this area they had free water, plugs for your phones, and a tent where band members would come to be interviewed.  The press interviews were open to all who had a pass, so it was during one of these interviews that I got to meet the actress Kristin Bell!
Kristin Bell at Press Tent
Kristin was there to promote her new movie, which was being shown in the cinema tent of Bonnaroo. I had never actually met a famous person before, so right before I tapped her on the shoulder to ask for a picture, I realized how badly my hands were shaking! After we took the picture she asked me what my name was. I nervously said “Annie” and then told her that I loved her sloth video. As soon as the words left my lips I instantly felt regret. I had seen a video of her on the Ellen show where she cries after her husband gives her a pet sloth. But why I thought she would know what I was talking about when all I said was “your sloth video” was beyond me. After a brief look of confusion, she thankfully started laughing. Either she realized what I was referring to, or she was just that nice to pretend like she did!      


                But besides all the incredible bands at Bonnaroo, one of the coolest things about the whole festival was the community they built right there in the Manchester farms. One morning while Linda and Sam got up early to do some interviews, I decided to explore the area of “Centeroo” as they call it. The first thing I stumbled upon was a morning yoga session. Hundreds of people were laying in the grass following the yoga instructions of the person on the stage. It was very relaxing just to be able to stretch out on the soft grass.
               
                Then I walked over to the rows of food stands by the ferris wheel. There was not a Subway or McDonald’s in sight. All of the food stands there were owned by private businesses or families, and there were so many healthy choices to choose from.
              
                Just a little further down from the food stands was this tent with 5 or 6 gongs forming a circle. People would sit inside the circle and the owners of the tent would start lightly banding on the gongs. Apparently this was a form of meditation and relaxation.
               
                Since Linda and Sam had a hotel in Murfreesboro, we ended up spending our nights there. We always meant to camp, but by 2 or 3 in the morning a shower and a bed sounded too good to pass up. It ended up being a good thing because the showers in Bonnaroo cost $7 per shower, and the lines are always ridiculously long. By the end of Bonnaroo people even resort to washing off in the fountain in Centeroo.
Washing off the Bonnaroo dirt!

The “people-watching” had to be the most entertaining thing about Bonnaroo. Most were dressed according to the weather… bathing suits, shorts, and tank tops. But every now and then you would catch someone dressed in a crazy get-up. We saw everything from Gumby costumes, to Where’s Waldos, to fairies and dragons. The most entertaining costume we saw was a guy who had falling asleep by a tree wearing a unicorn mask. So many people would stop to pose with him in a picture. I wonder if he even noticed.
         
The people at Bonnaroo were some of the most interesting and friendly people I have ever met. It was so easy to walk around and make 10 new friends from all over the country, and even some from abroad. One morning I decided to go around and ask random people where they were from and who they were most excited to see play. With the level of friendliness at Bonnaroo, most of the people actually came up to me! I talked to quite a few people who had driven 19 hours or more from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia just to see this music festival. With some of these people suggestions, I discovered some amazing bands I had never heard of before.



Bob
Rochester, NY

Erik
Rochester, NY

DJ
Brooklyn, NY

Nick
Philadelphia

Trevor
Bowling Green, KY

Becca
Boston, MA

Cassie
Boston, MA

Alvaro
New Jersey

Billy
New York


Jared
New York

Bethyn
North Carolina

Stacy
North Carolina

Friday, April 20, 2012

Camping in the Rainforest - Day 4 & 5


The town of Carrezero is unique. As our boat was approaching the riverside community, I realized I had never seen anything quite like this place. The houses were lined up side by side, safely situated above the water by four wooden poles being used as stilts for each house.  As our boat floated by, house after house after house came into view, a half-a-mile stretch of wooden houses. But as we got closer I realized not all were houses – some   were stores, others churches, still others bars, and at the end of the stretch was a large school. What we were approaching was a community created right on the border line between the Amazon River and the rainforest, and it was all connected by one long bridge.  And as for transportation, besides the bridge, everyone traveled by boat or canoe.
The riverside town of Carrezero
I had a feeling a town as unique as this would provide a unique experience for us. What I didn’t realize at the time was that each curious resident of Carrezero was thinking the same thing as our boat full of foreigners approached. As for their unique experience, I did not let them down. Only two hours later I found myself trapped on the dock with my camera in the middle of a timelapse, and a downpour quickly approaching.  I only had a couple more minutes left until my timelapse finished, as I held a little umbrella over my camera and unsuccessfully tried to cover my back with a blanket that was only getting more soaked by the minute. The people of Carrezero found the sight humorous. 

Later that night we interviewed a man in the town church. The sun had gone down quickly, and we found ourselves in the old building with very little light. The scene was almost eerie, and it didn’t help when the man we were interviewing began telling us stories about the legend of the Curupira.
The Curupira is a creature that is said to live in the rainforest.  Its purpose is to protect nature and the animals of the forest. It is a placid creature – until people come into the forest with intent to harm nature or engage in the overkill of animals, to which it responds with trickery or aggressive behavior.  The Curupira is about the size of a child, and covered with black hair. Its feet are turned backwards, and it uses its backwards footprints to confuse people into getting lost in the forest. You know it is nearby when you hear its shrill whistle. 

Just as the man began telling of his personal encounter with the Curupira in the forest, the door of the church began to creak and slowly opened. A shadow the size of a child materialized. We all froze and looked on as the shadow came closer to the dim light, walking slowly. When the shadow finally came into the light, we realized it was my mother, tip toeing to the first church pew so as not to disturb the interview.  After we were done, we all walked back to our boat just as all the electricity went off. The generator that provides power for the town shut off precisely at 10 p.m.
After a night of hearing ghost stories and legends of Amazon creatures, the events that occurred the next day could be classified as nothing less than ironic. The archeologists had finally found success discovering archeological sites in the rainforest, they had stumbled upon three thus far, and the last discovery would have been the perfect setting for a horror story: In the middle of the town’s main dirt road leading into the forest, they found the remains of a person, a human skull thousands of years. And not only that, the archeologist discovered five more buried vases containing human remains. They had stumbled upon an ancient burial ground. 
The ancient skull buried underneath the dirt road

Unfortunately, I could not stand up long enough to share in the excitement of this discovery. For some reason, that morning I woke up feeling like something wasn’t right. That odd feeling gradually grew into a horrible headache and uncomfortable stomachache. This feeling grew worse by the hour, and by the time the archeologists had made this discovery, my legs felt like they were about to give out. Every inch of my body was in pain. I felt as if my entire body had gone numb, and become stuck in that “pins and needles” phase, where every little movement hurts. Even the gums of my teeth were tingling in pain. I stumbled back to the boat and fell into my hammock, not moving until our boat docked back in Gurupa, ending our five-day “camping” trip. By that time I had a high fever yet was shivering from a cold sweat in the middle of the Amazon heat.
I stumbled back to our hotel room, hit the bed, and was out in a deep sleep. The last thing I remember was my mom talking to my sister on the phone, and my sister saying I had signs of Danghai fever.
When I woke up, it was dark. I asked my dad what time it was. “It is 6 o’clock” … “In the morning?” … “No in the evening”. I had slept for 24 hours.  My fever had broken. This ruled out Danghai fever, which usually lasts for weeks. I must have caught a less severe tropical fever from one of the children in the interior. Nevertheless, I felt weak and sore. I used the little strength I had left to pull myself to a sitting position. I looked at the bruises on my legs, the bug bites all over my arms and legs, and the seemingly incurable dryness in my throat from dehydration. I was absolutely spent, driven to the final ends of my strength by this journey. Yet I was happy to have experienced it – fever, bites and all. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Camping in the Rainforest - Day 3

When we woke up in the boat after the storm, everything was soaked. My mom said that there had been a leak in the roof above her the whole night, and she lifted up her hammock with a huge wet stain on it. I jokingly asked her if it truly was a leak, or she got scared during the night and had an accident.
While everything was laid over the edge of the boat to dry in the sun, I decided to go for a swim in the river. A small boy saw me swimming and ran to jump off the wooden dock, splashing into the water next to me, excited to have someone to play with. I was weary where I put my feet as we waded deeper into the water. The mushy Amazon mud was foreign to me, and I didn’t want to step on anything else foreign that might bite back.  My playmate didn’t seem to share this worry; he was splashing and playing and trying to taunt me into racing him.
I swam with him to a giant floating log, happy to grasp onto it and get a short break from swimming.  But he had other ideas; he hopped onto the floating log and started walking in place. The log began to spin in the water – the. Soon he began running on the log. As soon as he felt a little off balance, he jumped into the river and resurfaced laughing at the game he created. 


He began to climb up the log again, and looked back at me wondering why I wasn’t joining him. He had made it look easy, so I figured I would give it a try. I pulled myself up on the log. Lying on my stomach, it wasn’t hard at all to balance. So now to the next step: I pulled my legs underneath me, and began to slowly stand up. To my surprise, I was balancing.  My playmate looked very proud of me, so I decided to test my skills and begin walking in place as he had. 

I fell hard, and I fell fast. The only thing that slowed my fall was the impact of my shins smacking against the log before I splashed head first into the river. As I sank down into the mucky water, my legs were throbbing in such pain that I didn’t know if it would be possible to start kicking to get me back to the surface. But at that moment I felt the scales of a huge fish rub against my thigh, and that was plenty of motivation to start kicking. I broke the surface of the water with a gasp and swam slowly back to the dock. As I climbed up I saw bruises already forming. This was a lesson learned the hard way:  I can’t do all the things children of the Amazon seem to be able to do. This was disheartening, because I had become inspired by the children’s daily routines and how they play in the forest.
The children of the Amazon truly amaze me. At times I feel as if they have no fear. They wake up every morning and have the entire Amazon rainforest as their playground. I have seen children as young as 5 climbing trees 30 feet in the air, walking around with machetes half their size, wading in river waters known to have piranhas and snakes lurking just below the muddy water.

I believe their lack of fear comes from generations of wisdom passed to them by their parents and grandparents about the dangers of the jungle. And their wisdom to stay away from certain areas of the water, from certain plants, allows them to grow up in one of the most free childhood cultures. Imagine as a child being able to wake up, hop into your own canoe and race your brothers or sisters, or explore various creeks off of the Amazon River. Instead of grabbing a pack of sugar loaded Gushers you just climb the nearest tree and snack on a fresh mango. There is no need for video games to entertain yourself; you can create your own obstacle course over fallen trees and broken branches, all the while chopping a path through the forest with your own machete. Later you could grab some fishing line and a hook and sit with your siblings at the edge of your wooden dock to see who can catch the biggest fish.  And as for bathing, your mother only has to tell you once, because you look forward to running off the dock and jumping head first into the river. 

Later that day I was again astonished by the children. We were hiking through the jungle on a search for a site the archeologists had found. Three young boys had seen us disappear into the forest, and were curious as to what we were up to. They had begun following us and made a game out of running ahead of us, climbing trees, and running back to show us different tropical fruits. During this hike while I was getting various cuts and scrapes, they were running through the forest without shirts and barefoot. When they would walk in front of me, they’d make sure to turn around and point to different plants to warn me if they were poisonous or caused rashes. I couldn’t believe how much they knew about the forest. 

After just 20 minutes of hiking, we were all feeling the wrath of the Amazon sun and the swarms of mosquitos that made it hard to even breathe. Our legs were sore from climbing over overgrown plants. I was looking at my feet wondering how they were continuing to move forward, when a glance up caused me to stop in my tracks. Ahead of me, there was a fallen tree. Under the tree, about eight feet down, was a swamp of dark water, the surface chaotically covered with plants and sharp branches.  The only way to get across was to balance on the log and walk over the swamp. 

The three boys scampered over the log with ease, laughing all the way. I took a deep breath, very aware of the bruises still on my leg from the last time I tried this, and stepped up onto the uneven log. This time, with an eight-pound camera strapped to my neck, I didn’t test my skills. By some miracle I made it across.
In so many ways I am no match for these amazing children.  But I had an incredible time playing with them, and most of all, learning from them. 
 


 

Through My Lens from Annie Pace on Vimeo.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Camping in the Rainforest - Day 2

I woke up in my hammock with a jolt. My eyes tried to adjust to the pitch black but I could see nothing. My ears, on the other hand, were overwhelmed with the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof of our boat, and the sound of a howling wind. The boat was rocking side to side. There was a loud crash as the  boat slammed into the wooden dock.  The thick rope attaching our boat to the large wooden post was doing its job despite the tugs of the angry river trying to pull us downstream with the storm. 
Suddenly, lightning flashed and I could see all around me as the entire Amazon night was electrified. It only lasted for a split second, but it was enough to see our luggage on the floor getting soaked as the rain began pouring in through the holes in the tarp covering the sides of the boat. I looked toward  my parents’ hammocks, and heard a peaceful snore coming from my dad, undisturbed by the storm. This calmed me down a little. I sank down in my hammock, my mind racing, and tried to find the sleep that wasn’t going to come for many hours.
This was the first tropical rainforest storm I had experienced. All I could think about was when we would eat at the Rainforest CafĂ© back home and they would have “storm simulations” every 15 minutes or so, when the lights would dim and fake lightning and rain would begin to lightly shower amused customers.  Now, my hammock swung back and forth with the waves caused by the storm in the real rainforest, with real lightning. I wished I could say “Check, please.” But since neither the check, nor sleep was coming, I began thinking about my day to keep my mind off the storm. I had met some incredible people, and got a glimpse into a way of life incredibly different than my own.
The day had begun that morning as I watched the sunrise over the Amazon River from the roof of our boat. When I climbed down from, I saw the archaeologists suiting up to explore for sites. They were covered from head to toe. They strapped on big black boots to walk through the flooded forest, long pants and long sleeved shirts to avoid getting scraped by the plants, hats to shade them from the sun, and t-shirts over their heads to cover the remaining exposed areas of their faces and necks. Everything but their eyes were covered, to protect them from the horrendous swarms of mosquitoes they were sure to encounter. They hopped off the boat and headed into the forest with machetes in hand, following their guide, a woman from the area whose house we were docked at. 
The Archeologists suited up for the hike through the rainforest

Covered as the archaeologists were, their guide was wearing a dress.  On top of that, she was a grandmother at least 60 years old. Her hair was greying, she had wrinkles under her eyes showing a lifetime of laughter, and a machete in her hand to chop away at the forest.  The crew nicknamed her, “Indiana Grandma.” She was living proof that age shouldn’t slow a person down, as she walked over broken tree branches in her plastic flip flops. 
"Indiana Grandma" leading the hike
When they returned from their search, we interviewed “Indiana Grandma,” or Artulina. She sat with us in her living room for hours, telling us stories of what life in the interior was like in the old days, noting the many struggles people in that area have had to overcome through the years, and humoring us with stories of legends and folktales of creatures that live in the forest.
 As we were filming, we discovered another obstacle to overcome with these types of interviews in the interior. Artulina’s six grandchildren had never seen cameras like we had before, and they were very curious. Aged 5 to 10, they couldn’t comprehend the “etiquette” of an interview in which other people are supposed to be quiet and still while the camera is rolling. How could they understand this? They had never been in this situation before.
So they decided to make a game of it. They began to pop their heads in front of the camera every couple minutes.  They climbed onto the couch with their grandmother, calling her name to see if she would stop talking to the camera people and notice them. They chattered loudly in Portuguese next to the camera, and were entertained when Glenn would put his finger to his mouth motioning them to quiet down.  In an attempt to distract them, my mom brought them candy. This worked,  but only for a short while. They ran off and enjoyed their candy by the river. But 20 minutes later, they were back with a full surge of sugar energy. 
Giving the kids candy = bad idea
The kids pointing at the camera and planning their mischievous acts

But not every child in the interior was this mischievously curious. Later that day we cruised down the river to another wooden house on stilts to interview a man there. The man also had grandchildren, and  as his 8-year-old granddaughter came outside to see what we were doing, I wondered if she was going to be as curious as the other children. She was, but in a very shy way. She peered at me through the open door and sat there, quietly.  She watched as I changed the battery and turned my camera on. I saw her from the corner of my eye, and motioned for her to come and sit next to me.  She came and sat down, and was soon intrigued to see a moving picture of her grandpa on the screen of my camera. She began handing me batteries and memory cards from my bag, and was excited at the thought of being a little helper. I handed her my mom’s handheld video camera and asked her to return it to my mother. After the interview was over, I found my mother teaching her how to film with the handheld camera. Her eyes lit up as she walked around with the camera and filmed trees and people. When we left her house that day as the sun was setting, she told us that she wanted to grow up and film movies.
Discussing future film careers
Another lightning bolt struck and lit up the entire inside of the boat, snapping me back to the reality of the storm. I started feeling motion sick as my hammock kept swinging back and forth with the angry waves.  One side of the tarp flung open, and rain began showering the inside of the boat. Then suddenly the weather calmed. The rain slowed to a drizzle, the thunder rumbled with softer force as the storm moved away. The frogs even began to come out from hiding, and croak their usual nightly croak. The storm had passed as quickly as it had come, and I finally fell into a restful sleep.