A hot (and humid, though that goes without saying) night led to poor sleep for me on my last night at Xixuau. After breakfast, a couple of the villagers set up a small "market" for us to buy some of the crafts they make. They had jewelry made from products of the forest, including rings made from some type of wood or nut husk that falls from a tree and many strings of "beads" made from very colorful dried seeds. There were also wood carvings of various animals found in the region. I bought a carving of a Pirarucu (called Arapaima in English, scientific name Arapaima gigas), the world's largest freshwater fish. We then packed up, loaded our bags onto the riverboat, said goodbye to the wonderful guides and workers of the village, and headed back the way we came, after taking some pictures of a few birds that were conveniently flying around for us near the boat (the fish being thrown in the river probably had something to do with it).
Everyone seemed exhausted on the boat trip, so there was less talking and more sitting and sleeping. In many ways it was just a continuation of the journey--sharing photos and stories from our homes, the other places we've been, and the places we plan to go. Two conversations stand out, however: one with Christine about the development, practice, and meaning of religion; and a wonderful conversation with Alexandre about spiritual practice and awakening. He truly has a deep understanding, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to connect with him about being present and how there is nothing lacking when one does not get lost in thoughts about the past or future. I made sure to spend some time with each of the people in our group, and some time alone reflecting on the trip--and just being present with the river and the boat, the sights and the sounds. Just as I had discussed with Alexandre, there is a great contentment and happiness (not just a momentary pleasure) that comes when the thoughts are seen as nothing but activity in the mind, and the self drops away and ceases its grasping and identification with the craziness that the mind conjures up.
The drive through the Amazon countryside was quiet and uneventful. I sometimes dozed off, sometimes thought about the lives and lifestyles of all the people I saw and met here as I thought about returning to my life and lifestyle in Chapel Hill. The taxis dropped us off in our various hotels, and we planned to meet that evening for dinner to celebrate Izzy's birthday. Emanuela had come with us, and during dinner, some of us talked some more about ways that Xixuau could improve their service to guests, and the challenges they face in doing so. It was fascinating to learn about the habits, culture, and identity of the people, and how difficult it is to teach them the preferences of Americans and Europeans, and get them to change the way they do things. Simple things like setting out enough dishes for meals and how they clean the rooms are simply not important to them in the same ways that they are to most of the guests. They have tried to get the villagers to grow fruits and vegetables for more variety in the diet, but they identify themselves as hunter/gatherers, and don't see why they should put so much work into farming when it's easy to go out and catch a fish to eat. And at the same time, we all want to maintain what makes Xixuau so special and unique, including the culture and the individual attention given to each guest, with one guide for two guests.
Emanuela asked me about my experience with Zezinio as my guide, and when I told her that it was not always satisfying, we talked about what might have gone wrong. I was stunned to find that Zezinio in usually one of the most talkative people in the village. As our guide, he hardly said a word! But during the camping trip, Ed went out fishing with Zezinio while most of us were taking a hike in the forest, and this evening he reported that Zezinio was very animated on that outing. I learned that Zezinio and Peter apparently did not get along very well, and I unfortunately got caught in the middle. I'm disappointed that my trip was not all it could have been because of this strained relationship. It made me wish that I had come with a friend with whom I had more common interests and good communication. It could have avoided many of the misunderstandings we had about what we planned to do, and allowed Zizinio to be his usual more open, informative self.
After dinner, most of us headed to the main square around the Teatro Amazonas for drinks and more conversation. We got rained on a bit, which we're all used to at this point. After saying our final goodbyes, we headed back to our respective hotels. Izzy and Sarah flew out that night; the rest of us had flights the next day.
My flight home doesn't leave until very late tonight, so I had the whole day to fill. I thought that my Amazon adventure was over, but . . . most of the museums and tourist attractions here are closed on Monday, but the person at the Hostel desk said that the Manaus Zoo was open, so that was my destination for the morning. The Manaus Zoo is unique in that it is run by the Brazilian military, and its mission is to care for and rehabilitate injured animals. I was given directions to the zoo: take on of four buses from the main road, all of which would take me to the zoo, where I would see a large sign with a big picture of a Jaguar on it.
Unlike the crazy motorists in Manaus, the bus drivers are very safe. I was again struck by the seemingly endless neighborhoods we drove through, all of which looked beat up and run down. I felt very sad for the people who live and work here, and how there doesn't seem to be money and/or inclination to repair or rebuild the roads, homes, and shops. And all the while, I was worried about finding my stop. We passed a military installation, which had some big signs, but nothing for the zoo (and no Jaguar). We reached the end of the line, and I managed to ask the bus attendant where the zoo is. She said that we passed it, and helped me to get on the same bus line going in the other direction.
I had no better luck finding the zoo on the way back. My trip ended up being a cheap, but not very scenic tour of another part of Manaus. Annoyed and disappointed, I got off when I recognized the streets near the Hostel and decided to check out the big market by the pier instead. On my way walking to the market, I ran into Ed and Christine from our Xixuau group! Christine is fluent in Portuguese, and after some negotiating with a taxi driver, got me on my way to the zoo. The plan was to take the bus back from there, which we expected would be much easier than finding my way TO the zoo.
I arrived at the zoo and got to the ticket booth, only to find that they are not in fact open on Monday. I appeared stranded, and prepared to try to either find my way to a bus stop or ask one of the military guards nearby where to catch the bus (which would have been difficult since I don't know the word for "bus" in Portuguese). There was a woman near the ticket booth with her two children. She spoke English, and had forgotten that the zoo was closed on Monday. Not only that, but her sister-in-law lives in Chapel Hill! She very kindly gave me a ride, and though she at first planned on dropping me at the nearest bus stop, ended up taking me almost all the way back to the Hostel. The whole experience was completely surreal.
I rounded out the morning by finally visiting the market. All of Manaus often feels like a market with all the street vendors, but this was a particularly large covered structure, with areas for buying meat, fish, crafts, and a food court. I wandered slowly through some other vendor areas outside the market, enjoying the feel of the place, which seems like a cross between Times Square and the North Carolina State Fair, all with an Amazon twist. Many people were gathered for lunch at little open-air restaurants in some of the shopping squares. I was tempted to stop at one of them, but there was a restaurant I had seen several times before near the Hostel and wanted to try. After lunch, I had had my fill of Manaus, and retreated to the Hostel for some internet access and a nap. I'll head out just to get some dinner. A bit later, the same friendly driver who picked me up from the airport will arrive to take me back. It's been a wild day, but I'm strangely at peace with everything that's happened. If relaxing and letting go of attachments and expectations is the purpose of a vacation, then this one has been very successful.