During our first day in Santarem, the group split up to meet with experts in the field of their project. Team honeybee went to Bella Terra, a honeybee farm 40 minutes away from the city. When we arrived at the farm, the owner, Joao, had prepared some treats for us. He made us taste raw pollen, apparently it is really good for a lot of ailment, as the label translates “Pollen, good for human ailment!”. It cures, depression, anxiety, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction etc…I didn’t make it up, it’s on the flyer.
While it may be the answer to world health, it actually tastes very unpleasant. It is extremely tart. Even diluted in water, as most of the people use it, it still tastes sour. This, however, is what a lot of the people in the communities and villages drink for medicine. We also got to sample ginger honey, which consists of mashed up ginger with honey, and which agreed much better with my taste buds, I definitely had a couple spoon full of that concoction! Joao then showed us a sample of his hives. He uses “rational hives”, which are separated in two parts. On top is where the bees lay eggs, and on the bottom is where they build the pollen and honey combs.
Part of our recommendations for the communities will be to actually switch from this type of rational hives to a more practical and efficient “UTOB” hives where the pollen and honey combs would be separated from each other. Joao opened up a honey comb and made us taste the honey and it was the most amazing honey I have ever tasted. So fruity and sweet with a hint of maple sugar, it’s hard to describe but trust me it was amazing. After all the tasting, he took us to the actual hives. I think Matt has the hardest time walking among the stingless bees. For some reason they took quite a liking to him and he ended up completely covered in bees, which did not seem to want to fly away from his hair or t-shirt. Joao and Josepha, our tour guide/translator had to pick the bees out of Matt’s hair, much like monkeys pull out fleas out of each other’s scalp. It was a pretty funny sight until some bees got stuck in my hair, at which point I was more screaming uncomfortably than laughing.
The next day we took a 5hour speedboat to Juriti to visit the Alcoa’s bauxite mines (the rock used to produce aluminum). The boat ride was beautiful, on both side of the river we could see the amazonian vegetation and wildlife. The width of the river in some part is so impressive you almost forget you are riding down a river. This perception is also enhanced by the fact that the river has reached its record high in a 100 years. While this is a good thing for us, since our boat to the communities will be able to navigate better along the river, it is problematic for the people of the amazon. Along the ride, we could see a couple of spare houses, stores and churches completely over flooded and abandoned.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Alcoa employee, including Vivana our tour guide. They took us to Sao Pedro, a community next to Juriti. Viviana explained to us that Alcoa’s activity in the region had first destroyed the path of the stream that originally brought water to Sao Pedro but that through partnership with the villagers and Alcoa’s employees, they were able to restore the stream and water source. This is the case in all of the communities impacted by the mining.
The next day we actually saw what the mining of Bauxite entailed. We went on site, equipped with our boots, reflective shirts and helmets and followed the process of mining from extraction to lab testing of the mineral. Alcoa operate as a strip mine. Once an area is exploited, the miners refill the hole and replant vegetation. They explained to us that before tearing down the trees in one area, they analyzed the vegetation profile so that when they replant, they make sure to follow the same layout. It takes however about 25 years for the planted seed to look like a forest again. From what I saw, they seemed dedicated to make Alcoa as sustainable as possible and follow all the rules set up by the government. It seems that they also are concerned by their impact on the population of Juriti and the neighboring communities. They subsidize a training school in Juriti that teaches not only engineering skills, but also practical skills such as sewing to develop the population as much as possible in hopes of making them more autonomous.
Tomorrow we leave for Ana, the community that we are helping with the honeybee project. I am looking forward to seeing their actual operations and village. It will be extremely remote, with no electricity and definitely no internet. We get to sleep on hammacs for 2 nights, that in itself will be an experience.