Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Day 2: exploration of Trollhattan, education and skating tests

Monday, January 23, 2017

0030: Fell asleep watching BBC World Service at 20:00 after an extremely long day of travel, was wide awake again only four and a half hours later.  So, I get up to write yesterday's travelog from my hand written pocket notebook into this text file that I will then copy into the blogspot app along with photos. My mind was not working well, and I was unable to figure the transfer of images from mobile phone to my netbook for composition of the travelog on the blogspot app. So, I decided it better to go back to sleep for another four hours.
0800: awoke, showered and shaved before putting a little more work on the computer to transpose the travelog and add photos.
0900: Down to the dining room for breakfast where the other three USA referees are there working on their computers. They too, had early rise and were waiting for the dining room to open at 0530. I enjoy breakfast and conversation with our USA corps before the dining room closes for breakfast.
1030: I decide to take a walk along the river and explore the trails between the canal and the natural river where there were historical waterfalls.
 Trollhattan is name based upon Troll Hats, which signifies the natural rock formations that poke up from the river and resemble the hats of a troll. There is a series of great waterfalls in this area with a large hydropower system powering industry. Shear cliffs with exposed granite remind me of the area around Taylor Falls on the St. Croix River between the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin north and east of the Twin Cities metro area. A nice walking trail makes its way below the dam, and I find a special rock outcropping with inscriptions of Swedish royalty going back several centuries.
A beautiful old church overlooks the river gorge between the canal and river.
 I continue my walk back up river to the hotel which is on the east bank of the river canal. With more time to kill, and the desire to walk off more of the kinks in the legs after yesterdays long flight I decide to make the short ten minute walk up to the bandy hall, Sl√§ttbergshallen, home of the Grippen Bandy Club. The hall is located in a nature reserve where the receding glaciers had scrubbed the landscape clear leaving large flat horizontal slabs of exposed granite. There are nice walking trails where many people are out walking their dogs, and there are many birds flying about. The birds are quiet, so I am not able to attempt at imitation of their whistling calls.  After brief reconnaissance of the facility, I make my way back to the hotel for lunch before we are scheduled to begin the referee education, tournament protocol, and written tests of the FIB rules.
1400: we meet at the referee conference room in the hotel, and I find myself beginning to set up with the referees before I realize that I am now a Supervisor and will be seated at the front of the room with the other four FIB Match Delegates. I do miss the camaraderie of the referee corps, but also am very happy to have been invited to act in this new capacity.
1730: the education and tournament protocol is completed and we break before dinner, opening ceremonies and skating test at the bandy hall later in the evening.
1900: opening ceremonies begin with procession of the teams from hotel to the town square. The referees may participate in only part of the ceremony due to need to depart for skating test.

1930: Team FIB (referees and supervisors) board the motorcoach for transport to the arena where the referees will be put thru their skating tests. The first test is composed of an endurance interval test where the referees skate a 240 meter oval circuit inside the bandy pitch. Each lap must be skated in 30 seconds, with a thirty second rest in between each interval. Referees must complete the circuit withing 5 meters of the line at the 30 second time - or they are shown a Caution Yellow card. Upon two Cautions, the referee must stop and they are recorded the number of laps completed. Assistants must make 12 laps and Head Referees a minimum of 15 laps.  This is not an easy task, and the key is to make a quick start for first 50 meters of the lap and then carry the momentum thru the rest of the lap.  The referees skate as a group and take turns leading the pack and breaking the wind like speedskaters or cyclists.  All of the skaters to well, and the leader of the referees are able to get a first look at skating skill of each of the referees.
We then spend 10 minutes cooling down with some instruction on positioning during match situations such as corner strokes. Each referee position is defined depending upon which corner the play is restarted. It is critical that the Assistant Referees understand the system of control based upon whether the corner is taken from their side of the pitch.
The second skating test is for agility and entails skating a rectangular course of six cones at 40 meter intervals. Each skater starts at the middle of one side and skates forward the first leg to and around the first cone, 90 degree turn and around the second cone where another 90 degree turn toward the middle cone where there is a corner flag set up. The skater then switches to backward skate another 90 degree turn into figure eight pattern back toward the start line cone. The figure eight is completed still skating backwards and continues with 90 degree turns around the final two cones to the finish. This test certainly gives the Referee Leaders a complete indication of each referees ability on their skates.
2100: the skating session is now complete and one of the teams is arriving for their practice session, the referees pack their gear bags and we board motorcoach back to hotel and again to the conference room where the first days assignments will be given. There is great anticipation, and I am very happy to see that our USA referees have shown their excellent skating skills, giving the leaders confidence to give them their assignments. All referees are instructed that assignments are to be held in strict confidence, for the referees assigned to all games are not published until one our before each fixture, when the team leaders meet in the referee room for handshakes and to confirm the jersey colors are in contrast. We USA referees are now really hitting the wall that is jet lag, and we head straight to bed. Our second day is now in the books, but we have been on the run for three days now. Tomorrow the tournament begins and there are sure to be some butterflies in the stomachs of the referees which is a good thing in anticipation. I have great confidence in our crew and their preparation. The two female referees will make history tomorrow as they will be pioneers - being the first to referee in a major International Men's tournament. I am so very proud of both the FIB and these very talented individuals in this regard.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 World Bandy Championships: Day One travel to Trollhatten, Sweden

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Preparing for trip to Trollhattan, Sweden to participate in the International Bandy Federation (FIB) World Championships, B-Pool.  So very happy to have prepared in advance with most of my gear washed and packed several days ago. With an afternoon flight, this gives me extra time this morning to wrangle the rest of my belongings before a mid-afternoon flight. I've cleared the refrigerator with some left over sandwich fixings, so have packed myself a sack lunch to enjoy while waiting at MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul) airport and Delta flight to AMS (Amsterdam).

1230: called for Uber transport to MSP, and estimate pick up in less than 10 minutes. These new arranged transportation services have made getting to/from the airport so easy and relatively cheap. The 11 mile (18Km) has very little traffic and I am at the terminal in about 12 minutes for $19.
1300: I have cleared the security checkpoint with zero wait, seriously, there was only one person walking thru the queue in front of me and I went direct to the agent to process passport and boarding pass. I have no issues with my carry-on backpack with lunch, electronics, toiletries and my coffee brewing apparatus. The departure gate is very close, and they have made major improvements to the retail areas and the departure lounge is full of single seat booths and high-top bar tables. Each seat has a built-in I-pad where travelers can place orders for food that is delivered directly to your seat. There is a retail area set up similar to a grocery store with fresh fruit in addition to all the other trappings that are found in most airport convenience stores. I am the first of our group of four USA Bandy game officials to arrive, so I break out my sandwich, potato chips and clementine orange. The other referees begin to arrive as I am preparing to begin my airport tradition of brewing a small batch of coffee.
The portable heating element takes an extraordinarily long time to get the water hot, and I figure this is due to very low amperage being fed to the convenience outlets that are located at each seat. As boarding time approaches, I complete the brew. Our departure is scheduled for 15:18, and I am seated near the rear of the Delta Airbus A330-300 by 14:55, and we take off at 15:30 with on time arrival indicated.
1715: I enjoy these international flights, for each seat is equipped with seat back monitor with free movies and video provided. First beverage service  includes complimentary beer, and I select Sweetwater IPA from Atlanta. It is not too bad, but a little sweeter than I prefer, but better than any of the mega-brewery alternatives. Dinner is served shortly thereafter, and I select the spinach ravioli with a glass of red wine. Th dinner includes a shrimp (3 of them) salad, garden salad, dinner roll, cheese and cracker. The ravioli is quite tasty. I hope these two alcoholic beverages will assist me getting some sleep during the overnight flight.
1750: dinner is complete and there are still 5 hours, 21 minutes remaining to destination. I settle back in to complete the most recent in the series of Jason Bourne action thrillers.
2200: the cabin lights come back on, and the flight crew are delivering a breakfast which of Orange juice, greek yogurt, orange+cranberry roll with orange marmalade and of course a cup or two of coffee.

Sunday, January 22, 2017
0615: we're on the ground and expecting a 10 minute taxi to our gate at the gigantic Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. We have a very quick layover, so we deplane and head for passport control. There is a full queue for the non-European travelers, and I note that there  is only one station open. The agents are directing those with 0700 departures to jump the line in order to make their flights. Our boarding is scheduled for 0730, and it looks dire. Shortly, three additional agents arrive for their shift, and the line begins to move along. No worries. We clear passport control and begin our long walk to our departure gate which, of course, is located at the very end of concourse B. The morning walk will do us all a bit of good to work out the kinks after a nine hour overnight flight.
0815: dawn is breaking as we walk down the jetway and stairs to the tarmac where our KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 195 awaits. The temperature is just below freezing (-1 C) and the cold air infused with the fumes from the kerosene jet fuel is crisp in the nostrils as we make our way up the stairs and into the aircraft.
0850: we are served a wonderful egg salad sandwich for breakfast. The packaging for the sandwich extols the virtues of this particular chicken farm where the happy chickens live in wonderful conditions. There is full description inside of the packaging.

 The 90 minute flight is uneventful (the best kind), and we break out of the low ceiling of clouds just above the treetops.  Amazing that the precise navigation technology has us lined up just a hundred feet above the runway.  I do have full confidence for my father was a pilot, my mother a flight attendant, and brother is also a pilot.
1000: we have gathered our luggage and there are two drivers at the land side of the airport with the tournament logo sign and USA Bandy to transport us in their two cars a little over an hour up the canal from Gothenburg to Trollhattan. While the sky is overcast and grey we are still able enjoy the scenery of southwestern Sweden featuring large outcroppings of granite rocks, small farm fields and pine woods. There is quite a lot of heavy industry located along the canal with a long history of heavy manufacturing including Saab and Volvo automobiles.
1130: we are all checked into the hotel. The two women referees are booked into one room, the other assistant referee is booked into his double occupancy room and his Chinese roommate will arrive tomorrow. I have the new luxury of a single room, for my position is now that of FIB Match Delegate/Supervisor. I quickly unpack my bags, set up another coffee brew and jump in the shower. We have just over an hour until one of the other FIB Match Delegates picks us up for a short drive to the next town where we will watch an U-20 Elite league bandy match.
1300: We gather in the hotel lobby and drive the short 15 minutes to the town of Vanersborg and their indoor bandy hall. (image).
This will be a great opportunity for all of us to observe the professional Swedish referee crew work the game. There have been some changes to the referees system of control which will be very important for us all to observe and implement for the tournament which starts in two days time. The game is very good with the visitors enjoying the better of the first half. The team managers obviously make some changes, and the second half is more equal and the intensity has ramped up. We are luck to be accompanied to the match by the FIB Delegate who is also a member of the Swedish Bandy Federation and a leader of their elite referee training committee. He is also an old friend from several of my previous FIB tournaments including my first men's tournament in Moscow 2008 and women's tournament in Irkutsk, Russia 2012. After the game, we visit with the referee crew in their locker room, and have a very short discussion before we depart back to hotel. Upon arrival at the bridge to cross the canal next to the hotel, the gates are dropping as a large ship is making its way up the canal toward the big Lake Vanern (inland sea).  The drawbridge raises, and we must wait a few minutes for the ship to pass.
1630: the USA bandy officials are now getting quite hungry and ready to eat and get some much needed sleep. We are able to get some Swedish Krona (8.9 SEK/US$) from the ATM across from hotel, and we begin the short one block walk up the street to Muang Thai a small restaurant that we saw upon our arrival and sounded much more interesting than the ubiquitous pizza places that seem to dot small towns across the world. We all order some curry with rice (95 SEK / $11) and enjoy dinner before we all begin to 'hit the wall' that is jet-lag. It has been a long day.
2000: I have done some organizing of my room and electronics and decided to look thru the television for a moment before going to bed. I find a broadcast of the BBC World Service in English, so watch that for a while to catch up on the news and begin to set up the WiFi on my devices.  Shortly, I find myself asleep, so turn off the lights for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, the tournament begins for the game officials with rules review, education on tournament protocol, written rules and physical skating tests in addition to the opening ceremony that will be held in the local park near hotel adjacent to the canal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014 (Amazon Village to Manaus)

0600: AJ's alarm goes off an hour early, and I wonder if he's done that on purpose to make me feel better about my previous two days mistakes. I immediately forgive him.
0700: rooster phone and watch alarms sound simultaneously. I grab my black books and head to the patio to catch up on my transcriptions. I have been able to write consistently in the books, but have found little time to transpose the text into the computer for posting to the online travelogue. There has been even less time and opportunity to access WiFi and the internet to update the blog. I fear this will be the case for much of the remainder of the trip.
0800: final breakfast at the lodge on our departure day. Another large spread with four fruit juices and half a dozen breads and pastries.
0900: we settle our bar tab R$128, take some photos and return to prepare for our departure.
1000: large speedboat from the Amazon village thru the 'meeting of the waters' where there is a confluence of two rivers, a muddy one and a clear one. The run side by side for 15 kilometers (about 10 miles). Our speedboat has capacity for 32 passengers and is powered by a 225 HP Suzuki outboard motor.
1030: we have made great time down the tributary which is on the north bank just downstream from Manaus. There are diving birds and floating lilys along the clearly defined edge between the two rivers. There are many large container and Petrobras ships (Brasilian state oil company). Most everything must be shipped up river from the coast, and we are a long way from there.
1100: we have returned to the ferry terminal and transfer to a 16 passenger Citroen van. There is heavy traffic. Gasoline is R$2.90/liter (US$5.24/gal) Ethanol is R$2.59/l (US$4.63). It is approaching mid day and the temperature is 34C (92F) luckily we are in air conditioned transport. Just before noon, we are dropped at the Manaus airport where we will pick up rental car. The Num Lock on my netbook is acting up and it is a major pain, for I am unable to transpose my notes from the black books into the computer, or compose any sort of email.
1530: I break out our portable coffee apparatus and make another couple cups in the Fun Zone as we watch a game. I meet a nice guy, Casey Grady, who is working for a company that is making child labor free soccer balls. We encounter a major issue with the rental car, as we understand that the Dollar agency is at another location. As it turns out, it is only just around the corner at the old terminal. What a waste of time. Unfortunately, we did not determine this until after Bill and Charlie had arrived from Rio - we could have figured this out while we had all afternoon to spare.
1900: we're finally on our way after selecting the Chevy Celta over the Fiat UNO. Just barely able to fit our large hockey gear bags with scarves plus the four of us and our carry on packs.
2030: and we're finally at the Comfort Inn where we find a large group of US fans already partying in the lobby bar. We have to strategically enter the hotel, for we have reserved room for two.
2100: we depart for the US Soccer Fan HQ party where we have brought in several bags of scarves to sell. Beers are R$7 (US$3.15) they are cold and very bland. A small pizza the sixe of my palm is R$12 (US$5.40). We are making our way around the party, and I have draped scarves over each shoulder to display all sides like a sandwich board. We are moving them like hot cakes. At one point someone from US Soccer approaches me and tells me that if I continue to sell the scarves, I will be asked to leave. I stop approaching people, but with a clear bag tied to my belt, people keep coming. Soon, we have sold all that we have brought to the party. We pile back into our rental car and return to hotel. Big game tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014 (Amazon Village)

Friday, June 20, 2014 (Amazon Village)

0600: again the rooster alarm is going off an hour early, for the phone has not automatically set to the local time (no service). AJ showers then goes back to bed while I venture out to the veranda at the main lodge in attempt to update the transcription of this travelog from my little black books into a text file on my netbook. Of course this is to no avail, as there is just too much to see, and people to talk to. At one point, I note another small group of people pointing back up into the treeline behind the lodge. There is a pack of white faced monkeys swinging among the treetops and are soon gone.  There are many birds to be heard and seen in the canopy of trees.
0800: breakfast is again a great spread with strong black coffee, juices, fresh fruits and several types of bread and pastries. Scrambled eggs, pizza, sausages and fried eggs are available. We are eating too well. This portion of our trip so far has been both priceless and a great value compared to what we'd have to spend in Manaus on lodging, transport and food.
0900: we are scheduled for the jungle walking tour and a couple of groups combine into a group of ten. Just down the path from the main lodge and in front of one of the cabanas, Angelo and another guide, cut up a small fish to lure in a caiman (small crocodile / alligator).  The caiman knows that every other day there will be a free meal, and is there for the show. We continue our walk with Angelo narrating  about the wide variety of flora and fauna in the rain forest. He cuts off a small scab from a tree that he indicates will be developed into a gasoline type fuel in the future. He lights it, and it sparks and sputters - this small bit the size of a large marble can burn for an entire night. This material is also used for incense and has a very nice smell. Another tree is the source for a silicon like material that is used to seal the joints between the wood planks on their boats. This is an ancient material that he indicates is referenced in the bible in the fable of Noah and his arc.
As we prepare to go deeper into the thick jungle he indicates that it is important to keep to the path and not to touch the plants on the sides of the path for there are poisonous spiders and snakes that may be camouflaged. We can hear a troop of monkeys in the canopy, but I am unable to see them. Angelo stops at a tree, and cuts a small twig for us to smell - it is the basis for some perfume.  The soil in the rain forest is some of the worst in the world and there is only a small depth of top soil (3-4") over sand. The roots of the trees spread out and the base of the tree has a buttress like structure at the base to keep it stable. Trees here can not grow as big and tall like in our California redwood forests.
1000: the elderly English woman is feeling fain due to the heat and humidity and the second guide leads the couple back to the lodge. It would be impossible to follow the barely perceptible path back on ones one. The interesting tour continues with description of the killer bees (breed of African and European varieties) which kill the most people in Brasil than any other animal. We are also challenged to point out the tree that is used for making the blow pipe - winner gets a caipirinha from the bar that evening. Our Australian friend is able to point out the variety from which the 3 meter blowpipes are made.
1045: there is sun and clouds and Angelo predicts rain as we continue our trek. Next stop and he displays a fibrous bark that is used for making rope. Another plant, the palm is twisted and tied into a foot and a half circle. This is then placed between the feet and used to climb trees. A demonstration is given, then several of the tourists give it a try to a varying degree of success. AJ is able to climb several feet up.  The most dangerous animal in the rain forest is the wild boar, and we are shown that the only way to survive an attack by pack of boars is to climb up into a tree. I am challenged to climb up onto a vine, which I am able to do and then recline for a photo op.
1145: we have returned to the lodge via a circuitous route as the rain begins to fall. AJ and I return to our cabana for our swim trunks to take a dip off the dock before lunch.
1230: lunch is another great spread including large Dorado (catfish) fillets, beans and the assorted medley of great food.
1400: we launch from the dock in two long tail skiffs of eight passengers each and head back down the tributary for our piranha fishing trip. AJ's Geostat has reacquired our global position, and we are looking forward to tracking on a map upon our return. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a signal for the GPS during the morning jungle trek.
1500: we've navigated down river to a small lake and we can see the main Amazon river beyond a treeline. We pull into the shade of the treetops and prepare to drop a line and hook with small cube of beef into the water. The technique is very interesting, for after dropping in the line, the tip of the rod is thrashed about in the water to attract the piranhas. A flock of Maracana parrots is also making a racket in adjacent palm tree. Only Angelo and the guides have caught fish so far, so we move to another location. Shortly after stopping at our new location, I am the first tourist in our boat to catch a yellow piranha, which is the size of a sunfish but with incredible sharp teeth. With little more success, we move across the small lake to another location. I can see a single egret roosting in a low branch. Many of the egrets must have migrated back to the northern hemisphere while the water is so high.
1615: we depart the fishing hole after some limited success; and hope the other boat has had better luck, so we can have a nice tasty snack of fresh cooked shore lunch at our next stop. We cross the lake to a small dock / deck, where there is a long picnic table spread out for our arrival. We are met by  follow the crazy old man with a funny basket like hat on his head (apparently a version of the tin foil hat - worn by some who believe in some craziness). We grab some cold drinks (small Brahma can R$10 (US$ ) and follow the old man up the riverbank to his rubber making hut for a display. We are shown how the rubber trees are sliced with diagonal cuttings and the white latex drips into tin cups. We then go to his hut where he has a small fire of burning leaves creating a warm smoke to dry the latex that is used to spread upon a form to make any type of rubber object. Of course, for the display, he is reputed to be the local maker of condoms - good to last three years. There are several phallic forms on display and he begins his demonstration. Shortly, he has one completed, and one of the Aussie's has gladly paid R$10. for his souvenir. Next there is a display of how the locals had made rubber balls that were the wonder of the first European explorers. A base form is created with a small Coke bottle. This rubber form is stripped from the bottle and blown up like a balloon to create the form. This balloon is then taken over to a long plank that has had a thin film of rubber/latex spread to dry. The leading edge of the rubber is peeled up and the rubber ball is then used to roll and shape the form for durability. Soon there is a durable rubber ball - amazing.
Eventually a foreigner smuggled 40,000 rubber plant seeds out of the country and the Brasilian rubber plantations were no longer of any value. Henry Ford bought a large tract of land and planted trees in Brasil to supply rubber tires for his automobiles.
1700: we return from the rubber demonstration to find the dock / deck / bar with a spread of our freshly cooked piranhas. The fish is great tasting and as fresh as you can get. Those who caught the piranhas are offered up the jaw bones that are covered in the razor sharp teeth.
1715: return via the long tail boats to the Amazon village as the sun is setting behind some far clouds. Upon our arrival back at the Amazon Village, we are back into our swim trunks and jumping off the dock for a refreshing dip.
1900: dinner again, and we are fed like kings. Tonight the star of the meal is a whole cooked Dorado. There is a special cooked vegetable, Machacha, that is unique to the Amazon and resembles a cucumber.  Rain begins to fall is a torrential downpour, and none of the guests want to leave the tables. Eventually, we are persuaded to retire to the bar for caipirinhas, so the staff is able to clean the dining area. There is thunder and lightning in the distance. The sound of the rain falling upon the thatched roofs is wonderful. We have several rounds of caipirinhas and conversations range from futebol to travel and economics.
2200: early to bed with a quick scan of the rafters before settling in after a magical day in the Amazon rain forest.

Thursday, June 19, 2014 (Manaus Hostel to Amazon Village)

0600: alarm set an hour early by mistake. Hope AJ doesn't dock me another demerit. I try to make amends by getting right up and starting our coffee ritual while he snoozes for another half hour. Meanwhile, I sit down to transpose the notes from my little black book and into the text file on my net book. I have only been able to transpose up thru Monday as we have been on such a hectic schedule - I hope we can find some downtime, but I fear we may have scheduled ourselves on a very tight timeline for the entirety of the trip (at least thru next Wednesday when we depart Rio de Janeiro).
0700: and the breakfast provided by the hostel is ready. Coffee, bread, cheese, pineapple, guava (or papaya) and banana.
0800: we're all packed up and ready to be picked up by Brazil Nuts tour. As we wait outside on the veranda the temperature and humidity is stifling with barely any breeze to cool our skin. Half and hour and still no sign of our transport.
0905: the transport (Peugot 15 passenger van with air conditioning) arrives. Maybe there was some misunderstanding between our itinerary and the tour provider here in Manaus. There is an Austrian couple already aboard, and we are off to pick up the next pilgrims. Ten minutes later we have arrived at the Inner City Premium Hotel to pick up a pair of Australian guys as the rain begins to fall. Our guide, Angelo (Marco) indicates that he doesn't believe the rain will last too long. The slight drizzle has become a downpour and there are dark clouds on the horizon. We pass by a covered field with several guys playing futebol. There are a couple more fields adjacent - Brasil really is crazy for their futebol. We pass some gas stations where the price is R$3.84/liter (US$6.85). I imagine the greater cost compared to Natal is due to it all having to be shipped up the river, and there are many tanker ships moored in the river.
0940: arrival at the ferry terminal. The guide, Angelo, asks if we're all prepared and lists some items of importance: flashlight, rain poncho, water. He indicates that we should all purchase a 2 liter bottle of water R$4 (US$1.90). There will be drinks available for purchase during meals, but nothing else will be provided (later he indicates during our canoe tour that the water in the tributary in crystal clear and is save to drink ... we do not take him up on this. I take a moment to walk down the market and covered terminal where the automobiles pay their fare, then maneuver into position to back up onto the ferry. The ramp slopes to the river and there is meat and fish market on the left side and dry goods on the right. There are piles of fresh fish with some ice covering. They look great, and there are many different types.
1000: we depart on a small boat which can seat up to 16 passengers and is powered by a Suzuki 115 HP outboard motor. Our group consists of six tourists, our guide, a driver and assistant. The rain continues as we walk down a pair of parallel planks to the dock launch and climb aboard. The boat has plastic screens installed on the front and along both sides to protect us from the now driving rain. We have a very limited view of the riverside and the activity in the middle. The river is massive and even here in Manaus way up the Amazon it is wider than I recall the Mississippi to be near New Orleans. We are shortly speeding along not too far from the north bank and one of the Aussies is drenched by a rouge wave. Apparently they have forgotten to pull in a bollard and it caught a wave. We slow and the assistant hauls it in. We pass a large bridge structure that juts like a bridge into the river. I ask if that is a petrol terminal and he says that it is the water pumping station for the City of Manaus. The driving rain continues and we can see that the river banks are flooded with the tree tops jutting above the water. Due to the weather there will be no chance to see the meeting of the waters today as scheduled - Angelo indicates that we will see upon our return (weather permitting I say to myself). The 'meeting of the waters' is one of the main attractions here in Manaus. This is at the confluence of two rivers, one running clear (Rio Negro) and the other muddy (Rio ?). There are whitecaps on the river and we are in for a bumpy ride.
1030: we turn in to a tributary and stop to change a gas tank and then drop off the assistant, who as it turns out is another boat captain. He is dropped at a dock along the tributary where we can tell that the water is quite high and approaching the houses.
1045: we're now on a smooth tributary and the rain appears to be slowing down. We are now motoring among the tree tops. Angelo indicates that the water is 13 meters above the low season level when there is a small channel only 20 centimeters deep. We have been able to take this large boat all the way instead of having to transfer to one of the shallow draft skiffs with the long tail motor and propeller.
1100: arrival at the Amazon Village. We are given instructions about when we are required to wear shoes and trousers (just during our jungle tour). The keys are passed out, and we are in a 'duplex' cabin next to the Aussie guys. As we are settling in, we hear some excited tones coming from the other side of the wall. The guys, upon inspection, have found a tarantula spider high above in the roof thatch. <PHOTO>
1200: We get into our swim trunks and head back to the dock for a swim. AJ and I jump in and swim out to the submerged trees and I climb up into the branches to perch just above the water line. There is only a slight drizzle, and it is warmer in the water than outside of it.
1230: lunch buffet includes beef, fish, spaghetti, the cooks here are amazing. Always enjoyable conversations with our tour mates.
1500: swamp tour via the long tail skiff. The larger skiff have Yamaha 300cc, these can carry about 10-12 people. The locals travel via smaller skiffs which can carry two or three and are powered by Honda 160cc motors.  The motors are connected to a four foot 'long tail' shaft with a propeller at the end. These are the only way to travel in the shallow channels in the dry season. We are now in the high water season with the water 12-13 meters above the low water line, when the there is a narrow channel only 20 cm deep. Many of the narrow channels that we are traveling now, are walking paths in the low season.
During our swamp tour we see many birds including buzzards, red hawk (w/ grey white head), fork tailed fly catcher, and egret among various other unidentified aviary. We enter a very narrow tributary where the boat driver shuts down the motor and begins to paddle. We are instructed to be quiet so that we may hear the many noises from the rainforest. The driver then indicates something high in the tree, and we can barely make out the shape of the extremely slow moving three toed slot. The sloth is climbing to the top of the canopy to eat the fresh leaves.
1600: we begin our return to the lodge there is no rain and the sun has begun to poke thru the clouds. We return via the main tributary an there are fish surfacing to feed upon the insects. There are even a few flying fish. We hear a loud racket from a small flock of birds and our guide instructs us that this is a group of Maracana (parrots) and is the namesake of the famous stadium in Rio.
1650: visit a traditional Amazon house where they are selling some handmade wares in addition to some items that have obviously been purchased in Manaus. I purchase two bracelets for R$5 each and AJ and I have an ice cold Kaiser beer R$5.
1715: depart the traditional riverside village for the 5' ride back to the Amazon Village Lodge. As we approach the compound, Angelo indicates that we are riding 10 meters above the soccer field and we can make out the rectangular shape of the treeline at the perimeter. Upon our return there is a great commotion as a tarantula spider hanging at the edge of the eave next to the dining room where it is catching the flying termites. It makes quick motion to snatch the insects from the air with it's hairy front legs and draws them into the mouth.
1800: dusk descends and the flying termites are crazy bad, so we must be sure to close the door to our cabana which has insect screens on the windows to keep the bugs at bay.
1900: dinner at the lodge is again a wonderful spread, and there are four other groups in addition to our own. One of the groups includes a couple of women from Seattle and one of their sons. Another group includes an elderly couple from England and three folks from Vancouver. Dinner includes: salads of shredded cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and some beet like vegetable. Main courses are: vegetable soup, spaghetti, rice, potatoes, carrots, lasagna, beef (flank steak and tongue) and fish.
2200: bedtime, and I have put in my earplugs and begun to sleep when I hear Andy freaking out and letting out a curse. He has been laying in bed not yet asleep when a tarantula spider drops and lands on his neck. He brushes it off, feeling the hairy legs\ and can hear the patter of the eight feet across his pillow. I am just barely able to get back to sleep with one eye open with little fear that the spider will return.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wednesday, June 18 (Ponta Negra to Manaus)

Wednesday, June 18 (Ponta Negra to Manaus)

0700: rooster phone alarm sounds, one snooze then I'm up and beginning to boil some water for coffee.  Pack up our stuff and we're on the road to the airport.
0900: we're back on the streets of Natal - this time in the light of day which is much more enjoyable than upon our arrival a couple of days ago. Street signs are clearly visible as we navigate the mid morning traffic. Only one missed turn this time, thanks to the Nokia navigation that AJ was able to download to his phone. We now have full mapping and GPS navigation for the entire country which will make our travel much easier.
1015: arrive at NAT where we park the car at the luggage claim, lower level. We are able to park right there and Avis send a guy out to check the car over as the rental transaction is completed.
1100: we have wrangled our carry on and the two large gear bags full of scarves to the departure level and checked in and got the luggage on its way.  They provided large plastic bags to cover the packs - I guess we are expecting thunderstorms upon our arrival in the Amazon.
1140: as we taxi out, I spot a strange looking airplane.  It is a Boeing 767 that is painted all white with simple small lettering, Dynamic Airways, and USA tail number N767DA. This must be the charter plane for The American Outlaws. We are wheels up and on our way to Manaus in a TAM airlines Airbus A319. I have seat 1A and feel like a rock star. It is not first class seating, but it is the closest to the front of an aircraft that I have ever been seated. AJ is in seat 1E, the other window seat in the first row.
By the time we get to our seats the overhead bins are full, so we anticipate having the carry ons stowed below. I l . As we taxi out, we note that the minimally marked Dynamic Airways Boeing 737 with tail number,N767DA, is still parked on the tarmac. I was surprised to see that the aircraft was left idle for these several days before shuttling The American Outlaws to Manaus.
1430: arrive in Manaus, Amazon. Despite the cloudy skies, we can make out the massive river system. This is the high water season as the snow is melting high up in the Andes Mountains. We can clearly see that the city is carved from the Amazon jungle/rainforest. A clear edge defines the city and there are only a few arterial roads leading to the north, while to the south, there are roads only accessed by a single bridge on the west (upriver) and ferry at the east. There is slight rain as we arrive.
We seek out the storage lockers, so we may drop our luggage full of scarves. At the desk they indicate R$30/day (US$14) for a large bag and R$15/day (US$7) for a small bag. They indicate that we will need to pay for a large and a small. I begin to negotiate, believing that they have some sort of secure storeroom, but they insist we must pay for a large and a small and there is no negotiation with the woman behind the counter. I continue to insist on two small, so one of the gals leads us outside where we find the lockers. We are able to cram the large hockey gear bag into the small locker and save about $21 for our three days of storage while we go on our tour of the Amazon jungle.
After we finish this task, we arrange for our taxi to the hostel for a set rate of R$65. (US$31). Hostel for us 2 is a pretty nice setup in a massive colonial building near the city center in the south, just two blocks north of the grand auditorium and Governor's house. We are set up in a common room that has five bunks three beds high. There are only nine bunks made up at this time. AJ notices that the top of a storage cabinet has AXE body spray among the clutter of junk and he swears - remembering the hostel in Cape Town, South Africa, where we were in a room with a bunch of drunk English guys who doused themselves before going out. AJ has bad reaction to perfumes, and assumes that the room will be full of Croatian guys returning late tonight after their game at the Manaus stadium.
We get ourselves settled in and retire to the community room on the main floor/entry and have a couple of Skol beers R$6 (US$2.80) for two cans. We both are working diligently to get our phone Brasilian phone service. I had added US$50. to my T-mobile account in Natal in order to make connection with Bill. I now try to change my plan to an International roaming, but decide that I will have to forfeit my current balance and trust that we will be able to get AJ's device(s) to work. The original SIM card purchased in Pipa has not yet worked properly in any of the phones that we have tried. They may be locked to US service provider. AJ used my scissors yesterday to trim down the phone SIM card to fit into one of his Nokia  devices, however, we have yet to be able to activate and are in search of a Claro storefront (Brasilian wireless phone provider). After an hour of frustration we decide to bag it and hit the street to find something to eat and return to watch our Minnesota United FC (NASL) play Sporting Kansas City (MLS) in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup (USOC).
We head down the street toward the Auditorium in hopes of finding a restaurant for some fresh fish. It becomes clear that we may not find what we are looking for, and due to short time we duck into a Japanese restaurant. We realize that only the kitchen and backside are on the first floor and we have to climb the stairs to the second floor (a good sign in my experience). We review the menu and decide on two meals to go. We each get the grilled regional fish with vegetables, french fries and rice for R$45 (US$21) we both have a nice cold beer while we wait R$10 (US$4.70 each).
We return to watch the USOC match via the internet, which is very exciting for us for we had been to the Third Round match in Des Moines the week before our departure. All of the Loon fans are excited for a long run in the tournament. The web stream is quite dodgy with long periods of buffering, but what the hell, we're watching our team in the USOC from the Amazon, eating fresh local fish and drinking cold beer. How great is that!
I set AJ off when I begin to complain about the referee letting the game begin with the teams jersey colors - not enough contrast. KC is playing in their grey half hoop jersey, and our Loons are in their (home) grey. Maybe in the stadium you can tell the difference between the teams, but on the video almost impossible, especially after the players begin to sweat and the lighter grey becomes almost identical.  AJ says the referee will sort it out at halftime ... and he did. Sporting KC must have raided their merchandise shop, for they appear in a light blue training jersey of some sort in the second half. The jerseys do not have any numbers. This is just plain incompetence by USSF and the teams for not coordinating well in advance what the protocol for contrasting uniforms. The ultimate blame resides with the Referee for allowing the game to begin with such a situation.
The Loons central defender, Cristiano Diaz is sent off for a straight red card in the 50' and the team face an up hill battle on the road and down a man for 40'. Our keeper Mitch Hildebradt makes some great saves and the team is defending very well, but KC are able to score in the 76'. The Loons come close to scoring the equalizer on a Thiago header from a corner kick in the 86'. KC score again in the 87' to seal the victory.
2200: it's time for a shower and early to bed for we're anticipating the bunk room to become quite raucous. Our tour will be picking us up tomorrow morning to take us on a motorized boat into the Amazon river and to our lodge. The shower is refreshing and really helps cool me down. The heat and humidity here is incredible. They have had a lot of rain and the hostel operator has indicated that the Amazon is at a 75 year record level. I wonder how the river level will affect our tour.
0000: finally ready for bed and have taken the malaria pill and set up my bed netting by tying off the center and wedging the corners of the netting between the mattress and the wood slats of the bunk above. No signs yet of returning fans, so maybe a peaceful night sleep.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tuesday, June 17 (Pipa to Ponta Negra)

Tuesday, June 17 (Pipa to Ponta Negra)

0700 and my rooster phone alarm is blaring and calling for me to awake and make some coffee, one of our simple pleasures. AJ has brought his folding silicon coffee filter holder. I have a pair of stacking Stanley lexan cups and an immersion water heater. This little kit is going to give us a simple bit of pleasure every morning. We're going thru this first bag of Starbucks Sumatran coffee at a good clip, and I look forward to purchase of some Brasilian coffee in the near future. Bill and Charlie are on their way just after 1000 and AJ and I head out to purchase a SIM card for phone(s). Telephone and wireless service has been terrible, and contributed to a very frustrating couple of days trying to make contact and connections. For example, we must make contact with the caretaker to pass on the keys and transmitter for the automatic door opener to the compound, but we do not have any way to telephone him yet. We are able to purchase a Claro SIM card for R$10. (US$4.70), but are unable to get it to work in the first couple of phones we try. I am not a technology expert by any means, but Andy is and he is becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation. At this point, only Bill and I have been able to communicate via our US phone services but at an extraordinary cost (US$3.65/minute). I have already had to load US$50. to my account in order to make a couple of urgent calls to logisticate the ticket transfer and arrange to meet our crew in Pipa.
1200: we've called the caretaker after paying to use a local land line at a wireless cafe R$2. (US$1) to arrange to meet him at the compound. We trek back up the hill (5 minute walk) but he does not show up. I decide that we will put the key and transmitter into a plastic bag and leave near the automatic gate. We then depart to make another call to the caretaker and the owner to inform of the situation with the keys.  Not great, but what else can we do. We need to move on and have now wasted an hour and a half.
1330: we're on our way back to Natal, the road is now quite familiar and we too with our tiny Fiat UNO.