PTK Goes To The Rainforest: February 7, 1998

Even though we arrived in Manaus at 3 am, our team leader, PTK producer-director Geoff Haines-Stiles, has us hitting the ground running: we’re scheduled for a lunch meeting today at noon. Everyone spends the pre-meeting hours recovering from the flight; I have my computer open and am making some notes, when suddenly, the hotel goes dark. My room is lit only by the glow of my little laptop, now thirstily sucking down the battery power it would need later in the rainforest. Electricity in Manaus is provided by a giant hydroelectric plant and when the water level at the plant is too low to supply the necessary power, the city has blackouts. I now remember being pre-warned about this. Suddenly a terrific racket starts up. The hotel, like many businesses in Manaus, is prepared and has an emergency generator for power failures like this one. Unfortunately, their backup system only runs the lights, pumps and other necessary items. Necessary does not, unfortunately, include air-conditioners! Given a choice, I think most guests would have enthusiastically traded lights and computers for air-conditioning. Perhaps even our producer Geoff? Well, maybe all the guests but one.

At lunchtime, our van arrives to deliver us to the INPA campus, where we’ll meet Claude Gascon for lunch. He is the field director for the bi-national Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, run by INPA and the Smithsonian; you can read about him and his work in his own journals, and will meet him during the Live from the Rainforest television programs.

The INPA campus (set up like a university) is located on the outskirts of Manaus, near the main road leading north into the forest, about 30 minutes from the river area where our hotel is located. At lunch in a near-by restaurant, we get our first taste of Brazilian food— “churrasco,” which is Brazilian barbecue. Open-air churrasco restaurants are common throughout the city, and all feature a buffet of cold dishes including salad, rice and bean plates. The heart of the BBQ, however, is the dizzying array of hot foods, featuring every imaginable way of preparing beef and chicken. Large hunks of meat, poised impressively on heavy skewers, are presented at your elbow with great flourish by waiters brandishing even larger knifes. How can you say “não” to them? When we see that even the garlic bread is presented on skewer with knife, we realize that the Brazilians are serious about their BBQs.

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