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My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

WORLDWIDE | Saturday, 25 February 2012 | Views [249] | Scholarship Entry

Having stashed my backpack in a locker back at the hostel, I lean over to try to steady the wooden canoe as I climb in. Joao, with his tatty baseball cap on backwards and ubiquitous havaianas rows us towards the middle of the Amazon. We quietly glide from muddy to black water and the gritty sounds of Manaus drifts into the distance. The trees are mirrored in the still waters making the river seem somehow smaller… I dip my hands in the cool water and am quickly reprimanded by Joao. "Not here," he says. "There are kanjiru - small fish who if they get onto you will eat you from inside out." That stopped me.
We drop our hammocks and bags at a small open hut with Joao's wife, and his son Thiago jumps in. An energetic 10 year old is eager to help he brings wooden fishing hooks on wire and we paddle into the depth of the jungle for lunch. Casting out and trying to avoid being thrown into the water by playful Thiago, I shriek with delight at the tug on my line. Worried about what I'm actually pulling up, Joao & Thiago clap when i bring up a medium-sized Piranha. I must have a look for joy mixed with terror on my face as I hold it at arms length, still over the water. Joao helps me bring it snapping and struggling onto the canoe and shows me how to hold it to keep its razor sharp tooth lined jaw open. Five Piranhas later we've dropped the fish to Joao's wife and are hiking through the jungle with Joao explaining how his tribe has survived for thousands of years in this wilderness. He show me tracks of the jaguar and cuts away a bark that will help heal the cut I have endured from running from a spider. Vines, I'm told, are fantastic for water and this is where much of the water for cooking comes from - however there are three vines that (to me) look identical - two have water, one has poison. Walking back with fresh water, wood for the fire and a grumbling stomach Thiago shows me how to mix our freshly picked herbs and we dress the piranha for our barbecue lunch.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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