It was 3:30 AM when we landed in Alter do Chão. Oddly, one of the only times you can land in this little Brazilian gem. When we arrived, there was still another one hour drive to our hotel, which is one of only a handful in the small city. Although it is residence to many a passing tourist, it consists mostly of locals, and is not, therefore, a city in which 5 star hotels are prevalent. But it is not the grandeur that you come to Alter do Chão for, it is for the unparalleled hospitality you receive from the locals that will leave a lasting imprint on your memory of Brazil.
After an all-too brief episode of shut-eye, we were up just a few hours later to meet our guide - who would accompany us on a 3+ hour drive, on narrow dirt roads to our final destination: Aldeia Bragança Munduruku (Tribe Bragança Munduruku).
The drive through the dirt roads felt both surreal and magical all at once. Stores were old, schools looked like they hadn’t seen a student in years, and the locals walked the streets in the most simple of attires - with no cell phone reception to be found. Yet there was a peace, and a joy about the city that seemed to be unphased by these missing ‘luxuries’.
We stopped at a small shop for some bottles of water. Cards weren’t accepted as they did not have the machines for it. But the smiles we were served with seemed to be ignorant of their technically-challenged set up. Their happiness seemed so genuine, it made you want to get in on whatever secret they must’ve had amongst themselves to achieve such evident joy.
After grabbing our waters, we continued on our way. Each of us looking out the windows and being waved at from every corner by our local and newly made friends every couple of miles.
After the long journey, we finally made it to our long awaited destination: Tribe Munduruku. We were instantly swarmed by locals as we opened the car doors. Each grabbing an item that they could help us carry out, unable to conceal their excitement as they had eagerly awaited our arrival.
The arrangement was made through “Turismo Consciente” - “Conscious Tourism”. An agency that is committed to facilitating conscious and protective visits to Amazonian Natives (find out more about them here). The purpose is to provide the local tribes with an income by having them host small groups of people - In our case we were the only ones - and teach us about their culture, as well as talents and day-to-day life. Through the agency we also wrote a letter to and obtained permission from FUNAI - which is the Indian protection Foundation group, overlooking all Indigineous tribes in and around Brazil.
Straight away we were taken in for lunch, which was served in an outdoor sitting area - as were most of their living areas, and we were served a delicious home cooked meal that had been prepared by the chief’s wife.
Chief Domingues sat down to eat with us while he told us about his tribe, and the breakdown of what he would show and teach us throughout our stay. The conversation only soured when he spoke of a court trial he was expected to sit in to represent his tribe in defence of their land, and vendetta to protect it against corporations wanting to deforest it for financial gain and urban sprawl. He would have to leave in the middle of the night the following day to begin the four hour bus trip into the city centre for the court trial.
We were shocked to learn that this was an issue of contention even worth bringing to the justice system. It seemed to us a no-brainer. The land belonged to this tribe, who had been its tireless caretaker for generations. It was unfathomable to think that anyone could override their obvious ownership of it.
This is where the importance of tourist groups, like ourselves, come in. We are their only source of external income. They live off the land, and build their own huts, and rely heavily on this funnel of income to maintain their simplistic lifestyles.
After lunch we settled into the hut we would be staying in. We would be sleeping in hammocks, just like the tribe members do.
After getting settled we set off on our adventure-filled day.
Flores de Melo