Archives for posts with tag: Amazon

Most of my story ideas start with a character. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, especially from the animal world. Did the picture above make you laugh? Can you imagine the sort of personality this macaque monkey might have? She is clever, for one thing, since she figured out what a wildlife photographer was doing and grabbed his camera to take this self-portrait! If you were writing a story about her, what would you call her?

Once you have a name and some idea of what your character is like, you can start thinking up a story. What other sort of mischief might Millie the macaque monkey get up to? I think she would definitely be a naughty character, so she is bound to get into trouble! But because she is good at heart, everything would work out okay in the end.

What about this guy? He looks a bit mean, I think. I would call him Orville and make him bad-tempered and rude. And that is because he is hard and scaly and has a mean expression. Perhaps in reality he is a very sweet tortoise!

Here is another interesting individual. He is a type of toucan with intense blue eyes that stare unblinkingly at you. It’s hard to work out what he might be thinking. Is he friendly, or will he bite your finger? The shape of his beak makes him appear to be frowning, and it looks hard and sharp. His blue claws are also a bit scary looking. What sort of story might you write about him? Perhaps he feels misunderstood and really wants to be a tap dancer!

A while ago my family and I were stuck in the middle of nowhere when our car broke down. We found a place to wait for the AA man to come and rescue us, and took some pictures of this surprising sign. Adult swans can be quite aggressive, so someone must have put up this Swan Alert because of the baby swans (cygnets). A mum will always protect her babies, so it was a warning for people not to get too close! Perhaps that might inspire a story about a mother swan and her little ones.

I get ideas for characters in lots of strange places. I saw these lovely quilted owls in a gift shop in St Andrews. Don’t they look as though they’re terribly curious about the outside world? I’m sure if you gave them names and distinct personalities a story would not be far behind…

Here’s something you don’t see every day. These angel sculptures are suspended from the ceiling in the cathedral in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Thanks to Doctor Who, they remind me of the weeping angels that get closer and closer with their big fangs each time you blink! They look like they’re swooping down ready to pounce. But if you look at their faces, these angels seem sad, as if they are caught on those wires, suspended in mid-air and unable to escape. Perhaps they are gentle, unhappy angels after all. What do you think?

This last picture shows my children making silly faces behind some flat Victorian costumes on a little model train carriage. They had fun pretending to be posh Victorian train passengers on a day out. That’s another way to create characters for a story – imagine going back in time, or forward into the future! Once you’ve got your characters, just let your imagination fly…

The port city of Belém (which in English means Bethlehem) was founded in 1616 by the Portuguese at the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. (You can see the city marked with a red square on the map below.) The earliest buildings were built in the same style as those in Lisbon, Portugal, and painted the same pastel colours. As you can see in the photo above, there are still some lovely examples of colonial architecture left in the city.

Belém began as a small river port where small boats brought fish, shellfish and all sorts of exotic fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs gathered from the Amazon forest to sell at the market. Although the city has grown into a giant metropolis full of skyscrapers and highrise apartment blocks, the market at the port continues exactly as it has for hundreds of years.

During Victorian times (about 120 years ago) a complete market building made of cast iron was brought over from Britain. It was sent by boat in pieces and then put together in the port of Belém. As you can see above, it is very distinctive with pointy towers at each corner and decorative arches around all four sides.

The market is called Ver-o-Peso, which means “see the weight.” This name comes from the tradition of selling goods by weight in balancing scales. That way the customer could check to make sure there was no cheating!

The day we visited Ver-o-Peso was very hot. We wandered around looking at many different types of fish inside that cast iron building. It was as smelly as you’d expect a giant fish shop to be!

Outside the market building there were hundreds of other stalls where people were selling fruit, vegetables, crafts, jewellery, and even live animals! My son was particularly taken by the ducklings, but sadly there was no way we could get one of those on a plane home.

In the port we looked at all the fishing boats, and Anna spotted a beautiful heron standing on the dockside. Another type of bird we saw at the market was not so pretty – it was a vulture. There were quite a number of vultures hovering around, just waiting to snatch up a fish or two.

If you want to read more about the city of Belém and see more pictures, click HERE.

Anna has just reminded me of a fantastic book by Eva Ibbotson which is set in the Amazon. It’s called Journey to the River Sea, and it’s all about a 13-year-old orphan girl called Maia who has to go and live with some distant relatives who live in Manaus. (That is a city just a few hundred miles along the Amazon River from Belém.) If you’d like to read an excellent story all about life in the Amazon jungle, that is one I can recommend. I loved it!

Another book about a journey up the Amazon River is called Lizzie: A Victorian Lady’s Amazon Adventure. This one is for older readers, and is made up of letters written by a young woman who went with her husband to run a rubber plantation in Bolivia in the 1890s. She describes her long journey along the river from Belém, during which floods and rapids nearly capsized her boat. The book is full of photographs, including one that shows the Ver-o-Peso market in 1898! It’s fascinating to read a true account of someone who travelled in the Amazon jungle over 100 years ago with none of the conveniences we have today. They didn’t even have mosquito repellent! Imagine!

When my family and I visited some friends in Belem in Brazil, we were not expecting to be whisked off to all sorts of remote locations to take part in musical events – but that is exactly what happened! Our friend Diego Carneiro is a talented musician who plays the cello. He is also the founder of AmaZonArt, a special charity which brings music and support to the poorest and most isolated people in the Amazon region.

I have already written about the school his charity helped to build on the island of Combu. We felt very lucky to be able to help bring water filters and mosquito nets (not to mention toothbrushes) to people who needed them. While we were there, Diego gave a little cello concert and we all took part, making the sounds of wind and rain to accompany his playing. For some of the children it was the first time they had ever seen such a musical instrument, and they were amazed at the sounds Diego could make with it!

The next day Diego and his friends took us inland to a small ecological farm where all the food is grown organically and waste is recycled into compost to be used on the crops. The buildings are made from local wood and dried grasses, and everyone works together to make the farm run smoothly.

First we had a delicious meal made from fruits and vegetables grown on the farm, including pineapples, papayas, rice and black beans in a rich sauce (called feijoada). Normally this traditional bean stew is made with lots of meat, but the eco farm serves only vegetarian meals.

After lunch we took a tour of the farm to see all the crops being grown, the composting area and the special dry toilet where instead of being flushed away, the waste is collected and turned into compost as well. Amazingly, it wasn’t even smelly!

Something else I learned while we were there was how a pineapple grows. I took a picture of one to show you the little bush which sprouts a single pineapple at the top. Most of the pineapples we buy in the UK come from Brazil, so the next time you see one in a supermarket you can imagine it growing just like this one in the Amazon jungle!

Another plant they showed us was citronella, which is a big bush that smells lemony. This plant is used to make natural insect repellent, something that is very useful in the Amazon. Luckily there weren’t too many mosquitos at the farm. Perhaps they don’t like the citronella bushes either!

While some of us were learning about sustainable farming, others were just relaxing in the lovely atmosphere of this peaceful place. Anna took this picture of a little boy swinging gently under a tree.

After our tour of the farm, we all got chairs and benches set up for a little open air concert. Diego got out his cello and a friend set up her keyboard to accompany him. Lots of children from the area gathered to listen, and they were very entertained by a clever story told with an oboe by another musician friend of Diego’s, Paulinho Maia. Diego then played lots of beautiful classical pieces which we all loved.

To top off the day, we all piled into a collection of cars and motorbikes and rode down a tangled forest track to the local water hole, where some of us went for a swim. I stayed safely on the shore taking pictures. Well, someone had to take care of the clothes!

I’ve been away from my desk for a whole month, and now I have lots of news to share! My family and I have been on a great adventure, exploring the wild and steamy-hot Amazon jungle in Brazil. We are very lucky to have some good friends who live there, so we were well looked after.

We travelled by air to the city of Belem, which is at the mouth of the Amazon River. As the airplane was landing I was amazed to see a huge city full of highrise buildings right in the middle of the jungle! The city spreads for miles and reaches right to the edge of the river.

We arrived in a shiny, modern airport and were met by our friend Diego who is a musician. He plays the cello and is full of fun. For the next four days, Diego took us on some very unexpected adventures!

The first thing we did was load up a little wooden boat with lots of boxes, bottles of water and some delicious cakes. We set off towards an island called Combu which is a 20-minute boat ride from the city. You can see the city behind us, and above our heads were lots of lifejackets stuffed into the roof. That made me feel a little bit safer as it was a bumpy ride!

When we got to the other side we climbed up a wooden dock to a special jungle school and community centre built on tall stilts. All the buildings in the jungle are built this way, with wooden walkways and thatched roofs.

Once we had unloaded all our boxes a small group of local people began to arrive. Diego explained that he and his friends run a charity called AmaZonArt which brings health care and education to the Amazon Indians. On this visit we were going to teach all the local children how to brush their teeth. Diego unpacked one of the boxes which was full of toothbrushes and little tubes of toothpaste. We also had a giant tiger puppet with realistic teeth so we could show them the correct method for brushing.

First everyone had a nice cool fruit drink and a lovely piece of cake. Then the children and their mums all sat on a long bench and learned all about tooth brushing.

This school and community centre was built with the help of AmaZonArt, and they visit regularly to help the local people and play music for them. If you look closely you can see a poster behind the children which shows a tortoise which has got a strangely deformed shell. The title of the poster is Pollution in the Rivers and it explains that the turtle got a plastic ring caught around its shell when it was young, and it had to grow around the ring into that horrible shape.

Diego’s charity is trying to educate people not to throw rubbish or motor oil into the river because of the harm they do to the environment. AmaZonArt also provides medicines, water filters and mosquito nets to help prevent malaria and other serious diseases.

We took a little walk around the centre, and Diego told us a funny story of how once, when the place was being built, he was leaning casually against a tree and suddenly noticed a giant tarantula spider crawling right next to his hand! EEEK!!

After this very interesting visit with the local children, we got into a little canoe and paddled along a smaller river. We could see lots of wooden huts where all the children had come from. Everyone travels by boat because there are no roads.

Diego asked my children if they wanted to swim in the river, and of course they said yes! We stopped at someone’s hut to get changed, and then in they went. The water was warm, brown and soupy, and no one could see the bottom. I was hoping they wouldn’t come across any piranhas or alligators!

What they enjoyed most of all was coating themselves in Amazonian mud. Doesn’t that look like fun?

You may not be surprised to learn that I stayed on the dock and took pictures. I wasn’t brave enough to get in the river with them, but we all had a fantastic day deep in the Amazon jungle!

While we were on holiday in Norfolk, I went with my children to an amazing place called the Amazona Zoo. It has all sorts of animals, birds and reptiles from the Brazilian rainforest. I knew it was something you would find interesting too, so I asked my daughter to take lots of pictures of the animals for my blog. She turned out to be a brilliant wildlife photographer!

The first picture above is a squirrel monkey. They live in the trees eating fruits and insects and have bright orange fur on their legs. They are quite small (like squirrels) and leap about in the branches.

Another very unusual animal is the Capybara, which is the world’s largest rodent. It looks a bit like a guinea pig, but it is as tall as a medium-sized dog! It lives in rivers and marshes and eats grasses, water plants and tree bark. Because it spends lots of time in water, it has webbed feet to swim.

We saw quite a few big cats, including the jaguar (which is big and solid like a tiger but spotted like a leopard) and the ocelot.

In Anna’s picture the ocelot looks like a pet cat, but its markings tell you it is a wild animal, and it is quite a bit bigger than your average house cat! This one was in a cage with a glass front so we could get very close. I think it was just as well we couldn’t pat it, though!

We saw lots of colourful birds, too. My favourite were the flamingos because my book Pink! has flamingos in it. These were Chilean flamingos and instead of being pink they had orange feathers in a stripy pattern. Don’t they look like they’re wearing pink knee-pads and flippers?

Here is a green-winged Macaw. There were lots of other colourful Macaws and Parrots in the Amazona Zoo, but this was a great close-up that Anna took.

We also saw some enormous birds called Greater Rhea. Here you can see a pair of them, and in their enclosure they had a nest with lots of huge eggs! I think the white one is the female and the darker grey one is the male. Unlike most other creatures, it is the male Rhea who looks after a big pile of eggs laid by several females. He takes care of the baby birds all by himself, too. I expect in a few more weeks this grey Rhea will be chasing around after about 20 baby birds!

This funny animal is called a tapir. It looks a bit like a pig but its nose is rather like an elephant’s trunk, all bendy and loose. When we took this picture the tapir was stretching up its nose towards us to smell us. That is how it senses things, because its eyesight isn’t that good. Tapirs live in forest areas and eat fruit, berries and leaves.

We were very surprised to find these giant hare-like animals just wandering freely around the children’s play area! They are called Mara or Patagonian Hares, and they are quite big with very spindly legs. They seemed very calm and just nibbled on grass. I guess they can’t be too dangerous!

Caimans, on the other hand, are definitely a danger! They are related to crocodiles but are smaller and darker in colour. They can live in fresh or salt water, and are found in large groups where there are plenty of shellfish and insects to eat. This one is called a Spectacled Caiman because of the rings around its eyes that look like a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.

We had a fantastic time at the Amazona Zoo so if you’re travelling in Norfolk this summer it’s definitely worth a visit!