Brazil has hit the headlines this year after a high-profile election campaign. But behind these headlines, the Brazilian Navy work tirelessly to support the lives of a population that stretches from bustling cities to remote tribal villages. The Brazil Institute at King’s has long had links with the Brazilian Navy and, this summer, a group of students visited them to learn about the role of the Navy the Amazonian region, which includes delivering life-saving medical supplies to remote Amazon tribes.
War Studies and Philosophy student, Lukas Janson, documented the trip and his experiences:
As my plane landed on the airfield of Manaus, I noticed how close to the airfield the jungle was. The trees were squeezing through the barriers as if constantly fighting with the concrete they faced. This ongoing state of conflict shook me throughout my week in Manaus. Everywhere I went I could feel how man was struggling in the face of the jungle surrounding him. This struggle could also be felt with the tropical damp weather, one of the recurring elements I quickly found out the Brazilian Navy has been facing throughout their operations in the Amazon.
When we arrived, we were greeted with cupcakes and delicious local sweets called ‘Brigadeiro’ that were made with chocolate, nuts and condensed milk.
We were then taken in to the Navy barracks and shown to officer rooms where we would sleep throughout the trip.
One of the major tasks for the Brazilian Navy in the Amazon is to provide basic healthcare to the Amazon population, so we woke up early this morning to visit one their hospital ships. A few of these ships sail constantly on the Amazon, providing healthcare to a population living sometimes hundreds of miles from medical facilities. This care ranges from providing toothbrushes for oral hygiene to airlifting severely ill people to the closest city with medical facilities. The area covered is so big that it’s only possible for villages to receive a visit from the ship twice a year.
We also learnt how the Amazon ebbs and flows, and how the changing depth makes it more difficult to navigate. Because of this, smaller naval ships go on two to three month journeys zig-zagging across the river to measure its depth. From this, technology can create colour-coordinated maps that assist hospital and rescue-ships to know where exactly they can and cannot go.
Today, we visited the huge variety of teams that work at the heart of the Navy, helping it to function. The Vice-Admiral showed us round the Navy base, visiting various important areas such as the admiralty, logistics and communications. We also saw the huge stores that they use to hold the medicines that they distribute to communities down the Amazon.
This morning, we visited the helicopter squad. After taking a ride in the helicopters, we broke for lunch, eating with the officers in front of a beautiful view of the Amazon.
In the afternoon, we spent time with the marines who told about their work in the country. We also saw a display from their sniffer dogs who are trained to carry out drug detection.
The Marine orchestra then put on a concert for us where they played lots of popular tunes – included Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’!
Today we were taken to a world-class training centre that prepares soldiers for jungle warfare. Here, we learnt about the extensively training that self-called ‘jungle warriors’ undertake. The commander explained how physically intense the course is in order to help the soldiers prepare for the dangerous climate they are thrown into. Only a few soldiers manage to finish the course, which is deemed as one of the hardest training courses in the Brazilian military. We learnt that in every battalion on the Amazon in Brazil, there is a ‘jungle warrior’ who teaches the skills he has learnt to his comrades.
After this visit, the unit invited us to try different jungle fruits found in the Amazon. We tried cocoa seeds, bacuri and carambola. We ate live worms, which tasted like coconut, that are safe to use as a source of food if you get lost in the jungle. They also taught us the different techniques they use to assess whether fruits found in the jungle are poisonous. This was a quite peculiar experience as we encountered new tastes and began to understand the difficulty of surviving in the jungle.
Stepping away from the academic side of our trip, we then had the opportunity to discover the beauty of the Amazon. Travelling in a little speedboat, we left the base and crossed the river where we were immediately faced with the wilderness of the Amazonian jungle. As it was between the wet and the dry season, parts of the forest were still flooded meaning we were able to put the boat’s sails up within the forest – which was very strange! Many wild birds and animals were looking at us through the trees which made this experience truly special. As we continued our journey through the river, we stopped at an area where we could swim with the pink dolphins of the Amazon. We then visited an Amazonian tribe who entertained us with a local dance.
We also had the opportunity to eat in a local restaurant on the river, which served delicious local food such as Tambaqui, a delicious fish from the Amazon.
Day 6 was spent in Manaus, a city of nearly 1.8 million people. We spent time in the local markets and saw many sights including the famous 19th century Amazon Opera.
Home time and a day to reflect on our amazing trip. The people were very warm and friendly and the food was incredible. My eyes were fully opened to the extent of the work the Brazilian Navy does in the Amazon. It really astonished me how limited their resources are to protect one of the world´s most important natural treasures. Nevertheless, they show so much passion in the face of an enormous task.
As a third year War Studies student, I was so grateful to end my studies by immersing myself in this experience, seeing the amazing way that the military function.