I sit in the bow of a canoe, hand hewn from a single log, sweat drips from every pore; I swelter in the scorching sun and the near 100% humidity as I speed up a lonely Amazonian tributary in search of Acai.
The engine makes a rhythmic “put –put” sound that speeds up and then bogs down as it strains to push us through the brown chocolate milk colored water of the river. The water is opaque and the thought of any number of predatory monsters lurking below us including caiman, piranhas and the deadly anaconda sends a chill up my spine. The sky is baby blue with large ever growing cumulus nimbus clouds foretelling the diluvial torrents that will shortly come.
We pull up to an isolated jungle dock that consists of two large trees felled and strapped together support by smaller wooden stilts. Because the water level is lower today we have to climb up to the dock from our boat and then balance like a tight rope walker down the trees to the house. The house is very simple built upon tall stilts. The location is remote surrounded by a giant green wall of jungle vegetation somewhere on the line between civilization and primitiveness. I step into the surreal verdant backdrop and immediately find an acai palm.
Acai is used by the Brazilian people to fight off the effects of high cholesterol, inflammation, arthritis and for its legendary health benefits supporting cardiovascular health, immune system and anti-aging. I am handed a circle of cordage fashioned from some surrounding vines and given brief instruction on how to wrap this around my feet to use it as leverage to ascend the tree. The acai palm is only 6 or 7 inches in diameter and I fear I outweigh the limits of this poor tree. But nonetheless I give it a good try balancing a razor sharp machete in one hand and inching my way up the trunk using my other. At last I arrive at the top of this tree and cut the branch that holds hundreds of these deep purple berries.
With my prized harvest in hand I am instructed from below to not let the weighty branch filled with berries drop or touch the ground. Once on the ground I begin stripping the berries off of each finger like projection of the branch that once completely stripped looks like a broom. My fingers stain a deep purple color as I run my hand from one end of each branch to the other popping off each acai berry into a hand woven bushel basket.
Once the baskets are full they get loaded up on the boats and sent down river to a collection spot where they will be loaded onto trucks and sent for processing. The acai berry is so delicate that it must be processed within hours of being picked.
Before we head back down river one of the local river dweller mixes the acai into a fresh delicious thick purple concoction that revives me with its immediate energy. The taste is remarkable with flavor tones similar to chocolate, berries and avocado. Sounds strange but tastes incredible. I see why Brazilians have loved this fruit for so long. I feel blessed to have had this unique experience and now I recreate this incredibly healthy drink to share with you.