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All Aboard to Manaus

The girls from L'équipée started very early. At 3am, they had to leave the Fazenda San Francisco, taking with them the memory of unforgettable moments and the experience of life in the wilderness. Next stop: Campo Grande airport.

To reach Manaus, capital of the Amazonas state, 3.000 km away, they had no choice but to leave their bikes behind and to rent new ones upon landing. The atmosphere was hardly cheerful at breakfast, just a quick snack hastily eaten at the airport. A young surgeon who had barely just graduated, Louise B needed to go back to work at the hospital and fly back to Paris. The girls rushed their goodbyes, for fear of being overwhelmed by emotion. Louise B was the first to board, leaving her orphaned travel companions behind.

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But the girls quickly regained their high spirits inside the plane. Flying over the Amazon is quite magical, and full of promise. Upon leaving the plane, they were surprised by the shockingly stifling atmosphere in Manaus: 32°C and 89 % humidity! They were also taken aback by the city's gigantism (2.3 million inhabitants) and the monstrous traffic jams caused by the national demonstrations of the past few days. All this was in the starkest possible contrast with the quiet life in the Pantanal wilderness.

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The Market for Miraculous Plants

The girls rushed to the local market before closing time. They wanted to purchase local remedies, reputedly much more efficient to face the big and small troubles caused by life in the Amazon. Here, under the massive Eiffel-style structure, are a thousand and one artisanal phyto-therapeutic products, made directly from Amazonian plants with allegedly miraculous properties. Cobra venom soap to fight skin affectations, Andiroba oil to repel mosquitoes... the girls hardly knew where to turn. Fortunately, the women from the market were there to guide them.

Amazonian Beauty Kit

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Cecile had badly suffered from mosquitoes in the Pantanal, and was hell-bent on finding the perfect product. Her quest would allow the girls from L'équipée to discover many other treasures.

They were irresistibly attracted to Honorina Garcia's stall: it seemed about to be crushed under heaps of vegetation. An expert in medicinal plants, she recommended the famous Andiroba oil, extracted from a tree over thirty meters tall and extremely common in the Amazon. Very bitter, it is used for antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and healing purposes. It is also known to make hair softer and shinier. But mostly, it is used by the Indians to repel mosquitoes, the bearers of malaria and dengue. Honorina also recommended a soap with cobra venom in it, apparently very useful to fight itchiness.

A little further, a stall specializing in local cosmetics caught their eye. Mariulza Mima praised the merits of "mulateiro da varzea", a bark formerly used in tea form to fight age-spots, lines and other signs of ageing on the face. A legend claims that Amazonian women used to bathe in it under a full moon to remain eternally young and beautiful. Hence its name: The tree of youth. This bark has since been the object of many scientific studies and is now used in the composition of cosmetic products. On Mariulza's stall, Cindy immediately recognized the "bucha vegetal", or loofah, that her mother loves so much. These exotic cucumbers, once dried, make the perfect tool to give yourself a 100% natural skin scrub.

Before leaving the market, the girls need to stop at the hammock seller's. It is the most important accessory, along with the mosquito net, to sleep in the forest. Now all they need are new bikes to tackle the Trans-Amazonian Highway.

Keep following the L'équipée girls' quest to discover what beauty means around the world at the Road to Beauty.

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