Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Amazon Adventure

                How can I even begin to describe my adventures in the Amazon? Everything was a marvel and a wonder that left me in an intense awe. Going into it, I was excited, but I had no idea what to expect. And when I saw that still river, when I set foot on that fertile earth, when I breathed that fresh air for the first time, I was hooked. It stirred in me a reverence and a satisfaction that was soul-restoring. This is the beauty of creation. This is life!

Some friendly locals that we met.
They showed us the two piranhas and catfish they had just caught.

Photo by Kourtney Liepelt
The floodable zone in the city of Iquitos where we flew into. Houses are built on stilts or on material that lets them float.

                It felt as though everything around me was breathing, was moving. I felt the breath of the trees on my neck. I was lulled by the songs of cicadas and crickets, was enchanted by the call of the birds. And in the center of it all was the stillest river, the lifeblood of this entire ecosystem, the Amazon. There is something breath-taking about such a powerful force. We as humans so often forget that before we were here, nature was. And it is this nature in such pure form, so big, so undeniably wild that I suddenly could not ignore, that took my head, emptied it of all the frivolities of competition and culture and replaced it with a profound respect for this earth, for this life force that is greater than me, greater than mine. Simply put, I was humbled.

                But it was not just beauty that I encountered. It was playfulness and energy and vibrance that buzzed around the forest and within the waters. We were lucky with everything that we saw—our guide kept saying, “This is so rare! You don’t see (fill in the blank) every day!”

                Jumping from tree to tree was a troupe of squirrel monkeys, sometimes barely making it across the big gap. We spotted sloths slowly serving themselves to leaves in the altitude of the tree branches. In the black waters of the Yanayacu tributary, not one but two anacondas slithered past our canoe, and one even showed his head. By our guide’s estimate, he was about 3 meters (~12 ft) long, and that is quite small. Normally they grow to about 8 meters, but the longest on record is 10 m. Luckily, we did not encounter any of that enormity!

The Red Saber tree
According to locals, a genie lives inside. If you sleep by it for one night, your wish will be granted.
One of the biggest trees in the Amazon; this was the biggest of its kind in the region.

                For some reason I cannot get the pink river dolphins out of my head. Apparently they were incredibly playful for this time of year. As they jumped and poked their heads out of the water, they boasted a rusty pink from their long snouts across their backs all the way to their tail fins. Among the local tribes there is great mysticism behind these creatures; the popular belief dictates that the pink river dolphins have the power to turn into a human and make a woman pregnant. And it is unwise to injure or kill one, for if you do, bad luck will befall you for years to come. The peoples of the Peruvian Amazon venerate these majestic mammals, treating them with the honor of a powerful, mystical being.

The local village by our lodge
Part of "The Motorcycle Diaries" was filmed here

squirrel monkey and me
                Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences, though, was when we got to interact with the animals at a local semi-captivity reserve-esque place founded by a few local families. They saw the need to protect and rescue some animals from the local people who would catch and display them for the tourists. According the locals’ mindsets, the tourists will want to see these animals and leave small tips after being shown them. But in the meantime the sloths and small wildcats and monkeys are kept in cages or chains. Thus, these families started a reserve where the animals are fed every morning and roam free all day. No cages, no chains. Just nature, tourists, and fellow animal playmates. Our tour company, Paseos Amazonicos (they were awesome!), is also trying to help educate the local children and adults as well about how to preserve the ecosystem and to not capture the wildlife.

Our friends, the macaws
There were two in our lodge, as well
                Going back to the semi-reserve. We arrived to see monkeys playing, wrestling and jumping on each other just as brothers and sisters do. When we held our hands out near the tree branches, they would jump up on us and climb over us, as if we were also part of the landscape. Kourtney had one baby Capuchin crawl onto her shoulder and nuzzle in; he almost fell asleep. When we had to leave, he would barely let her go, his adopted mom. It was adorable!

This guy was about 3m long and surprisingly heavy

Sloth, squirrel monkey, and me just hanging out
monkey started running

                We went fishing for piranhas, and although I didn’t catch one, Kourtney did. I'm so proud of her skills! We learned from a shaman about many of the medicinal plants and concoctions the locals use to heal themselves. We learned how to shoot a blowgun from the indigenous Yagwa tribe. We had the honor to be invited to participate in afternoon sports with the community near our lodge. Everyone was out playing volley and soccer. If they were not playing, they were watching the games and chatting as the children ran about, giggling and exercising their imaginations. It was a beautiful way of life.

Kourtney and her piranha

In the Amazon river!!!
                We swam in the Amazon river. We watched the sunsets from a dug-out canoe and from a river boat. We ate so many plantains. We listened to the legends of the Amazon. 
We fell in love with the river, with the forest, with the people.

                Two days later, I’m still longing to be back in the rain forest whose mystery captivates my heart. This was truly the greatest experience of my life. Thank you Kourtney for being an awesome travel buddy! It wouldn’t have been the same without you. And to everyone else, if you’re feeling stressed or tired or overwhelmed, go back to nature. Go to where the people are few and the sky is big. There is no better way to refresh or reconnect than to spend time among that which is beyond and greater than ourselves.

Looking like the Yagwa people...sort of

"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair."
~Kahlil Gibran


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