Iguana, Amazon Basin, Peru
The Amazon rainforest is among
the world’s great natural wonders. The part of this vast
wilderness I had the privilege to explore was in Peru on the
Amazon River and its Napo tributary. I must admit that I was
overwhelmed by the bio diversity there, which rivaled infinity.
The tangled web of life in every square foot of space in the
rainforest contained unimaginable drama. One could study this
land for a lifetime and merely skim the surface of all there
is to know.
After a lengthy
flight we arrived into Iquitos, Peru in the late evening. It
was not what I had expected. This huge aircraft was the only
one to travel to Iquitos from the US, making only one trip a
week. The airport was nestled in a jungle of blackness with no
runway lights that I could see. We touched down in complete darkness,
which startled me. I didn't even know we were close to the ground.
Extreme humidity pressed on us as we stepped out onto the long
stairway down, humidity like I had never experienced before.
There was a strange balmy sweet smell that permeated the air.
The next thing I knew we were standing on the ground in eerie
shadowy darkness awaiting our next instructions. As our plane
turned, taxied back down the runway and lifted back into the
sky, our only connection to familiar civilization lifted off
with it. I noticed an uneasy feeling welling up in my stomach.
were dancing in the dim lighting of the landing strip. We danced
with them to two Indian drums and a small flute endlessly playing
no melody, while we waited in the customs line. Peru was in a
political conflict with Columbia. The few lights that shown down
from the tiny airport onto this paved area revealed the dark
silhouettes of tiny Peruvian soldiers poised with machine guns,
tucked back in the shadows cast by an assortment of small parked
planes. They were there to protect their country and I could
tell by the rigidity of their stance that they meant business.
Although this seemed very spooky, we all were excited to be there
and pretended not to notice.
The customs process
was long. The beautiful, gentle looking natives kept us busy
with their music and their dance. Welcome to the Amazon.
The next morning
we had our first glimpse of the Amazon River. The day was sunny
and balmy with absolutely no air moving at all. The massive river
glittered in the equatorial sun taking no notice of us, or the
poverty all around it. The water doesn't care.
We traveled by boat
eastbound on the mighty river for about fifty miles. Being more
used to lakes than rivers I felt like we were on the world’s
longest lake. The river was so wide and endless.
Amazon River Shoreline
We could view the
jungle as we zipped along on the water. The shoreline was sparsely
dotted with river natives perched on dried out mud beaches or
in the doorways of their little thatched huts. They moved slowly
because of the oppressive heat, but mostly they just sat and
waited. I never really figured out what they were waiting for,
maybe just tomorrow. One day blends into another for these people,
separated only by the sun and the stars. There are no pressing
deadlines, there is no rushing about and there is really little
in their lives that MUST be done today. Their jobs are to survive
the elements in a demanding landscape, and simply wait for tomorrow.
At length we arrived
at Explorama, our first of three camps. The waterline of this
great river is low during the months of July and August, and
has a seasonal depth fluctuation of about forty feet. When the
water recedes it reveals dark watermarks on every tree, permanently
etched into the bark. Anyone coming here during the rainy season
would have to travel this catacomb of jungle trails by boat.
High Water Marks
itself is alive with life. Curiosity was nagging at me
so I decided to take a short hike in the jungle.
can try to imagine from television and books what a place
like this must be like. But I found that my imagination
had been very inept at realizing the scope of possibilities
of life in a rain forest. Never before had I considered
the sounds and smells and even the vast numbers of species
of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and assorted plants
all playing their role in the theater of life. As I stood
within this chaotic tangle of drama, I found it to be
Three Toed Sloth
Some wild animals
seem to have an affinity for people. It can be fascinating to
see a perfectly wild creature approach you for nothing more than
to share your company. These animals had not been fed, and really
seemed to be more curious about us than anything else. We were
told to “handle them at our own risk”. It was for
me, a risk worth taking.
Joni with young
Ocelot on the bank of Napo tributary, Peru
my little adventure I decided to relax with my sketchbook. This
best way I found to “cool off” from the jungle heat.
The view from the thatch covered platform where a dozen hammocks
hung was dense jungle protruding right up to the platform’s
edge. This area was an entire ecosystem within itself. There
were countless species of tropical plants, some of which I recognized
as familiar houseplants from home. Only these were giants, some
having leaves that were longer than a person is tall. Bright
noisy birds darted about everywhere and I had never seen so many
hummingbirds. Lizards, insects and an occasional Tarantula would
pop in and out of sight, going about life’s process, taking
no notice of me. I liked it that way and felt privileged to be
a spectator in a moment of their day.
Joni relaxing with sketchbook at
After several days
of exploring, it was time to gather up our gear and move on to
the next camp. The ACCEER (Amazon Center for Environmental Education
and Research) facility was almost an hour’s hike through
the jungle from Napo camp, and we were pressing ourselves to
get there before dark. I don’t know how many people in
our group noticed the tiny Peruvian camp workers as they departed
form Napo camp with our bags. I was embarrassed and somewhat
ashamed as I saw those small men load up, each carrying literally
hundreds of pounds of OUR luggage strapped to their backs for
the long forty five minute walk through the jungle to ACCEER.
They were gracious and silent while they walked each wearing
a soft smile as we met them at the trail head. Some actually
trembled slightly under the great weight, but never did a gentle
smile waiver. These men do this continuously for American visitors
without as much as a “thank you” that they can understand
(most knew no English). They seemed appreciative of the job itself,
which is a concept spoiled Americans would struggle to understand.
Ribenero Camp Workers
ACEER is a magical
place. It is best known for the canopy walkways that cascade
through the trees near the camp site. These long rope bridges
sway and moan under your feet as you climb, draping themselves
up through the rainforest canopy in stages, topping out at 110
feet in the air. Wooden platforms connect the different bridges
and give you fabulous vantage points for viewing extraordinary
wildlife. Each level of the canopy can be studied from this structure.
I found ACEER to be endlessly fascinating and could have stayed
at this facility for months. For me it was a real highlight of
ACEER Canopy Walkway
I can say without
doubt that my adventure in the Amazon changed my life. It
altered the way I view so many things and was a turning point
for my life’s mission. It brought into sharp focus
the pressing nature of environmental challenges we all face
and made my paintings even more emotionally charged. There
is a sense of urgency now to see things set right. We must
protect ALL living creatures and insure them habitable environments
in which they have the opportunity to thrive.
Pigmy Tree Frog
It is well known
that the rainforest regions in the Amazon are disappearing at
an alarming rate. This part of the world houses much of the vegetation
which converts carbon dioxide back into the oxygen upon which
we all depend. It is my hope for the future that the great species
called Homo Sapien will gain enough wisdom to protect the very
things that make this a habitable planet.