Corona del Mar High School

Inside the world’s largest rainforest – the Amazon

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world. It stretches across 2.1 million square miles, equating to 70% of the lower 48 states’ area. The forest spans across nine countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

Because the Amazon has an abundance of natural resources, speculators overexploit it, such as by cutting down trees for commercial and agricultural use. Over the past 30 years, the forest’s area has been steadily decreasing, exacerbating the already dire situation of shrinking forests of earth.

Deforestation not only destroys the ecosystem but also hinders the production of oxygen and the absorption of carbon dioxide, which is a major component of the so-called greenhouse gases. Trees help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and thereby alleviate global warming caused in part by excessive heat trapped by the greenhouse gases.

Fortunately, many international environmental agencies and the Brazilian government are working to preserve the Amazon jungle. So far, deforestation in the last three years has been stabilized. Let’s hope the excessive logging continues to be curtailed in the future.

Deforestation of Amazon over the past 30 years
Deforestation of Amazon over the past 30 years

Traveling to the Amazon rainforest is different from other vacations. Because the forest contains millions of species, the opportunity for exploration is far greater than in a modern civilization. It is unique and exotic.

Last winter, I had a chance to visit parts of the Amazon in Ecuador with my sisters.

We did not go deep into the rainforest—just the outskirts. As a result, a vaccination for yellow fever was not mandatory. We also did not see any piranhas or red-eyed tree frogs. Instead, we went on a mini safari.

The area we visited is one of the upper tributaries of the Amazon rainforest formed by the Napo River, a couple of hundred miles away from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We checked into a lodge at night. The cabana had no windows. It was rustic with a jungle feel to it, and it had no electricity, Wi-Fi, or running water. But we were not fazed; we prepared flashlights and some water bottles beforehand.

Critters, such as ants and gigantic cockroaches, crawled about the room. They creeped me out! In fact, one morning, I stepped on an odd-looking bug the size of my hand and saw that its organs had spewed out. I screamed so loud that I think I caught the attention of the other lodgers.

Cicadas and frogs surrounded the lodge. They crazily chirped and sang loudly alongside Napo River’s deep hum, and it was an opera all night long. I tossed and turned in bed all night, trying to ignore the noises and to put my fears at ease.

There was no electricity at all. At night, I could not see anything, and ash fell from the thatched roof onto the sheets.
There was no electricity at all. At night, I could not see anything, and ash fell from the thatched roof onto the sheets.
We had a candlelit dinner because of the lack of electricity.
We had a candlelit dinner because of the lack of electricity.
We stayed in the lodge on the right. In between the two lodges is an aerial root, which absorbs water vapor in the air. It is very common in the Amazon.
We stayed in the lodge on the right. In between the two lodges is an aerial root, which absorbs water vapor in the air. It is very common in the Amazon.

The next morning, we hiked in the forest to explore its diverse flora and fauna. There was a millipede that curled into a circle, and I was stunned; I had never seen one before in person.

The ground in the rainforest was muddy because of the frequent showers, and it was difficult to hike in the mud. We had to wear rubber boots because the mud was soft and sticky, and it ruined our clothes. The hiking trail was quite slippery with all the mud and mossy rocks. Trees towered to the sky to get their share of the sunlight. We saw monkeys jump from tree to tree, as well as leafcutter ants, butterflies, and a huge tree with tabular roots. We trudged through Earth’s lungs while breathing its refined air and gazing at local plants.

At the end of the journey, we came to a quaint, refreshing waterfall that seemed to have been there for a million years, oblivious of the outside world. On our way back, we tubed on the fast flowing Napo River for more than a mile. It was exciting with a small element of risk, just enough to get our hearts pumping for us city dwellers.

This is a tubular root. Because it rains very often in the Amazon, the soil’s nutrients are washed away. Therefore, the roots spread over a large area above the surface to maximize nutrient absorption and to anchor the tree.

Known as the “world’s largest pharmacy,” the Amazon is a home to about 40,000 plant species, many of which are medicinal. Several medicines, which are derived from plants, have been found in the Amazon, such as anesthetics (coroncillo) and coagulants (shapumvilla).

A native guide pointed out medicinal plants and explained how they are used.
A native guide pointed out medicinal plants and explained how they are used.

There are about 2.5 million insect species in the Amazon. While there, insects are always creeping up to you. The best thing to do is just to leave them alone.

Here is a stick insect.
Here is a stick insect.

We visited the Quechua, indigenous people who live in the Amazon. I learned how they pan for gold in the river to make a living. I tasted chicha, a local drink made from yuca. The locals said it tasted really good, but it takes some getting-used-to. I also watched them make ceramic dishes. They demonstrated to us how to blow poison dart guns at chickens for food. It is not easy; we gave it a shot—just blowing, no killing! It is difficult to directly hit the target or simply blow the dart far enough.

Here is someone panning for gold in the river.
Here is a Quechua panning for gold in the river.

We made chocolate from cacao by cracking open the shells and grinding the beans. Although bitter at first, once the chocolate was melted, we indulged in the fondue with sugary bananas for the ultimate snack.

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Whitewater rafting in the Amazon is wildness at its finest; there are many elevation drops and large rapids. Our raft toppled several times. It was like we were in an Indiana Jones movie.
Whitewater rafting in the Amazon is wildness at its finest; there are many elevation drops and large rapids. Our raft toppled several times. It was like we were in an Indiana Jones movie.

Although I wore repellent every day, I still got tons of mosquito sand flee bites. However, the once-in-a-lifetime memory from the whitewater rafting adventure made me forget all the itchiness and pain.

The Amazon rainforest is a natural encyclopedia, containing complex biological systems in its isolated yet vast world. If you would like the chance to get away from secular hubbub, hidden wonders of the mysterious jungle wildlife await you. This adventurous and exciting destination is also an educational journey. You would surely relish this experience in the nature of the Amazon.

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