The Amazon: The heartbeat of the Earth |

The Amazon: The heartbeat of the Earth

Shannon O'Rourke
Vail, CO Colorado

Two weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to visit the most massive, diverse and, in my opinion, most beautiful place on earth: the Amazon rainforest.

Visiting the rainforest was something I had looked forward to since coming to Brazil, and this trip did not fall short of my expectations. It was 10 days of incredible experiences with a great group of 70 exchange students from all over the globe.

Our first stop was Manaus, the capital of the state Amazonas, where we saw the famous opera house, bustling street and fish markets, and at night, a unique performance of native music and dancing.

It was easy to see that the northern region of Brazil was completely different from the south, where I am currently living. The people of the north have much darker skin, thick, black hair, and many speak a native tribal tongue rather than the national language of Portuguese. Also, the city of Manuas was less industrialized and less wealthy than places in the south. In my opinion, the north has done a much better job of preserving ancient customs of Brazilian culture.

The next destination on our trip was a tiny city called Presidente Figueredo. Located deeper into the rainforest, this city had a very rustic and deserted feel. We took advantage of the beautiful surroundings by trekking through the forest during at the day and at night.

During the day trek, we started to learn about the diversity of the jungle, swam in big waterfall, and ate cupuacu, a sour white fruit which can only be found in the Amazon.

Although the day trek was great, the one at night was better ” there’s something about being in the rainforest at night, finding my way with a flashlight, and hearing the harmony of sounds of animals really made me stop and think: Is this really happening?

We trekked through a beautiful part of the forest, rich with towering trees, stunning plants, and lush green color. We also ventured through some bat caves and swam in a gorgeous waterfall in the dark. Our guide even found a large red cobra to show us.

This night hike was definetly one of the most memorable parts of the trip and had a truly mystical feel to it.

Our five-day boat expedition started the next morning. With less than an hour passed on the boat, we reached the point where Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes meet, but do not mix for 20 kilometers because of the density difference of the two waters. It was neat to see one side of the river a deep blue color and the other side a milky white color.

Later in the day, we all broke off into smaller boats in order to travel into smaller areas of the river and see new parts of the jungle. Some things I will never forget are the giant lily pads that can hold up to 16 pounds of material, and the bright orange sunset on the river that evening.

The next day we were introduced to a new aspect of the Amazon: the native peoples. We traveled to a native community where we welcomed by the tribe loudly playing conch shells, a tradition used to show hospitality to the visitors.

Upon entering the large, handmade hut, the school-age children began singing a song in their native language. The kids were so cute and all seemed so small for their age!

We were also treated to a dance and a welcome speech by the chief, and then they passed around their ceremonial drink for us all to try. Later , we were able to go around and look at all the tribal crafts and jewelry, and purchase some as well. Also, some men and boys painted our faces different ways, depending on sex and marital status.

I really loved playing with the children and seeing a way of life that is so very different from my own. Later in the day we went to a little Amazonian town and saw a very small school, where all the children in the area gather to study. We also some shops where people can buy simple necessities.

We ended our day by setting out for some nightly crocodile hunting. It took a while to find a crocodile, but it was definitely worth it. Everyone got to hold the small crocodile and feel its scaly back and sharp claws.

Apparently, after catching the crocodile, it is a native custom to jump into the water with him to properly release him. It was pretty late and dark, and our guide was scared to go into the river by himself, so without thinking I volunteered myself to go with him.

Jumping into the water with the crocodile was amazing, but not quite so funny when the guide started joking (or he may have been serious) with me that the other crocodiles were coming and I had better swim as fast as possible to the boat. Nevertheless, it was an incredible experience I will never forget.

To add on to the crocodile experience, in the morning we started out with piranha fishing. These fish are not easy to catch, but I did get to hold one see how strange they are.

After fishing, we went to another small community where we learned about the typical foods and nutrition of the Amazon. Acai is a small purple berry full of antioxidants and rich in calories, and alone is very bitter, but when mixed with water and sugar in makes a delicious juice.

Mandioca, which can be compared to the potato, is the staple of the local diet. It can be boiled, fried, or made into a type of flour, and can be used in endless ways. We learned how to make tapioca, which is a type of pancake made from madioca flour, and is eaten very regularly in the north.

Later that afternoon, our boat stopped on a small beach and we swam in the Coca Cola-colored water of the river.

The next day, we arrived in a city called Novo Aereo, where we swam with freshwater dolphins. They were a pinkish gray color and very gentle and beautiful. We fed them fish and took lots of pictures.

In the city, we watched a local volleyball game and looked around some shops. The rest of our day was spent traveling further down the river.

At our next destination we took another hike through the jungle where we learned about many of the medicinal plants of the forest and ways to survive if you were lost in the jungle. One way to survive is eating protein-packed worms, which can be found inside trees.

In order to show our curiosity about a new culture, many of us decided to experiment eating these little worms, including myself. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but let’s just say that I didn’t ask for seconds.

On a more pleasurable note, we also went to the house of our guide where we were able to eat some homemade cupuacu chocolates and madioca cake, which are very typical of the region. We passed the afternoon in the river, just enjoying the sun and the cool water.

To celebrate our final night, we packed up our hammocks and ventured out into the jungle to spend a night there. I thought it could be pretty difficult to sleep, but it was actually very peaceful and relaxing.

Unfortunately, the next day our trip ended. I know that I will never forget all the experiences I had in the Amazon, and I feel so lucky have seen such a beautiful place.

The problem is, the survival of this beauty is in doubt. Although the rainforest is immense, a region the size of Germany has already been cut down.

The destroying of the forest does not only do damage to the animals and native people, but also increases global warming (because of the cutting down of the trees). It is our job as mankind to preserve this natural source instead of destroying it.

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