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Month: July 2019

Amazon

“…And even the sky was crying”

July 18th

This morning we awoke to the sounds of a rainstorm after what seemed like 2 minutes of sleep. The weather was a representation of our emotions about leaving this amazing place and these generous people, to whom we have given our hearts. We had an emotional reflection session before breakfast where we shared failures and successes, laughter and tears, our hopes for the future, and our deep connections to places here and at home. By the time we had finished sharing our thoughts and feelings, the sun seemed to recognize our joy and started to make its presence known, appearing to wish us “buena suerte” (good luck) on our long journey home.

Sunset over the Amazon from the canopy walkway

Amazon

“More fun than a barrel-full of monkeys”

July 17th

The great Ceiba tree (also known as a Kapok)

A wooly monkey snacks on leaves

Today was our final full day in Peru since tomorrow we go to the airport.

We started our day early at 5:15AM so that we could head up to the canopy and search again for the elusive sunrise. Even though there was too much cloud cover (clouds- 2, teachers – 0), we still were able to see a multitude of birds and insects species. Rebecca noted that the clouds were a reminder that the forest is a living organism, breathing (or transpiring) like us.

Next, we had breakfast and then headed to Ceiba Tops for our final night of lodging in the Amazon. There we took a short hike to see the tree of the same name – the ceiba. It was awe-inspiring to stand at the base of such a gigantic 200-year-old tree. The entire tree was an ecosystem unto itself with bromeliads, frogs and insects, birds, and vines living within and on it. It struck each of us how much more majestic our forests would be – con árboles gigantes – if we protected them as carefully as the Amazonians do.

After lunch we headed to the famous Isla de Los Monos (monkey island) by boat. It is a refuge for monkeys that have been abandoned or injured or rescued from the pet or meat trade. We don’t know who had more fun – us or the monkeys!

In the Amazon, everyone is family!

Just as the skies let loose again with a downpour, we settled in for an amazing presentation by Alberto about CONAPAC and the incredible work they are doing in local communities. This organization partners with communities of native people to provide agricultural, educational, and sanitation (water and sewer) services. All of the Peruvian teachers that have been with us all week are working with CONAPAC currently. One of them shared with us how excited the students are when they receive their yearly school supplies.

Finally, after dinner, we wrapped up our evening with a cultural dance presentation (and later some singing and dancing of our own!).

Amazon

“Senses”

July 16 Tuesday

Birds singing loudly in the distance. Soft mud squishing below.

Fresh and juicy watermelon and pineapple. Salty remnants of sweat and sunscreen.

Sturdy rope. Damp clothes. Rough bark.

These are the sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and sights of our only full day at ACTS (Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies). We jumped right into the middle of the jungle action at 5:30 in the morning for a sunrise walk in the canopy. The scattered clouds prevented us from getting a clear view of the sunrise, but we did have an incredible view of the rainforest filled with mystical mist and mysterious fog. Many of us found that we were less afraid than we had been the night before, which allowed for more confident observation of the surroundings.

After making it back to the lodge for breakfast (of eggs, potatoes, chorizo, vegetables, bread with various spread, and fresh fruit) we prepared ourselves for another walk through the canopy- this time with a set task. We were to work with our groups to identify, discuss, and draw epiphytes from one of the many platforms, but only after we took time individually to reflect on the five senses of the forest. Many of us found this reflective time to be peaceful and a moment of connecting with the world around us. All the while, eyes were everywhere on the lookout for creatures both big and small.

At lunch, we enjoyed rice and beans, chicken, Peruvian french fries, salad, a medley of cooked vegetables, and pineapple for dessert. Many requested the recipe for the chicken because it was that tasty! Following lunch was a small break. Some took the time to catch up in their journals, while others were lulled to sleep in hammocks by the sound of a passing rain storm. Some worked on their group assignments for the day, while others chatted with each other casually about ourselves and how we can apply these experiences in our own classrooms.

We all reconvened to discuss our findings from the morning before heading out on another trail. We took our time noticing the larger-than-life lush plants around us, and we were totally obsessed with the animals we saw (including but not limited to a tarantula, a Peruvian fire stick (a walking stick insect), and a five-foot span of sprawling army ants). The trail met up with another trail, and from there we split into two groups. Some of us walked the canopy again while others went back to the lodge for some much needed rest and relaxation.

For dinner we ate beef, rice, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and bananas with cream for dessert. After some partner discussion, we once again divided into two groups. Those who wanted to experience the bioluminescent fungus on the leaves of one particular tree- the Bucinaria- headed out on the tails, and those who needed some more rest and relaxation stayed back at the lodge. Despite the 100% humidity, our only full day at ACTS was one our five senses will not soon forget.

As we close our eyes, images and memories of moments from today blur together, and we leave you with a sampling of our reflective writing about our enlightening experiences:

Enlightenment

Walking through the jungle forest, the sound of rain pitter-patters to the ground, hitting leaves along the way. Each step is taken carefully as the fallen dead leaves become slick, and the dirt forest floor turns to mud. In preparation to walk down the trail’s wooden steps, a hand rail was put in place. Despite much care taken, the foot slips off the first step with great speed. Surprisingly, it does not land on the next step. Instead the foot lands on top of a gently swaying hammock with a jolt as the lush jungle trail is transformed into the mosquito laced confines of the lodge’s dining hall. The consistent rainfall heard from the vision can still be heard, but all of the other surroundings have been replaced. It takes a moment for the senses to adjust and realize what happened was a dream. The only logical explanation is that while resting, the mesmerizing sounds of the passing storm must have created vivid visions of what was seen and experienced earlier in the day. At this moment the truth has been revealed: the lines between fantasy and reality are bridged by the enchanting power of the Amazon rain.

Amazon

“Ripples”

Riddles on the river

Monday July 15

The morning started with rain. As the rain slowly fell onto the thatched roof at ExplorNapo we began to assemble in the dining hall. Passing along the bridge that connects the guest rooms with the dining hall, Rebecca stopped to watch the rain fall on the river. As drops slowly fell into the murky brown water, the impact caused ripples that spread across the surface. As more rain fell, the ripples began to overlap. The ripples on the water became our metaphor for the day.

After breakfast, an entomologist and researcher from the University of Oregon, Ryan Garrett, gave us an overview of leaf cutter ants, including an incredible inside look at their everyday lives. We learned that their colonies, which are easily identifiable above ground, are actually the entry point to an expansive underground farming network. The ants work meticulously, cleaning and then breaking down, the leaves that they harvest to grow the fungus that gives the colony life. The queen, who initiates the founding of a new colony, actually takes a piece of fungus from a preexisting colony. A piece of the old community becomes part of the new one – ripples of population expansion.

We later visited an indigenous community, the Maijuna. After four centuries of exploitation by outsiders, they were given title to a portion of their historic lands. Now, they welcome outsiders into their village in hopes that by sharing their story, they will gain allies and friends – more ripples. By sharing their story with visitors, their reach extends far beyond their beautiful community.

In the afternoon, we moved to our next lodging— ACTS (the Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies) to experience the rainforest canopy from a walkway of suspension bridges strung between the tops of 14 of the tallest trees. Many of us had anticipated this moment, and the excitement as we approached the access tower was palpable. However, with the highest platform reaching 118 feet above the forest floor, there was also some anxiety. Here, the ripples we experienced were ripples within our community. We encouraged one another and applauded one another every step of the way.

As we near the end of our Amazon adventure we are feeling humbled, inspired, connected, and thankful. We are now a part of this place, and this place is a part of us. As we return to our everyday lives there is no doubt that our ripples will extend far beyond ourselves.

“Ant-man” aka Ryan Garrett explains the amazing underground architecture of leaf cutter ant nests

Don Sebastian, leader of the Maijuna community, and Willy Flores, one of our guides, explain the traditional hunting and fishing practices of the Maijuna

Linda loved taking pictures from the canopy walkway platforms (and we thought that she looked radiant in this photo- unlike the rest of us, who were dripping with sweat and mud)

Amazon

“Everything is weird here (and beautiful)…”

This morning, we set off in boats from ExplorNapo to go birding in the early morning light. We spotted flocks of oropendola, a stunning plum-throated cotinga, cocoi herons (they look like white versions of our great blue herons), oriole black birds, and so much more. Additionally, we went deep into Lorenzo Lake where we searched for rare Hoatzins, a large bird (about four feet tall) famous for its prehistoric claws on its wings and brilliant, Einstein-esque crest of feathers on their head. The Horned Screamer (another very large bird) and the three-toed sloth also made an appearance! On our journey by various waterways to see these creatures, we were greeted by waves and friendly faces of local community members; one family even showed us the fish they caught that morning in their nets, and many others stopped to share a few words. We also saw the community and school of Juan Pablo, one of our Peruvian educators. He was so proud of his school and for us to see his home.

Birding by boat in the early morning light

Juan Pablo waves at his community, Isla Tamanco, as we drive by

The afternoon was filled with opportunities to see the pink Amazon River Dolphin, more birds and to fish for the infamous Piranha. Not only did some of us see the pink river dolphins and catch piranha, some of us even have the wildest stories from our day. One of us broke a fishing pole on the last cast of the day while pulling in their catch. Another had an exciting, first-hand experience with “los dientes” of the piranha… you’ll have to ask us each for more details and pictures once we get home!

The piranha that we caught were prepared for dinner and we all got to taste them! Afterwards, we talked first-hand with Dr. Marie Trone, who is staying here for the summer, to work on her research about the pink river dolphins! She was able to answer all sorts of questions and help us learn fun new facts about the river dolphin! In spite of the difficulties of her research (murky waters, remoteness of location, technical challenges with equipment, etc.) she continues to have hope that more knowledge will lead to a brighter future for these endangered animals.

To quote Dr. Trone, “Everything is weird here.” And beautiful, strange, and unique and we are in love with all of it!

A bit dangerous, but ultimately delicious!

Amazon

“El misterio de las plantas amazonias”

The mystery of Amazonian plants

The theme of this day is best explained with this quote from Robert Crawshaw: “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards…but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way”

We started this morning with a 6AM hike through the jungle, and had a little bit of “pre-breakfast protein” in the form of termites fresh from the mound. They taste like a cross between mint and lemon, but we quickly discovered that it was not enough to sustain us until breakfast.

A termite nest!

Kathy with a giant land snail shell- in Spanish, we call this animal churo

After breakfast, we continued exploring the forest. While walking, we saw scarlet macaws, various insects, and also found enormous land snail shells! Abelardo, our guide, told us that the indigenous people believe that putting a circle of these shells around the tree will result in a higher fruit yield. Why? The shells provide the tree with extra calcium!

We then moved to our next destination – ExplorNapo Lodge. To get there, we traveled downstream on the Yanamono river, downstream on the Amazon to the Napo river, upstream on the Napo River, and finally we took the Sacusari river upstream to our destination. At this point we haven’t traveled in, or even seen, a car in five days. River transportation is everything in the Amazon!

Once we were settled in, we went to visit the shaman- a traditional medicine man from one of the local indigenous tribes. It was a privilege to learn about, through smell, touch, and taste, local plants with medicinal qualities. He then performed a relaxing and healing ceremony for all of our group members. We left enlightened and smelling of rosewood.

After dinner, we had a night boat tour of the Sacusari River. We instantly saw a two-toed sloth (different from the 3-toed sloths we saw the day before, and the same kind that lives in the Living Conservatory at the Museum!), many frogs, sleeping butterflies, and an incredible mating pair of white throated toucans!

It’s been a long day. Off to bed to sleep under mosquito nets with 2 species of bats overhead!

Receiving a blessing from the shaman

We were ecstatic to find a pair of white-throated toucans tonight! Only one is pictured here, and a few of us have better photos, but we weren’t able to access them yet.

Amazon

“Full hearts”

And we are all connected to each other in a circle in a hoop that never ends – Pocahontas

As we sit down this evening to write our blog, we are so overwhelmed with so many areas with which we can expand. Morning began as each morning has here at Explorama Lodge. That means a breakfast (desayuno) with some of the most delicious food we have all had the opportunity to taste. After a hardy breakfast we set out on our day to visit one of the local schools, the local library, and the only local clinic.

After a short boat ride we arrived with one of the warmest welcomes we have ever experienced in our lives. The welcoming group consisted of students, the 4 teachers, and most of the community to welcome us and to work with us. We were greeted with smiles and waves, hand-written posters, and so much excitement, we knew immediately today would be a very special day. We went from the dock into the modest schoolhouse and we were welcomed with introductions, short welcome speeches, and beautiful singing from the kindergarten class. We were gifted some of the most thoughtful and articulate gifts from the community consisting of hand woven fans from local materials, cards with poetry for us, and hand carved keychains also with local materials. The love and excitement in the room was overwhelming for all of us. As educators we know everyone is a lifelong learner and that each day brings a new opportunity to learn, grow, share, teach, and love. This trip to Pucallpa only reiterates the lesson we all already knew, but fueled an inner desire for us all to take back to our classrooms, families, and communities. We were welcomed and worked along side of friends despite the language barrier for most. We all had a common goal and desire to improve their school. One group painted the outside of the kindergarten building, one group planted a row of coconut palms and orange trees around and behind the school, and the final group painted all the chairs and desks of the 1-5th graders. The love and appreciation was overwhelming as we painted, planted and participated in a local cultural celebration. We danced to festive Peruvian music around a ceremonial palm tree piñata after eating a traditional Peruvian meal of Juanes.

A few of the young girls made signs welcoming us to their community of Pucallpa

Planting coconut trees with some of the community members

A “Juanes” (chicken, hard-boiled egg, and olive with rice wrapped up with a leaf to look like the decapitated head of John the Baptist)

Our next destination was the local library Sustainability and Education Center. The center is the only of its kind in the area. Not only is the raised structure beautiful, it is well maintained and cherished by all who use the center. The center’s director Fernando Saavedra does a wonderful job at directing volunteers and students to make the absolute most of all of the opportunities the center has to offer. He explained how the center was founded by a visiting American with a love of books and a love equally for Peru. Students and anyone with a love of books may come visit throughout the week. Most have to travel by boat or walk. The center offers not only the opportunity to read various books but the students have access to musical instruments, crafts, computers, and games. We were able to observe multiple students during our time- some students were reading, several were playing beautiful music, and several working with the 3 computers that were available. It was so refreshing to see students going out of their way to expand their knowledge. The love they have for this facility is evident in the care they all take in working within the center. We donated many new books to add to the center’s collection that were collected by students in our own classrooms. We left the center with a desire to continue to give globally, to expand on children’s knowledge by the use of books, and most importantly to remember to enhance the love of learning.

Reading some of the books we brought to donate to the library

Our third and final destination today was to the local community clinic, la Clinica Yanamono. The clinic was founded and is run by doctor Dr. Linnea Smith. She came to the area in 1996 and as many of, she fell in love with Peru and the local area. She has worked hard to maintain accurate records of community members and has seen an improvement in the overall health- a decrease in common illnesses and increase in life expectancy of local community members. She spoke of the evolution of the clinic and future goals. We were introduced some of the staff of 4 and were shown around the clinical rooms. Many of us worked with our students before we left to gather resources to donate to the clinic and at the end of the introduction we presented these to Dr. Smith. We all were very interested in how we could help to facilitate the growth of the clinic and Dr. Linnea gave us the information and website for anyone wishing to donate to support the clinic.

We arrived back at the lodge absolutely covered in mud with sun-touched faces and very full hearts. Today was full of love, appreciation for all of our global neighbors, and an increased awareness/desire to instill within our students the importance of becoming globally aware and friendly. We want to inspire our students not only to succeed academically, but also have the desire to travel and learn about other cultures. By sharing our experiences we hope to create the curiosity of travel and unknown places.

What a day!

Amazon

“The music of the Amazon”

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” -Joseph Campbell

The rhythm and harmony of life on, and near, the river was the theme of our experiences today. We began just after dawn with bird watching, turning our heads to the calls and drawing our binoculars to our eyes to follow the rapid movement from tree to tree. Following breakfast, we took two boats to Lake Caceres, where we saw three-toed sloths, giant water lilies, and jacanas (nick-named Jesus Christ birds because they can seemingly walk on water!). Our guides knew each bend in the river, and shared stories of where they would fish or climb trees. We were astounded at how a slight shadow, sixty-feet in the air, could be so adeptly identified as a three-toed, female sloth – but our guides were in tune with life on and around the river.

In the afternoon, we participated in the cultural and artisanal fair with the Yagua people. We were to treated a sampling of Peruvian music by the band Los Mosandaros. Styles ranged from Cumbia – heard in many parts of Latin America – to Pan Deja (with a pan flute) – a style of music enjoyed in Amazon communities during their Carnival celebrations. We also enjoyed local cuisine derived from sugar cane, yucca, and peanuts, and learned the proper way to eat Miel de Cana on sugar cane (sugar cane molasses). Using the natural materials around them, artisans fashioned pots, thatched roofs, rope, and baskets. Dyes were created from various plants, and we swatched our cheeks, arms, and journals with the green dye made from young pijuayo palm leaves and indigo blue from the mishki panga (ginger fruit) husk. The paint made us look especially fierce as we shot darts from the blow gun.

A completed thatch panel we made for the roof- such skill is involved in this process!

In the evening, we floated back out onto the Yanamono river and at first heard, then spotted, a number of frogs, including an incredibly large and exceedingly loud Smoky Jungle frog – they can grow to be as long as 7 inches (not including the legs)! As our boats floated into the grass we turned off all lights and were silent – revealing the symphony of frogs that seemed to be coming from every direction. As we made our way out to the mighty Amazon, fish jumped around our boats, and the clouds parted, revealing the night sky. We identified several constellations, including the “teapot” constellation, which inspired us to sing two renditions of the song “I’m a Little Teapot” in both English and Spanish – and yes, we did the motions.

The heartbeat of the Amazon is strong and steady, and we are incredibly privileged to be a small part of its music during this trip.

Ps. ALL of us got our bags back! It’s a miracle!!! Many thanks to the tireless efforts of the Explorama staff for making that possible!!!

Our luggage has arrived and we are so excited!

Amazon

“Bienvenidos a la selva Amazonica!”

Welcome to the Amazon Jungle!

After close to 30 hours of travel, including three planes, two buses, and a boat, we finally made it to Explorama Lodge! This eco-tourism lodge is about an hour and a half boat-ride from the city of Iquitos, the largest city in the world accessible only by boat or airplane.Our journey started with a delayed flight to Lima at 1:55 in the morning and several lost bags at baggage claim. Leaving Lima to fly to Iquitos, we saw the vast expanse of the Andes and later “Miss Ana,” a nickname for the Amazon River which comes from how it snakes around like an anaconda.After being picked up in Iquitos, we drove through the Belen Market. Roaming Peruvian Hairless Dogs and Black Vultures perched on rooftops were a common sight in the market. We also saw medicinal plants, spices, fresh and grilled meats – it was an experience to see and smell.From there, we met up with our group of Peruvian educators and had lunch on the boat as we cruised down three rivers; the Rio de Itaya , Rio de Amazon, and Yanamono River. Along the way, we spotted countless rainbows, birds and small communities along the river. Upon arriving, it took no longer than a minute for the resident squirrel monkeys to captivate our team as they jumped from tree to tree.We are sharing a meal together before embarking on our first real Amazon adventure tonight: a night-time boat ride to find creatures and see new stars. Buenas noches y hasta manana!

Amazon

“At long last we have arrived”

Boarding the plane to Iquitos

We are sleep deprived, and only half the group has our checked luggage, but we have arrived safely to Lima, Peru! Now we fly to Iquitos and the rainforest!

Amazon

“A Good Journey is Never Linear”

“We are ready! This is the cleanest we will be all trip.”

Today is the day we leave for Peru, and it is also the day we discovered that travel is often a non-linear event. Instead of flying to Miami at 11:50am, we are *hoping* to fly at 6pm due to technical difficulties. But we take it as a good omen, because at least we are not on a malfunctioning plane!

The cleanest and least sweaty we will be all trip is right now, in the airport!

Although we don’t know each other yet and don’t know what the next hours will bring, we are all talking and laughing and sharing creative ideas with each other. We haven’t missed our phones! We have had conversations with a group from Colombia, and practiced sighting the native bird species of RDU.

Practicing our binocular skills at gate C11, to identify the house sparrows that are stuck inside the airport terminal

At some point the airline even brought out the snack cart. Not just dry snacks, but the cart with the special “Refuel and Refresh” box of snacks with 8 lucious choices.

To keep our spirits up, we all joined in to sing “Los Pollitos Dicen”, a Spanish children’s song. The silly chicks say, “pío, pío, pío” to get their worms. Maybe if we sing their song we will get what we want too and make our flight! Wish us “buena suerte” (good luck) for the next leg of our journey and what will probably be a long next 48 hours.

Michelle is very excited for snacks!

1:15am update- we have all successfully boarded a flight from Miami to Lima. Hopefully we will still make our morning flight to Iquitos as scheduled and be back on track for the rest of our journey!

Amazon

“¡Estamos listos! We are ready!”

For weeks now, we have been slowly adding to our piles of things to pack. For our families and pets, this big trip and our preparations can be difficult to come to terms with. For Andromeda’s dog, Luna, “Every time I add something to my bag she thinks I’m about to leave, so she’s been very involved in the process! Today I finished gathering the last few items so I’m double checking my list to make sure I have it all (and it all fits in my bag).”

Andromeda’s dog, Luna, is anxious for her to leave for such a long time. She knows something is coming, as she has been watching items accumulate in the pile of things to be packed. Lining our bag or backpack with a big trash bag and packing in ziploc bags are great methods of waterproofing our clothes in case of downpours on the way to the lodge.

 

For Michelle, packing for an immersive experience in the remote Amazon rain forest has meant a shift in how she usually approaches travel. “Typically when I pack, I consider my credit card to be that one essential item. If I have forgotten anything, I am sure that I can just get what I need. However, packing for remote locations in Peru means my credit card will not be my safety net (there aren’t stores to buy things where we’re going- the big city will be several hours away!). Reviewing the itinerary and combing through the packing list is what will help me prepare. Additionally, my recent amazon.com purchases have included a rain poncho, collapsible backpack, desiccant packs (to keep important things like batteries and paper items dry), and anti-monkey butt powder (for the hot, humid weather in the tropics). I also have been looking for Spanish language books to donate to the local Peruvian library. ”

Michelle’s pile of things to pack includes some Spanish language books to donate to the local library, as well as gauze and wound care items to donate to the Yanamono medical clinic we will visit.

Rebecca’s organized pile of things to pack, including lots of non-cotton, sweat-wicking materials.

We’ve also been diligently practicing our Spanish phrases so we can communicate with our local Peruvian teachers that will join our group upon arrival to Iquitos. We are excited to meet our new friends, Tula, Roxana, Jackeline, and Juan Pablo. Each of them comes from a different local community that partners with CONAPAC, one of the local non-profits we will be working with on our visit. We’ll even have the chance to help the community plant citrus and coconut trees, and refurbish the gardens around Roxana’s school in Pucallpa. After so many preparations, we are finally ready for our new adventure to the Peruvian Amazon! ¡Estamos listos!