It first hit me when I nestled down into my tiny window seat on LAN flight 072, bound for Lima – My time in the Amazon was over. I had conflicting emotions as the doors on the plane closed. I was definitely happy to be going home, but I was already missing the forest and all of the mysteries hidden beneath its canopy. The plane was filled to capacity with a mixture of foreign tourists and Peruvians. I was surrounded by a group of American high school students who were returning home from a weeklong educational trip to Cusco and the Amazon. The students were completely self-absorbed in their odd, popularity games and their chaperones had their hands full trying to prevent an international incident – The class clown was sitting directly in front of me and one of the adults in the group was right behind me, so I was forced to participate. I took out my book and a bag of fresh brazil nuts and I prepared for take off. I was lost in the lore of Tibet’s hidden lands in the Tsangpo Gorge when the plane left the ground. I spent another five minutes trying to read the same paragraph. My heart wasn’t into reading at the moment, so I put the book down and stared out the window instead. Continue reading
It started raining as I sat on the sofa in the lodge waiting for my group to leave. It wasn’t just any rain either, it was a torrential downpour reminiscent of the rainy season and I wasn’t really all that happy to see it. As I sat and talked to the three tourists that would be making the journey up river with me, my mind wandered to my lonely backpack, the one that I had left leaning up against a tree near the river. I thought of all of my dry clothes and my electronics and my extra books and I wondered if, after nearly five exciting years on the road, the pack’s ‘water resistance’ still functioned as it did when I first bought it. I didn’t linger too long on my belongings though. The mist-filled air flowed into the dry spaces under the lodge’s roof and shattered the sticky, morning heat and the calming roar of falling water soothed my tensions and brought a relaxed smile to my face. It was really an ideal way to start my new adventure in the rainforest.
By my fifth week living at Posada Amazonas I was ready for a break. The eight to ten hours I was spending on the trail every day, while immensely enjoyable, were taking their toll on my body. To make things worse, the lumpy, sagging mattress I had been sleeping on had resurrected an old pelvis injury, which I had earned in a fit of stupidity during a mountaineering trip in Yosemite many years before. I spent a few days resting in my bed, hoping to prevent a total flare up that would eventually spread to my lower back, rendering me useless to the project. After my second day in bed it became clear that I was not going to recover sleeping on the same moldy mattress that had caused the flare up in the first place, so I packed a small bag and took a seat on one of the boats bound for Puerto Maldonado. The ride down river was uneventful, though the scenery along the river had changed dramatically in the week or so since the rains had ended. Where there had been muddy orange water running right up into the trees there was now a long series of muddy banks and wide, sandy beaches. There were also more obstacles in the river for the driver to avoid. Some of the obstacles were very obvious, such as the huge rock-like islands and large grounded trees, but some were hidden beneath the water giving little or no hint to their presence – Luckily, we only had a few minor collisions. We arrived at the port near Infierno and finished the trip in the small tourist van. Continue reading
A quick glance through the window revealed a seemingly endless blanket of green where, a few minutes before, there had been huge, snow-capped peaks. Just below us a wide ribbon of muddy orange water sliced through the green in a winding, haphazard manner. I knew the river well, though I had only seen it on maps – It was the Tambopata, one of Peru’s last wild rivers. As we got closer to the ground individual trees became distinguishable in the blanket of green and it hit me for the first time just how massive the forest was! The pilot’s voice crackled on the intercom as he asked the flight attendants to take their seats and then the forest ended abruptly. Huge farms took the place of the seemingly endless canopy and then the runway appeared below us. The wheels hit the ground with a screeching jolt and then we taxied for a few moments and came to a stop on the tarmac near the terminal building. I was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air as I stepped out of the plane and walked down the stairs to the sun-scorched pavement. A sign in the terminal welcomed me to Puerto Maldonado. Continue reading
The Magallanes region of extreme southern Chile is cut off from the rest of the country by the vast southern ice sheet and the miles of broken coastline of Chile’s southern fjords. Because of its isolation, the people in the Magallanes region like to think of themselves as a separate entity from the northern part of the country, they even have their own flag. I learned all of this because of one question I asked while sitting in a cafe in Puerto Natales, Chile – The beautiful flag of blue and yellow separated by a jagged, mountain-like line that left a wide field of blue at the top, which contained the five stars of the southern cross at its left side, was all over town and flew next to the Chilean flag at government facilities, so I had asked the lady working at the cafe what it stood for. Though isolated, the Magallanes region of Chile contains some of the most magnificent scenery in the world and, though a bit faded, and important and somewhat opulent history. I had come for both. Continue reading