Many people write bucket lists of things they want to see or do before they die. Some want to win the World Chili Dog Eating Contest while others want to go skydiving for their 30th birthday. For me, one such dream was getting to visit and experience the Amazon jungle. I can happily say that this dream can now be crossed off my own personal list. Last week, I had the honor and privilege of going to the Amazon jungle in Central Brazil for nine days with an organization called Justice and Mercy International.
This organization seeks to serve the poor, oppressed and forgotten peoples of the world. A team of eleven people, including myself, flew into Manaus, one of the larger cities in central Brazil northwest of Rio De Janeiro located right at the meeting point of the Rio Negra (Black River) and Amazon River. For nine days, we lived on a two-story boat, slept in hammocks, served in various villages on the river and had some amazing encounters with the local wildlife that call the Amazon home. The rainforest is one of the most beautiful places I have seen and the animals that live there are no less amazing and wondrous. I believe that our animal encounters would not have been as memorable as they were without the knowledge and experience of our rainforest guide, Milton; a man whose intelligence and insight of the rainforest combined with a love and passion for people definitely made a huge impression on me!
The last two nights we were in Brazil, Milton took us out in a fifteen passenger speedboat along some tributaries on the river to experience a river safari and Caiman hunting. Our first night on the river, we got to see between ten and fifteen individual animals! Three rainforest owls were hanging out by the river high up in the branches of trees; their large eyes reflecting from our boat’s spotlight as they stood stock still waiting for prey to come by. A large bat flew in front of us as it swooped for insects over the water. At one point, we saw a three-toed sloth hanging out in the branches of a tree directly overhead; its clawed foreleg slowly reaching out to the branches of a neighboring tree. The eyes of caimans reflected red among the bowels of the trees; only their eyes and snouts showing above the still waters. Caiman are the Amazon version of an alligator or crocodile. Milton, our guide, was able to catch one at one point with his bare hands! We all got a chance to hold it and touch it as he explained its behavior and natural history (more on that in another article to come!). Floating placidly near the shores of the tributaries were giant lily pads; their circumference reaching a length of up to seven feet. Milton shared with us that the flowers of these lilies bloom at night, stay open for three days and then die. They slowly change color from pink, to purple, to white.
In addition to these nocturnal river adventures, we went piranha and pirarucu fishing, fed capuchin monkeys, held sloths and swam with pink river dolphins! Each experience was unique and different in its own way. Holding a lazy sloth brought about a sense of inner peace while swimming with river dolphins left me with a rush of adrenaline. It was awesome to observe miles and miles of untouched rainforest for as far as the eye could see when one looked past the villages located along the riverside. The Amazon jungle is a world treasure and must be conserved or all of these unique animals plus countless others will be forever lost.
I know and realize that this article is not focused on coral reefs or the world’s oceans. However, I believe that all wildlife, aquatic and non-aquatic, is intertwined with each other and affects all ecosystems and animals around the world. The Amazon River begins its journey from the Andes Mountains in Peru and flows down to the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of plants and animals make their home along this river and would not exist without it.
I encourage you all to hop on a plane and visit this amazing world down in South America. It will thrill you, challenge you and give you a sense of joy. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment if it is something that is written on your own bucket list to see and experience before you grow old. Getting out and seeing the world opens our eyes to the beauty that is all around us. So the main question is, “What will you check off next on your bucket list?”