Catch of the Amazon

August 30, 2009

The few times that I fished as a child, I never caught anything. I went home dejected and empty-handed as my friends boasted about catches of trout and bass. Coincidentally, fishing has never been my favorite pastime. Well, a few days ago I caught a red piranha. My fish could eat yours alive! I now consider myself a true fisherman...but....I think I'll retire while I'm ahead.

When most people think of the Amazon rainforest, they think of Brazil. But in reality, the Amazon stretches over eight countries in South America. From Quito, I booked a 4 day tour of the dense jungle in northeast Ecuador. After arriving late due to a flight delay, our group was rushed onto a motorized canoe and took off racing up the Cuyabeno river. This is how we would spend much of our time in the rainforest, as there are no roads in the reserve; in essence, the rivers are the roads of the Amazon.

As sunset nears, the waters become amazingly reflective of the expansive sky. Everything becomes a mirror image of itself. After being assured that the laguna we were currently in was too deep for piranhas, I jumped off the canoe and went for a swim. It's quite a thrill to be wading deep in the amazon at twilight.

With the eyes of a hawk, our expert guide found all kinds of wildlife for us to observe. Over the course of the trip I saw, up-close, monkeys, sloths, pink dolphins, caimans, tarantulas, tropical birds, anacondas, poisonous frogs, and lizards. One morning, we went on a treacherous hike through the rainforest, which at several points involved trudging through shin-deep mud and crossing rocky streams on slippery fellen tree trunks.

Every night I feel asleep under a mosquito net to the chorus of the jungle. The cabin was appropriately rustic. No electricity, no cold water. A room shared with fist sized roaches and moths. My last night's shower was particularly memorable. With only a weak flashlight dimly illuminating the shower stall, I braced myself for the stream of freezing cold water down my back. Meanwhile, the light had attracted some sort of flying insect that proceeded to buzz by my ear the entire session. It must have been a comical sight; one second I was writhing from the frigid water, and the next second I was manically swatting at an unseen intruder next to my head! Glad no one videotaped that one.

While the experience of being in the amazon jungle was unforgettable, the bus ride back nearly matched it. The in-route movie was a violent, cliche-ridden Dolph Lungreen action flick that climaxed with a villain being exploded by a grenade. Great entertainment for the small children on board. Meanwhile, we drove by fascinating Ecuadorian small towns and across unearthly beautiful mountain ranges and misty valleys. Correction: not so much drove, but raced. With every sharp turn on a cliff taken at 50 mph, the bus tipped so far as to nearly ride on one set of wheels. I didn't know whether to concentrate on the scenery or the sense of impending doom. Needless to say, I've never been so mesmerized and felt so terrified in my life. Bienvenidos a Suramérica, Americano!

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