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July 15, 2012

“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” Ralph Crawshaw

The Amazon Institute 2012 has stretched us all, providing us with new eyes to see the world.



July 14, 2012

Every day the participants received a “journal prompt” – an idea that they could try in their journal. Here are two by Patrick Knox.

Plank-covered ladders
Carry us safely between
Trees touching the sky

The earth’s thin blanket
Whispers to the tallest trees
Move up, out and free

Saying Goodbye to the Amazon

July 13, 2012

No early bird walk this morning. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, granola, yogurt, potatoes, French toast and fruit. We left and visited a HUGE Ceiba tree. The tree represents spirits of earlier people. The Mayans believe that the tall trunk actually is a bridge to heaven for souls. The last owners of the property made it into a banana plantation and cut all the other trees leaving this one out of reverence for those who have passed. The trunk of the tree is so massive that all 19 of us stood easily in between two of the buttress roots.

Woolly monkey lounging in the sun

The young monkeys appeared to enjoy relaxing in the sun just as people do!

We next went to Monkey Island. This island is dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of orphaned monkeys of all kinds. We had “UP CLOSE” experiences with spider monkeys, Brown and Common Woolly Monkeys, Golden Mantled Tamarins, saki monkeys, howler monkeys and Red Uakari Monkeys. The Uakari were the only monkeys in a separate enclosure and we were told they were the only ones that “didn’t play well with others”, especially visitors!

We went back to Ceiba Tops for some showers to remove the monkey love we received and then lunch. During lunch we honored our fabulous guides Roldan and Abelardo with gifts and headed back to the Amazon for a trip to Iquitos.

Another shopping opportunity awaited us at a local craft market. We saw everything from painted fish scales to exquisite paintings and Mahogany and Blood Wood bowls. Thirty minutes to shop? Pleeease!

We got back on the bus for a short ride to the airport where we said goodbye to our Peruvian teacher friends and guides. We were all presented with a picture of the entire team by our Peruvian teachers. It will always be a reminder of the friendships we have made during these few days. Although we are sad to go and leave the beauty of the Amazon we will carry the memories of our adventures and share them forever.

From Black Mantled Tamarins to the Southern Cross Constellation

July 13, 2012

July 9, 2012

We are finally back to “civilization” (lodging with internet access) and hopefully our posts will be more regular for the final two days of our adventure. Thank you to all who have been following our trip and have posted greetings, questions, and comments. We will be answering those today.

Our morning began with a 6:00am walk to the canopy walkway in search of exotic birds and critters of the canopy. We were lucky enough to see several Black-mantled Tamarins and toucans were calling and clicking their bills in what seemed to be all directions. The rainbow-colored Paradise Tanager squawked its call and was visible in the foggy treetops.

After returning to the lodge for breakfast, we realized why this place isn’t called the sun forest—rain, rain, and more rain, or huarmi lluvia. As the rain tapered off, we ventured outside to find colorful poison dart frogs, toucans, and a troop of tamarins off the back porch.

We packed our bags for the Napo Lodge and caught up on our journaling while waiting for Dr. Meg Lowman, or “Canopy Meg.”

Dr. Lowman met with us and taught us how to analyze insect-plant relationships in the rainforest. Her research has helped lead the way to protect the rainforest from further destruction, as she helps identify plants that have the possibility for in the medical field.
After lunch we began a 40-minute sloppy, mud soaked, hike to Napo Lodge, followed by a fabulous boat ride on the Napo River. Our guides made sure to turn on plenty of A/C as we took off full throttle down the river.

Our boat trip included special entertainment provided by a troop of squirrel monkeys. We sounded like we were watching a fireworks display as we ooooo’d and ahhhhhh’d over their aerial antics! We saw a beautiful blue and purple cotinga, a sloth and found a leaf covered with large white aphids which looked more like Stormtroopers than bugs! Perhaps the most frightening thing we saw was a huge Anaconda floating in Yarina Creek! Yes, they are here… but alas, this one was deceased. Good for us, but not so good for the snake!

We suddenly felt as though we were being followed, and turned to see a small boy in a dugout canoe paddling after us. He pulled alongside and sold us the one small basket he had made. Soon another boat with a mother and her 4-year-old daughter came in sight. They had other handicrafts which we eagerly purchased!

Back at the lodge we had a delicious dinner of pork and pasta along with fruits, beans and rice before heading out for a NIGHT boat trip on the river. The skies were clear and the waters smooth as we enjoyed the celestial wonders that can only be seen in an area without much ambient light. Our guides cut the engines and silently paddled us into the backwaters where we saw an opossum, a wild Guinea pig, a huge walking stick and several roosting birds.

From the Clinic to the Canopy Walkway and Bioluminescent fungus!

July 13, 2012

JULY 7, 2012

We never know exactly what the day will bring, but today it started with packing to leave the Explorama Lodge so we could travel to our next location. On the way out to the Amazon River, we made a brief stop at Dr. Linnea Smith’s clinic.

The clinic serves the local population along the Amazon and Napo rivers. Dr. Smith is the only M.D. for some distance up and down the river and has been running the clinic for over 20 years. She has served over 45,000 patients, providing vaccinations, family planning, basic medical and dental services. The clinic gets support from many sources including the Peruvian Government, U.S. and International donors, and payments by the patients when possible.

The clinic itself is in a new building that was built about 1 year ago because the river was cutting dangerously close to the old building. The new clinic is a simple frame building, built on stilts or pilings to keep it above the rivers flood level. It’s unique in the community because it has a metal roof rather than thatch. Inside it has 2 examination rooms, simple laboratory facilities, and a dental clinic. Very few of us from the United States would even recognize it as a medical facility based on our own experiences, but here it’s the best there is and provides a vital service to the residents of the Amazon!

After the clinic visit we loaded back into the boat for a 2 hour boat ride up the Napo River to Exploranapo and then a 45 minute hike to the ACTS Lodge and Preserve. We’re in the rainforest, so rain should be a part of every day—right!? We had a couple of rain showers on our way up river, but they failed to dampen our spirits.

This country is immense. It is defined by three elements—water, forest, and sky. Each of these seems to be without limit. Where one ends, the other takes over. It’s quiet on the boat and everyone is looking out, lost in thought about this place, what we’ve seen, and what we have yet to see.

At Exploranapo we leave the boat in the rain, go into the lodge for a moment to reorganize, then hit the trail to ACTS (Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies). If you don’t know how to say “mud” in Spanish, it’s barro. This becomes our word of the day. The trail alternates between just muddy and truly sloppy with water running down the path. Slipping is a regular occurrence and we all try to keep our feet under us. Shoes are soon covered in a yellow-brown goo that creeps up our pants and splatters out to the side of the trail.

Our guide gets us to ACTS just before lunch. We scrape off as much mud as possible, get our gear into our rooms and sit down to another delicious meal. This was followed by a quick introduction to rainforest ecology by Dr. Steve Madigosky of Widener University at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His research has focused on micro climates of the rainforest, studying variations in temperature, humidity, and precipitation at varying levels and locations in the forest.

After lunch we pulled muddy shoes and boots back on and headed up the hill to the Rainforest Canopy Walkway, the longest canopy walkway in the world. The walkway is a catwalk suspended in the canopy of the rainforest. It was started in 1991 and has been a primary research tool for the science teams that have been investigating the Amazon rainforest for the past 20+ years.

The walkway starts at ground level and works its way up to 118 feet above ground level so that you are truly walking through the tree-tops. It consists of 14 platforms anchored to large trees and connected by narrow walkways that are essentially suspension bridges among the trees. It takes a little (or a lot) of faith to head out across the swinging catwalks the first time. They bounce and twist, but the view is indescribable. You are above most of the tree tops, with only the emergent layer still reaching above you. You can almost forget that it’s a forest—the continuous green surface in front of you is more like a meadow reaching out as far as you can see. It’s really cool!

The walkway winds through the trees and eventually reaches the point where you descend back to the ground, and take the (muddy) trail back to the lodge. We all felt pretty good about having made it end-to-end and having conquered the many long and bouncing sections.

Our day wasn’t over yet—at about 5:00pm we went back out to the canopy walkway to climb up and watch the sunset. Remember that we are only about three degrees south of the equator, so the hours of daylight and darkness are nearly equal. Sunset is around 6:30pm. From the walkways and platforms we looked to the west and saw the sun setting above the green carpet of the forest, the light being filtered through the broken clouds on the horizon. Lightning played through the clouds, adding to the beauty and magic of the sunset.

We came back down and walked through the darkness to the lodge and dinner, followed by a night walk in the forest to observe bioluminescent fungi that grows on the leaves of one specific forest tree. In the forest our guide told us to turn off our lights, and as we did, the ground around our feet took on a mottled glow. It was a great end to a truly spectacular day.


July 12, 2012

After a boat ride up the river to Iquitos, a flight from Iquitos to Lima, an overnight flight from Lima to Miami and a flight from Miami to RDU we are finally home and back to the land of reliable internet! Look for our missing blogs posts, more photos and some of our interviews with the Peruvians soon!

July Sixth (Day 4)

July 9, 2012
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Piranha teeth are incredibly sharp. Members of the Yagua tribe use the teeth to sharpen the ends of the blow gun darts.

We awoke early to the sound of heavy rain, our first major rainfall since the beginning of our trip. Around 6:00 am we left the lodge and boarded john boats for our first river-birding trip. From the main Amazon river, we traveled around a cocha, an oxbow lake. We identified over 35 different species of birds in less than an hour, including an umbrella bird, the Roadside Hawk, several kingfishers, oropendula, and the Red-capped Cardinal. A special highlight was seeing a small flock of vibrant green Dusky-Headed Parakeets.
After breakfast we boarded our boats and traveled back down the Amazon River to the confluence of the Napo River. Before long we spotted the elusive Hoatzin, an evolutionary holdover. Soon after, we stopped near the shore of an island named after the Spanish explorer, Orellana, who “discovered” the Amazon while searching for the City of Gold. We learned to fish for the legendary piranha with simple pole rods, rusty hooks and chunks of raw beef. The method is very similar to pin fishing in North Carolina. After many nibbles, we pulled up about eight piranha and two Silver Sardines.

On the way back to Explorama Lodge, we observed much destruction from a recent flood. Many structures, earth, and trees have been swallowed up by the mighty Amazon. On a lighter note, we enjoyed the acrobatics of Gray River Dolphins. These dolphins are much smaller than the Bottlenose Dolphin found along coastal North Carolina, reaching only about 3 ½ feet in length. We stopped to visit the Palmeras village to learn about the Conapac Potable Water Project. The villagers showed us how water pumped from the Amazon is treated. Over 25 villages, serving 12,000 people, now have clean water thanks to this program. While visiting we sampled several native fruits growing there, and the children showed us their strange-looking and colorful Mata Mata Turtle.

After lunch, which included our cooked piranha, we visited the Amazon library. It was exciting to help the local children enjoy the books and activities we brought from North Carolina. Children are excited to learn regardless of their nationality. We left them with finished projects, smiles, and many donated supplies for their library. We boated past a beautiful rainbow, and before dinner we packed our belongs for our next location. We ended this wonderful day with an evening paddle up a small stream looking for wildlife. The guides pointed out fishing spiders, tree frogs, and sleeping butterflies. Everyone admired the enormous trees growing along the stream. Finally we found a dark spot for star gazing and saw the Southern Cross and a very bright Milky Way.

July Fifth

July 9, 2012

Leslie’s birthday!

Birding early – 6 am. Saw a Masked Crimson Tanager – really impressive to walk two steps to see so many birds; it was amazing.

After breakfast we had a taste test of all local foods, one favorite was humita and many were impressed by the dryness of nyuta. Local Yagua taught us skills in thatching, weaving, distilling, dancing, pottery, dyeing, weaving fiber, using a machete, paddle carving, and using a blowgun.

After lunch we walked through the forest to the Yagua Village and trading post. At the communal house we were introduced to the Yagua, their fabulous clothing of palm fibers, and large pot for making masato* for group festivals. We danced with them and they they danced for us. We spent an hour shopping and trading.

We came back, reorganized and went on a walk to the distillery by the river, very close to the edge. We did some tasting and toasting.

A delicious dinner was topped off by a delicious cake for Leslie made with Manjar Blanco, a sweet white spread made with milk. Over the course of the day she had had three different birthday songs – in English and in Spanish. The final song concluded with a line that says “Come on, cut the cake, or get out of the way.”

Dr. Linnae Smith gave us a presentation about the clinic we will visit on Saturday

And now we are planning for our day with local students in the library tomorrow.

*masato is a slightly alcoholic beverage indigenous to Peru traditionally made by fermenting chewed yuca with saliva.

No internet ; – (

July 9, 2012

Thanks for your patience! we have not had any internet connection since we arrived! We are now at Exploranapo and are looking forward to getting some posts up and going out on a boat ride this afternoon!

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2012
Art and Mike L with Suri

Art and Mike sampling the roasted suri. They were purchased live in the market and roasted by the chef at Explorama!

Happy Birthday, U. S. of A.! What a busy Independence Day! After a delicious breakfast, we toured the bustling city of Lima on our drive to the airport. Our guide Lucero told us that Lima, a city of 10 million, gets only 3 inches of rain a year, and depends on wells and river water. Despite this, there were plenty of green areas and city parks supported by watering.

We made our way through Lima’s busy airport, doing a little snacking and shopping, and then boarded our flight for Iquitos. What a flight—we floated over the Andes, oohed over the snowy caps, and peered down at villages nestled in the valleys. This was our first exposure to the gorgeous and towering cumulus clouds, clouds which continued to impress throughout the day.

A city of 500,000, Iquitos is only accessible by boat and by air. Nonetheless, the streets are jammed with motokarros, 3-wheeled motorcycles, used to carry everything from bookcases to rice to colors and smells. Dried fish, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, medicinal herbs, and lots and lots of chicken parts. Our only purchase? A few suri — large caterpillars that are a local delicacy. We bought some and asked the chef at Explorama to cook them up.

At 3:00 we walked the plank, boarded the Explorama boat and cruised down the Amazon! As we cruised down the river, we finally saw the river at its level — the spray coming up around us, the logs and vegetation floating in the water, the river traffic. We also saw the effects of the growing population on the Amazon — the rainforest being cleared, human habitation along the river. It was an experience that we all saw from a different perspective and through different eyes. We tried to liken this river trip to traveling across Albemarle or Pamlico Sound, only we were 1500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

Our day ended with our arrival at Explorama Lodge, our home for the night.