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Surviving in the Amazon

Our first full week in the Amazon has been some of the most amazing days of our trip so far. We’ve gotten to do things, touch things, see things, and eat things that we otherwise would never have gotten to experience, and it’s been an intense and wild ride. Let’s start with the Doing.

We’ve planted pineapples (have I mentioned how prickly they are?), mixed and poured concrete pylons with our bare hands, and gotten really, really good at using machetes (India may or may not ask for one for Christmas). We’ve trimmed banana trees with machetes (and then played tug-of-war with the dog using the fronds), cleared fields for pineapples with machetes, planted trees with machetes (it’s easier than trying to lug a shovel through the jungle), and, oh yeah, we’ve been opening new trails through the Amazon! This has been our major project for the past few days.

We start at the main road, and then India and Abi are (what I call) Trailblazers. They’re the ones who go through first, hacking down the initial swathes of invasive bamboo and ferns (and getting absolutely showered in bugs). Davina, Emma, and I are cleanup, meaning we come behind the first two ladies and clear away anything that got missed in the initial weed-whack (note to future Amazon volunteers: bring nice work gloves, a lot of Deet, and quick-dry long shirts and trousers. Nothing ruins a good day of work like having bugs fly up the arms of your short sleeve shirt and getting bug bites on your bum).

Once the trail is cleared of the invasive plants, we come along again with baby native trees and plant them along the sides of the trail. Cleared of invasive plants, the native trees have plenty of nutrient-rich soil and sunlight to grow and truly begin reforestation.

Moving on to Touch. First of all, everything is bigger in the Amazon, including the insect and amphibious life. On our second night, Pablo got a good laugh because he asked us if we wanted to see a toad, and then (swear on my life this is true) he whipped out a toad the size of a small cat (we have pictures). And then he went and found MORE while we were all (admittedly) shrieking and trying to get as far away from the first one as we could. I mention this under Touch and not See just so that I can mention that I was the only one who picked up one of the mega-toads and held it (albeit briefly, but I did it!).

I’ll also mention the river under Touch because one of the first things we did here was jump in it. We swim, bathe, wash clothes, and wash dishes in the river (only using all-natural products), and it’s sad days when the river is too muddy to get in. This segues perfectly into See, because the days the river is muddy are only after the thunderstorms. You can see the storms coming up over the mountaintops hours before they get to us down here in the valley; big, dark clouds piling higher and higher into the sky before tumbling down the slopes of the valley and drenching everything in torrential downpour.

The rain falls perfectly straight because the wind doesn’t blow when it rains, and a single storm can last a day and a night before abating. We’ve fallen asleep most every night listening to the sound of rain on the tin roof over our heads. But on the nights when it isn’t raining and the sky is clear, we get to see the stars. We’re almost an hour from the nearest town, so there’s no light pollution, and we don’t use electricity here, so on a clear night, the sky is the inky midnight blue you read about in storybooks but never actually get to see. We see stars by the hundreds, big bright pinpoints of light surrounded by great swaths of smaller dustings of stars. We’ve seen planets (it’s either Venus or Mars, I’m not sure) and meteors, and I swear we can see an arm of the Milky Way like a pale white cloud that never moves. And more than anything, we see just an abundance of life (mostly that means we see great big clouds of bugs).

Everywhere you look is just bursting with green in different shades, from the pale green of new shoots coming up on the ferns and tops of trees, the yellow-green of the banana fronds, the deep, earthy green of the ferns unfurling into summer. The very air here FEELS rich and heavy (RIP our altitude acclamation) when you breathe. It really is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.

Oh yeah, let’s talk about Eating, shall we? I won’t even beat around the bush: Davina and Abi ate termites. We came across a nest on the side of a tree during a walk, and Pablo just stuck his finger in it and ate the bugs that came out (I have never been more thankful to be vegetarian in my life). But really, that was the only moment of GAH we’ve had with the food. We eat vegetarian when we’re cooking here, and we’ve had some truly incredible food. Our personal favorites are a pumpkin curry with lentils, onions, and tomatoes, served over rice, and a spicy Egg Mash (again that’s just what I call it; it doesn’t actually have a name) made with fried tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, and chili oil, served over rice. Pablo also makes this spicy pickled onion and garlic stuff (we go through a jar of it every day). Suffice to say, we aren’t starving.

That pretty much sums up week 2. We did realize that the thirty-day countdown to the end of the trip happened on October 12th, and we were all stunned that so much time had already passed. To think, we only have another week to practice our machete skills before we’re on to the next project! Forward unto Week 7!

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