Weekly Photo Challenge On Top – Jungle Adventure Part 3

 

The many-layered canopy layer of the Amazon jungle - photo by E. Jurus
The many-layered canopy layer of the Amazon jungle – photo by E. Jurus

Wet jungles are fascinating places, and possibly none more so than the Amazon rainforest. Nothing about it was what we expected. Tropical rainforests are layer upon layer of life scrambling to exist. You can’t really get a feel for one until you walk through it.

If you were to just look at an aerial picture, you’d see the thick canopy layer spreading its myriad of leaf shapes to get as much sun as possible, but underneath the jungle teems with some of the highest biodiversity on our planet.

The massive trees are the support structure of the jungle, but they pay the price, playing host to epiphytic plants and getting choked to death by thick strangler vines.

A parasitic vine slowly throttles a supporting tree - photo by E. Jurus
A parasitic vine slowly throttles a supporting tree – photo by E. Jurus

Their fruits are eaten by birds and monkeys of all kinds, who excrete the precious seeds to tumble down to the forest floor and germinate a new generation of trees.

Brown capuchin monkeys hide in the branches - photo by E. Jurus
Brown capuchin monkeys hide in the branches – photo by E. Jurus

In the middle the medium-growth plants all jostle for the tiny bits of sunlight that make it past the canopy. You might see wild limes and papayas, plants with long spiky leaves next to those with big glossy leaves like elephant ears.

Lichens and fungus live down near the darker and moister bottom layer of the jungle, sprouting all manner of shapes and colours. Insects climb, buzz, flit and perch wherever they can.

Fungus on a fallen log - photo by E. Jurus
Fungus on a fallen log – photo by E. Jurus

Dead plant life that litters the jungle floor decays to provide nutrients for the germinating fruit seeds that the monkeys and birds have dropped. The soil of a rainforest is poor in quality — it depends on everything that falls from above to feed the life it supports. Once a patch of jungle is clear-cut, it never recovers, dead for all time.

Our guide, Marco, who grew up in the very same jungle he took us through, showed us many wonders: tiny edible fruits, medicinal vines, tarantula holes in the ground, how to send a signal with the thick reverberating roots of the ‘telephone tree’…

This Tuesday, April 22 was Earth Day, a day dedicated to honouring and protecting what’s left of the precious resources on our planet. The Amazon Jungle is one of the most precious. Go and see it while you can, and do all you can to help preserve it, for every single species on our Earth, humans included, needs it to survive.

An insect we spotted in the jungle - even our guide didn't know what it was - photo by E. Jurus
An insect we spotted in the jungle – even our guide didn’t know what it was – photo by E. Jurus

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – Jungle Adventure Part 1

 

Funky shop sign in Puerto Maldonado - photo by E. Jurus
Funky shop sign in Puerto Maldonado – photo by E. Jurus

Apparently Elvis sells shoes in the Amazon, if you believe he’s still alive and kicking somewhere.

You can find just about anything in the muddy jungle frontier city of Puerto Maldonado, located at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers.

Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to many nature reserves in the Amazon jungle. Most people fly into Puerto Maldonado from Cuzco or Lima, and you can feel the steamy tropical heat as soon as you step off the plane.

Typical street in Puerto Maldonado - photo by E. Jurus
Typical street in Puerto Maldonado – photo by E. Jurus

 

The airport is a big warehouse-type building where your luggage is off-loaded through an opening in the wall. You pile onto a colourful bus hung with lots of national-team dingle-dangles from the rearview mirror for the short drive into the main part of the small city, where you can grab any last-minute supplies (rain poncho, bag of fresh brazil nuts or a sack of potatoes, anyone?) for your jungle adventure.

Foodstuffs in the market at Puerto Maldonado - photo by E. Jurus
Foodstuffs in the market at Puerto Maldonado – photo by E. Jurus

 

Finally there’s an even shorter ride down to the edge of the Madre de Dios River for your 1-2 hour excursion up the murky river waters by motorized canoe to your jungle lodge.

Platform to board motorized canoes on the Madre de Dios River - photo by E. Jurus
Platform to board motorized canoes on the Madre de Dios River – photo by E. Jurus

 

I love all forms of transportation! Our tour of Peru and Bolivia featured many different kinds, and this excursion was one of my favourites.

Along the river you see shore birds, people who live in the jungle going into the city or returning home by small canoe, tiny huts snugged into the thick greenery, the odd abandoned canoe (leaky, one presumes), gold miners dredging in small barges, and a wall of vegetation all around you. No monkeys swinging from the trees, or humanoid creatures lurking in the waters (for all fans of old sci-fi B movies), unfortunately, but the trip is fascinating nonetheless.

The Amazon rainforest frames the river - photo by E. Jurus
The Amazon rainforest frames the river – photo by E. Jurus

 

Finally you arrive at your lodge, set into the lush jungle vegetation. You get off at a tiny pier and climb up steps to a raised walkway designed to accommodate the annual flooding in the Amazon Basin. This is your introduction to your home for the next part of your jungle adventure…but more on that in another post!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Threshold

 

Flying over the Amazon Basin - photo by E. Jurus
Flying over the Amazon Basin – photo by E. Jurus

This week I feel like I’m standing on a personal threshold – week 2 of my hubby’s post-hip surgery is a new page. He’s moving around very well, the incision is healing well, and he’s actually enjoying the use of his now pain-free hip joint. The surgery on the other hip doesn’t seem so intimidating now, and I can envision a day in a few months when he’ll be able to walk around with me once more as we adventure across the world. There may be a lot of problems to deal with in our modern society, but we are truly blessed in the medical field; just a few decades ago my hubby would have spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair instead of being able to walk around almost normally just a couple of weeks after having an artificial hip take over the duties. To anyone who’s going to have the surgery done, and to their loved ones, just hang in there – recovery proceeds amazingly quickly.

My response to the photo challenge, though, is a picture that has many threshold meanings for me: we’re coming in for a landing in the Amazon Jungle, watching muddy brown tributaries of one of the greatest water systems in the world snake through lush green foliage, about to adventure into the deep dark jungles of South America.

As we approached the airport in Puerto Maldonado, though, we could also see with our own eyes areas denuded of foliage, razed by clear-cutting. The average person might think, ‘So what, it will grow back’, but in the jungle things don’t grow back. The soil quality, ironically, is very poor, and is supported entirely by the decay of the vegetation and animal droppings. Once an area is clear-cut, it never recovers.

A clear-cut tract of Amazon rainforest near Puerto Maldonado - photo by E. Jurus
A clear-cut tract of Amazon rainforest near Puerto Maldonado – photo by E. Jurus

 

We are not heading for a global environmental disaster, we’re already in the midst of one. Headlines over the past year have been appalling:

Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate, to the point where polar bears are drowning because they can’t find ice floes close enough to swim to before they die of exhaustion. Arctic warming had a profound effect on this past winter in North America, forcing a polar vortex to remain in place over much of the continent for months.

  • Antarctic ice has been receding and breaking up for the past decade.
  • Clouds of dust from the Sahara are creating health issues in the UK.
  • Rapacious palm oil companies are destroying our rainforests, the lungs of our planet and the home of hundreds of animal species.
  • Not content with destroying the surface of our planet, industrialists are now digging the planet out from under us with new technology far more invasive than even traditional mining.

The list is long. As we boarded our motorized canoe at Puerto Maldonado and zipped up the Madre de Dios River to get to our lodge deep in the Tambopata Reserve, we passed several gold-mining barges. Amazon gold mining is incredibly destructive to the rainforest habitat and environment. The television program you may be enjoying on the History Channel is actually a heartbreaking showcase of man ravaging our planet. 

Amazon gold miners - photo by E. Jurus
Amazon gold miners – photo by E. Jurus

 

We spent two glorious days in the Amazon rainforest, enjoying the rich diversity and beauty of a resource that may not be around in our children’s generation. If you have any desire to see it, go now, while you still can.

The wonderful lush foliage of the Amazon rainforest - photo by E. Jurus
The wonderful lush foliage of the Amazon rainforest – photo by E. Jurus

 

Our planet exists as a single interconnected ecosystem, like our own bodies – a failure of one organ will have a cascade effect that threatens all the rest. The Amazon basin covers 2.1 million square miles, roughly two-thirds the size of the Sahara, which was itself once a forested area. What do you think will happen when the Amazon, the largest green lung and most diverse animal habitat on our planet, disappears?

We are on the threshold of complete disaster. Everyone needs to become proactive now to, quite literally, save our planet. Educate yourself about what’s happening, sign petitions, stop using products that are harmfully harvested or grown…if we don’t, our planet will likely be uninhabitable in less than 100 years.

The BBC website is a great place to start learning more.

 

A change of pace – literally

 

Post-surgery breakfast with accessories - photo by E. Jurus
Post-surgery breakfast with accessories – photo by E. Jurus

Life throws us a lot of curve balls. Even when we see them coming, though, we don’t always know how fast they’ll arrive, or how steep the curve will be.

Arthritis runs in my husband’s family, so it seemed inevitable that he would develop knee issues at some point. Perhaps as much as 15 years ago an orthopedic surgeon told him that at some point he’d need to have his knee joints replaced.

Yet it wasn’t a knee that he had replaced last week, but a hip. Both his hips have deteriorated to the point where there’s no cushioning at all, just bone grinding on bone.

This condition has been brewing for a couple of years, but it recently took over our lives practically overnight. One autumn we were hiking around Machu Picchu, and a few months later we seemed to have turned into our parents. Wasn’t really expecting that for another decade or so.

And so began the round of surgical appointments. What got us through the next few months was, ironically, that Mike was in so much pain trying to walk at all that he actually looked forward to the earliest possible surgical date.

We arrived at the hospital very early Wednesday morning and waited with the other hip and knee patients until the surgical floor opened for business. When the man at reception told us to head up, there was a communal chuckle at the eight people among us who shuffled slowly to the elevator.

The pre- and post-op care at Sunnybrook Holland Orthopedic Hospital in Toronto is exemplary. As nice and as dedicated as everyone was, though, we had trouble controlling our nerves waiting for Mike to be taken to the operating room – the anticipation leading up to the surgery was a killer. Everything went well, though, and Physio had Mike up and walking around the next day. On Saturday he was able to be discharged and we came home.

You think beforehand that the surgery itself will be the worst part. You don’t realize that post-surgery life is a bit like PTSD – there are lingering emotional after-effects. We’re both tired, over-reacting to highs and lows, and having trouble relaxing.

The first night back at home was rough, trying out various furniture configurations so that Mike could find a comfortable way to sleep (still one bad hip, plus a long and tender incision on the other side).

Every day is a learning experience as he shuffles around the house with two canes, struggles through his post-op exercises even though he’s tired, and uses a special gripping tool, like a virtual third hand, to change his clothes. He can’t prepare his own food because it’s too hard to carry dishes around while using his canes, so I make sure there’s always something on hand for him to eat when I go to work. There are dozens of little adjustments to make, and each day brings a few more.

It bothers me to see him hobble around. He gets frustrated when he has days that feel like setbacks. The light at the end of the tunnel is a pain-free hip in a few weeks, but the second surgery will follow after that, so we have a long road ahead for which we have to maintain our strength.

Our life has changed in myriad ways, but we count ourselves lucky to be able to rely on each other, and to have been able to accomplish so much on our bucket lists so far, and we work on being resilient through the next chapter. We look forward to doing more travelling, even if it might be more restricted than it has been. I’ve found over the years that bucket lists have to be flexible, and right now we’re focussed on wellness, so I’m planning activities that involve a mental escape from the day-to-day grind of coping with this latest challenge. Life goes on…

My two biggest pieces of advice for anyone still hale and healthy are: 1) Take care of your body. Whatever you do to it when you’re younger will come back to haunt you. 2) Live life to the fullest while you can. You never know what lies down the road.