Rainforests — Rescue Me!

You know you’re having a true jungle moment when a monkey sits on your head.

P_B2 074Maria the spider monkey (names have been changed to protect the innocent) loves to steal visitors’ plastic water bottles. She lives on Monkey Island, a sanctuary in the Madre de Dios river in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. She is an inquisitive and agile monkey.

Our group was gathered around a feeding platform as Maria eyed us all curiously and our guide talked about rescuing Amazonian primates from the pet trade. I was leaning casually near the small plank scattered with food bits while Maria played with a plastic bottle, when unexpectedly she scampered across the plank and decided that my head would make a good perch. In a flash my vision was blocked by black fur, and a long, very strong tail wrapped snugly around my neck – so snugly, in fact, that I had to wedge a finger between her tail and my skin to be able to breathe. I could hear cameras going off all around me.

Well, like I always say, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a monkey’s butt on the top of your head. After a few minutes on my head, Maria decided she needed a different viewpoint and climbed onto someone else’s hair.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience. And in a few decades, a never-in-anyone’s lifetime experience. Our rain forests are being deforested at such an alarming rate and so many species are dying out completely that nations around the world have declared an international Climate Emergency.

P_B1 2659
Coming in for a landing into Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon, it wasn’t hard to spot the scars of clear-cutting.

It’s making the news in a big way now. You may have been seeing some of the headlines, such as Nature crisis: Humans ‘threaten 1m species with extinction’.

According to Rainforest Rescue, we are, on average, losing an appalling 150 species each and every day! If you were to think of that in terms of ‘man’s best friend’, dogs, that would be roughly the equivalent of every single dog on the planet being wiped out in three days.

When I was a child, I mourned the loss of famously extinct species like the Passenger Pigeon and the Dodo bird, which I would never see because of the stupidity of earlier humans who didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing. You’d think that, as we evolve as a society, we’d have learned something.

Every species on this planet is critical to the ecosystem that it lives in as well as our global ecosystem. The disappearance of these thousands of species will have an impact that continues well into the future.

Animal species also help keep our plants alive by pollination, dropping fruit pits to germinate in new areas, and transporting seeds in their fur. Without this continuous regenerative cycle, we are doomed.

Rain forests are majestic and magical places. Ancient remedies climb over each other in the undergrowth, bananas and mangoes grow wild, tree trunks transmit sound so far that local people use them as geolocators. To walk through the forest is to immerse yourself in the lungs of our planet as they breathe and pulse around you. I’ll let some of my photos speak for themselves.

P_B2 412
A butterfly investigates my husband’s hiking boot.
P_B1 2835
The rain forest embraces our Amazonian jungle lodge.
P_B1 2893
Let’s play ‘Spot the parrot’!
P_B1 2885
Lush wild banana trees

Rain forests are in severe danger, as are all of their inhabitants, from millions of plants, animals and insects to the many tribes who’ve called the forests home for centuries. We have no right to take that gift of life away from them.

You can help. You can visit these incredible treasures to understand what they mean to the world ecosystem, and to all your children who’ll have to cope with the wreck we are making of this planet, and you can sign petitions to pressure governments to stop mining interests and rapacious developers.

P_B2 594
Local people as well as corporations destroy riverine habitats through indiscriminate mining

Petitions work. One such petition needs 200,000 signatures quickly: “UNESCO World Heritage: tell the palm oil barons to back off!” All it takes is a few moments of your time to make a difference. The, maybe one day in the future, your children will be able to find their own wild and incorrigible Maria monkey to have a close encounter with.

 

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.

 

For the love of flying

Flying over the Amazon river basin
Flying over the Amazon river basin – photo by E Jurus

I collect airports. Not as in so-rich-I-can-buy-them, but as in so many strange adventures in them. My first-ever jet flight was to California to visit friends, who arranged for us to take a side trip to Las Vegas, so buy the time we returned home I was a veteran of 6 different plane trips. It didn’t take me long to discover that I love flying. I’ve always been intrigued by airplanes – the magic of how these huge machines can get in the air, and the speed of takeoff. When I was 16 I cadged a ride on a small prop plane – a 4-seater twin-engine Cessna. A Hamilton company had brought several of their small  planes to a local air show for display, and I was there working in a Kiwanis food booth. I found a kindred spirit in one of my co-workers, and because our booth was the farthest out and had little business, we had some time to check out the planes. The organizers closed our booth for the Sunday of the air show, but we still had our passes to get in, so we both returned on Sunday and chatted up some of the pilots for the aircraft company, who offered to let us fly with them to Hamilton and back as they returned all the small planes to their home base. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever done to that point. We even got to help pull the planes from the grass to the airstrip – we felt very cool! That adventure stayed with me for many years, and was perhaps my real introduction to making my bucket list dreams come true (although the ‘bucket list’ concept wouldn’t make an appearance for another 34 years. After our trip to California, the next flying adventure that my hubby and I shared was on our honeymoon, and that really was an adventure. We flew the now-defunct Eastern Airlines from Buffalo to Puerto Rico, where we had a connecting flight on another now-defunct airline, Prinair. Prinair was a small island-hopper service that at the time was the main access to the Caribbean islands. The flight to Puerto Rico was fine, but as we waited in line to board the final leg from there to St. Thomas, we could hear a businessman behind us talking about how many times Prinair had crashed in the ocean. When we boarded the plane, a small 18-seater with just 2 rows, we both noticed that the door to the cockpit was shaped a fair bit like a casket. After everyone was aboard, our pilot seemed to be channeling Mario Andretti – he taxied to the main runway, we’re guessing looked both ways quickly, gunned the engines, turned onto the runway and lifted off without any preamble. By now we’d started to laugh hysterically. I became quiet, though, when partway into the flight I looked out at the wing on my side and noticed that not only were all the bolts in the housing rattling around but some were missing entirely. My newly-pronounced hubby noticed my lack of conversation and finally coaxed out what was bothering me. He tried to reassure me, but we were both intensely relieved when we started our approach to St. Thomas. Great view out the window of the magnificent blue-green waters surrounding the island, but because St. Thomas is essentially just a mountain in the Caribbean, like a slightly melted giant chocolate chip, the plane then had to land quickly and jam on the brakes before we drove into the mountainside. I came very close to kissing the ground when we disembarked. Since then we’ve had all kinds of interesting departures and landings around the world. We probably had the most concentrated amount of fun when we visited Southeast Asia in 1994. Our first stop was Hong Kong when the original airport was still in use. The landings at Kai Tak were also onto short runways, so jumbo jets had to skate in just over the roof tops  – we could wave to people hanging out their laundry – before touching down and jamming on the brakes. Leaving from there to Bangkok was equally entertaining: we walked out of the hangar to board a shuttle bus, which then proceeded to drive around for 45 minutes looking for our plane amongst a bunch of airplanes parked together like cars. The driver would pull up to an aircraft, look at the number on it, shake his head and move on. We started laughing hysterically for that one too. On our approach to Singapore, in the ‘welcome’ announcements by the flight attendant, she finished off by telling us that in Singapore the penalty for smuggling drugs is Death. Alrighty then! We didn’t see anyone make a mad dash to the washroom before landing though. Our landing in Jogjakarta was the most fun of all. There was a single runway that we rolled up and down along like a low-level rollercoaster. The arrivals building was essentially a large shed with a rectangular hole in the wall, through which the baggage handlers tossed luggage onto about a 6-ft long belt that spit the suitcases off onto the floor where we were all standing around waiting. Thank goodness all our souvenirs were well wrapped!

A real African adventure: taking a small bush plane to a fly-in camp in the Okavango Delta - photo by E Jurus
A real African adventure: taking a small bush plane to a fly-in camp in the Okavango Delta – photo by E Jurus

Africa has long been a challenge – flights funnel into just a handful of main hubs. For our first safari, to Botswana in 2007, we spent about 2 days getting there, with an 11-hour layover in London, England before a 10-hour flight to Johannesburg and then a 2-hour flight to Maun in Botswana. From there it turned into a real African adventure as we boarded small bush-planes to reach our first 2 safari camps in the Okavango Delta, which could only be reached by air. The bush planes chug along at about 1,000 feet, sometimes feeling like they aren’t moving at all, but you can watch the African landscape unfold below you as you go, sometimes catching glimpses of elephants or giraffes for your first introduction to the wonderful wildlife you’ll soon be getting much closer to. When Mike and I planned that safari, we originally wanted to visit Botswana and Tanzania, but it was next to impossible to travel between the 2 countries without a great deal of complicated maneuvering as well as lots of extra time and/or money. Now, however, a low-cost carrier based in Tanzania, fastjet, is introducing ‘international’ flights to several other countries in Africa. This is momentous news in the world of safari planning because people will finally be able to get from southern Africa to eastern Africa relatively easily. Visitors will be able to fly between Dar es Salaam and either Johannesburg in South Africa or Lusaka in Zambia for fares are expected to start at only around $100US, opening  up lots of new options for safari enthusiasts. Guess that means Mike and I will just have to go back to Africa once again to check them out!