You walk between tall columns of giant gray trees, dappled with innumerable shades of green. You taste the
oxygen-rich air, heavy with moisture. It imbues you with an inexplicable euphoria. You wander on as though in
Strange fragrances waft among the compost odor of decaying vegetation. All around, vegetation of incredible
lushness spills upon, over and under itself. Vines and lianas cavort, twist and tumble in every direction.
A spot of color might be a flower... then it moves and turns out to be a butterfly. The cicadas' tinny whine
pervades the forest, but the sound stops respectfully as you walk close. The insects' instinct for life is
strongthey don't know who you are.
An alien cooing spreads through the forest. Luckily your naturalist-guide is an expert on the local wildlife,
so he identifies the strange sound as a bird called the Screaming Pihathe names of animals are as weird as
You kneel down to peel off the top layer of damp leaves covering the hard clay soil. Countless scurrying motes
of life incessantly move toward their inscrutable destinations. Between and within the papery leaves are
masses of tiny white threads tendrils of fungi seeking sustenance from the dead. Yet they are part of life,
unlocking vital nutrients once held by the living plant, freeing them for re-use. Just a few inches away
sprouts a seed. Its roots already push down through the leaf litter. Its small soft leaves reach up toward the
Where are you? Here in the Amazon, on the banks of the world's biggest river. You're surrounded by endless
tracts of tropical rainforest: green in overwhelming abundanceone of the world's biodiversity hotspots -
home to more types of plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth.
But what does the Amazon mean to you? Peter Benchley's sensationalist TV series? A mysterious wilderness full
of weird animals, yucky bugs and strange people? Until you've been there, preconceptions are mere illusions.
Over the past ten years I've been lucky enough to visit the Amazon many times. I've sailed along the full
length of the river twice, and led 25 separate natural history and photography tours. Such was my experience,
I was inspired to write a booka travel guide to the Amazon (The Amazon: The Bradt Travel Guide, published
1998, second edition 2003).
Yet, even now, having been there so often and encountered so many bizarre creatures with a biologist's
perspectivethe Amazon's mystery remainsperhaps because it is ultimately indescribable. Nature's truth
cannot be conveyed, only sensed and then fleetingly. Seeing it on TV, even in the best nature documentaries,
offers but a glimpse of a greater whole.
So you walk on, along the muddy trail. You observe more closely, trying to take it all inbut it is endless
a surfeit of sensory input. The beauties and intricacies of the forest are infinite. How unjust, how cruel,
that we humans should find reasons to pillage this treasury of life. Yet it remains intact in many parts.
In the Amazon you still find adventure and excitement in abundance, especially for our technologically jaded
senses. In the words of Francisco Grippa, a well-known artist living in Pevas, Peru, "The forest, the river,
the wildlife, the people, they are my inspirationthey are my life." Let the Amazon into your life and visit
there while you still have the chance.