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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Bits & Pieces from the Amazon

Tuesday, March 26, 6:34 PM

Left Guanay this morning around 8:30 and boarded a boat that will be taking us down offshoots of the Amazon River and all the way to Asuncion de Quiquibey, the rural homestay where we will be staying with host families, all over the course of 3 days. The views here of the mountains, the dense green jungle below them, the clouds seem to glow inside-out all white and yellow – they keep taking my breath away. I love our campsite tonight, a small oval-shaped sandy shore, trees lining the red-rock cliffs on the opposite side of the river, the rush of the current going by. Right now, in the dying light of early evening, I hear and see the life throbbing in all of us – people are playing Frisbee, eating coconut, doing yoga, juggling, journaling, laughing.

Best memory of the day: Sitting front row in our narrow boat, sharing crackers dipped in melted chocolate and shouting as the water lapped over the sides and splashed us.

New experience of the day: Tasting motacu for the first time by the side of a deafening waterfall. Motacu, I found out, is an orange fruit with a tough peel that fits perfectly in the palm of a hand. It had the texture of a squash, but the flavor reminded me of avocado.

Thursday, March 28, 8:29 PM

How can there be so many kinds of trees in one place? This morning, among the hum of insects and the four-note calls of birds, I listened to Don Ramon as he told us about species after species: slender-limbed garlic trees with whitish inner bark; trees that yield poisonous sap that fishermen harvest to sedate the fish; trees that, when hit with the flat of a machete, make a sound that can be heard from 100 meters away; trees that grow their roots above ground, roots that ″walk″ toward wherever sunlight filters through the forest cover. I tried to imagine it: how, inch by inch, the tree would feel its way towards warmth.

Best memory of the day: Watching the Milky Way come out in an outpouring of silver after arriving here in Quiquibey – laying out on the grassy soccer field, willing shooting stars to appear

New experience of the day: Listening to the call of a solitary bird before whistling back – the feeling of having a conversation with a song

Sunday, March 31, 11:04 PM

The last few days have been a whirlwind – community barbeques and soccer games and hikes and harvests – but right now, all I can think about is the water I was just on, the sky I was just under. A group of students, two instructors, and Hogan, the man hosting my tent group in his house, just returned from a nighttime excursion to look for caimans in the underbrush of the river shore. I would have been content if we had seen nothing at all – it felt like magic, the open sky, the wind cool & sweet on our faces, the way the darkness would sometimes be illuminated by lightning. But after about 20 minutes, we paused on the slow-moving current and saw, in full view, a gray & green caiman shift its way out of the shadows and slide into the water, its tail leaving an S-shape in the sand. Later, we spotted a flash of red deeper in the trees – it was the reflection of the eyes of something Hogan called a tigrecito, some species of wild cat. We watched, breathless, as it slinked through the shadows and eventually disappeared, like it knew we were watching, like it knew it was something precious.

Best memory of the day: Hugging a 95 y/o mapaho (?) tree in the middle of the jungle, listening to the legends of the spirits that inhabited it

New experience of the day: Mashing plantain with a mortar and pestle with Yolanda and Hogan to make our dinner, discussing soccer in hesitant Spanish – every time they laughed at a joke I made, it felt like a small victory