Waking at six a.m. on the last day of our trip into the Amazon River basin and the Peruvian rainforest was both exciting and sad. My wife and I jumped out of bed and ran to the board ramps for the skiffs to begin our last expedition of the trip. We didn’t want it to end, but knew that we needed to drink in the world around us one last time. We and 25 other passengers had spent 8 days aboard a small river boat to search out and witness life and biodiversity in this amazing place. Our expectations had not only been surpassed, but they were blown out of the water. The sounds of the rainforest are incredible. I relish the scents, the sounds, the feeling…a remarkable experience. Each day, we spent 6-8 hours in skiffs, riding through the estuaries and tributaries, walking through the rainforest, and watching for signs of prey and predator alike. My mind ran through the myriad experiences we had and what this rainforest, and others like it, represent to the world.
The rainforests of the Amazon River basin, covering 9 countries, produce 15% of the world’s oxygen—second only to the oceans of the world. It also represents one-third of the remaining forests of the world. Oh, and let’s not forget the biodiversity. One-fifth of all the birds in the world and 2500 species of reptiles find a home in the rainforests of the Amazon River basin. Too, the river itself supports over 2500 species of fish. Can you imagine? A study done in 2001 measured a 1 square kilometer area of the rainforest and found 1000 separate types of trees. I couldn’t believe that I was there, witnessing this abundance of life and biodiversity.
And of course, there is the Amazon River itself. The Amazon River is nearly 4,000 miles long, stretching from its beginning—60 miles east of the Pacific Ocean in the Peruvian Andes—and emptying into the Atlantic. One day of water passing through the Amazon would meet the needs of the entire state of New
York for a full year! Truly amazing!
But it doesn’t stop with wildlife biodiversity. The river and forest people are wonderful. They are physically beautiful and friendly, nearly naïve in the way they accept outsiders. They are extraordinarily resourceful, using the land, its biodiversity, its wildlife, and the water to live, to eat, and to thrive. From the palm wood to build their homes, to the fish and animals to eat, these people owe their lives to Mother Earth or Pachamama, as the Incas say. The government of Peru invests in the education of its people, including the river and forest people. Every small village has a state-funded school to educate the children through eighth grade. In fact, the literacy of the river and forest people is nearly 98%. If they wish to continue their education, they must travel to and stay in a city with a high school. Yet, many do, seeking more education and more opportunities for prosperity. As their knowledge of the world grows, their own desires change, encouraging them to look for more opportunity. More than anything, the people of Peru are its greatest resource.