Amazing times in the Amazon

The picturesque Amazon – Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Thorpe

Western media outlets in the U.S. had us convinced that we would be a part of the Zika epidemic if we visited any of the countries that were at high-risk of the virus. But we willingly signed up knowing the danger we were about to throw ourselves into. We were ready to experience the opportunities Brazil had to offer, and we did not want to miss out.

Our explorations to unknown lands began with creatures and climates we were not used to. Walking under a moving shower might have been easier and more refreshing than trekking through the humid atmosphere of the Amazon in Brazil. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts were advised as a preventative measure for minimal mosquito bites, and this was our only defense against the aforementioned Zika virus.

However, senior Trent Saiget’s decision to explore the region of Manaus in the Amazon was not altered whatsoever by the fear of diseases.

“If I live my life in fear of what could or could not have happened it might stop me from doing things I otherwise would not do,” Saiget said. “The Amazon feels like another world. I felt completely immersed in an environment that I knew nothing about. The feeling you get cutting through the forest with a machete in one hand and your GoPro in the other with beads of sweat precipitating and dripping down your body makes you feel like a complete foreigner.”

Our Semester at Sea itinerary for Brazil consisted of taking a riverboat through the Amazon to where the waters of the Negro River and Solimões River meet to form the Amazon. The riverboat had two levels with the top deck containing 40 hammocks hanging in rows from the top roof of the boat. As we approached the two bodies of water, we could distinctly see the line from the difference in water color and consistency between the two rivers and the many luscious, green Amazonian islands in the surrounding locations.

With the help of the local Brazilian guides, our first evening consisted of piranha fishing in a canoe of 12 people, in which I proudly caught two piranhas on my bamboo fishing rod. We continued our adventures with crocodile hunting as the sun dipped into the calm water illuminating the sky with a cotton candy colored sunset. Our night concluded with a remarkably clear view of a pitch-black sky lit with thousands of bright stars as we laid on our backs and listened to the soothing tunes of The Lumineers. The night was a surreal stargaze as we examined the constellations of South America, catching glimpses of lightning storms in the distance and overlooking the dark, glassy river of the Amazon.

The next morning, we woke up from a long night’s sleep in our hammocks with a view of the sunrise and rich-colored green leaves from the island of trees in the jungle. The same customary dish of rice, noodles, chicken, potatoes, and coffee were served by the members of the riverboat staff, fueling us with energy for our hour-long trek through the humid Amazonian jungle. The humidity of the jungle was unlike any type of muggy weather a majority of us have ever experienced. The combination of the sweat profusely excreting from our pores and the DEET bug spray we lathered on our skins made for a smelly and memorable walk through the sticky atmosphere.

“I don’t think I was as prepared as I could have been,” Saiget said. “If you ever visit the Amazon, just know you will sweat from places you did not know existed.”

Later we visited the Acajatuba Village of Manaus, where we played several soccer games with the local adults and children. We interacted with the locals through nonverbal communication as a result of the Portuguese language barrier and enjoyed the joyful attitudes of this small community that was very welcoming to the members of our Semester at Sea (SAS) program.

Junior Elizabeth Thompson shared that she was surprised by the number of people who lived in the Amazonian village.

“I didn’t realize we would be visiting this particular community, and I was surprised by how established and self-sufficient they were,” Thompson said. “The guides who led us throughout our riverboat trip seemed so proud of where they came from. They seemed eager to take us on a jungle trek and show us the different plants and animals within the Amazon. It was cool for them to share their culture with us, and the little kids were so excited to play soccer with us too.”

Our last day consisted of swimming beside the famous Amazonian pink dolphin whose rubber skin felt unfamiliar against our wet fingers and pointed snout aggressively snapped for the fish in our tour guide’s hand. The trip back to land with the cool breeze, the sway of the boat on the water, and the gorgeous sight of the Amazonian lands provided a soothing and reflective boat ride home as we swayed in our comfy hammocks. We might have been apprehensive in the beginning of the voyage about traveling to places where we could contract the virus, but we did not let that dissuade us from exploring the Amazon. Although we may not have been hit with Zika or malaria, some SASers experienced a severe case of diarrhea and vomiting, more commonly known on the ship as D&V.

Saiget reflected on these memorable and hysterical few days in the Brazilian Amazon.

“There is something to be said about traveling down the Amazon River under a dark sky illuminated with thousands of stars, sleeping in hammocks next to 39 other students who you don’t really know,” Saiget said. “It was an incredible bonding experience. Whether it is sleeping five inches away from someone’s face or eating the same local delicacies for every meal or experiencing the pain of D&V with one working bathroom, you definitely come out better friends than when you went in.”

Despite the absurd amount of SASers who were hit with the plague of D&V, the high and low lights of the trip will make for an enticing story to share in the future. A story that might just cause an explosive reaction.

Written by Tayler RV, Staff Writer