In the Jungle:
Hiking the Amazon Rainforest
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
On Tuesday, we got up at 5:45 am in order to be ready for an early 6:15 am breakfast.
Finally we had a chance to take in our spectacular surroundings at daylight.
Our bedrooms; during the day, the mosquito nets are folded up.
Path connecting the sleeping quarters with the lodge.
The dining area...
... and gift store.
Gas lamps are placed strategically along the pathways and in open window frames.
Before heading off into the jungle, we filled up our Camelback water supply and put on rubber boots (here also called gum boots).
Fernando guided our group of 7 exploring some of the many miles of jungle trails that criss-cross the dense rainforest.
We saw Saddleback Tamarins, a small monkey high in the trees, as well as a Dusky Titi Monkey, a similar small new world monkey.
The Amazon is the most biodiverse place on Earth. During our hike through virgin forest we experienced the wealth of native flora and fauna under the rainforest canopy, and learned about the incredible array of medicinal plants that are found in this region and how the indigenous people thrive in this challenging environment.
and Gisela in explorer gear...
Fernando explained, among many other things, the workings of leaf-cutter ants and how the locals harvest the Brazil nuts.
Amazing Leaf-cutter Ants - The world's first farmers and pharmacists
Established colonies have as many as five to 10 million ants in up to seven different job categories. Different-sized animals do different tasks. The queen, far larger than the others, can lay up to 50 million eggs over a lifetime. Soldiers protect the nest; Leaf cutters gather, cut and carry sections of leaves to the colony where other ant chew up the leaves and integrate them into a fungus garden, which then becomes both their only food source and their living space. Even smaller workers groom, clean and prune the fungus garden. Another specialized group of ants, the trash workers, carry the old garden material and put it in specialized refuse dumps. Both ants and fungus rely on each other, and there is a another "player" crucial for this symbiosis: Bacteria found on the bodies of the ants produce antibiotics that help maintain the health of the fungus garden. Over the years, these bacteria appear to have evolved new antibiotics to keep the gardens healthy.
"Anyone who has ever come across a trail of ants cutting leaves and watched that trail run through the forest can recognize how charismatic [they are], and what kind of large impact they have on the tropical ecosystems in which they occur," says bacteriologist Cameron Currie.
Source: National Science Foundation
"Workers" cut and carry sections of leaves larger than their own bodies up to one kilometer through the rainforest to their colony.
We also observed army ants and the poisonous bullet ant.
After two hours, we arrived at Lake Condenado, a small lake which is a remnant of the meandering Amazon river.
We boarded a canoe to explore the shoreline, discovering a...
No, it was a (well-camouflaged) large black caiman, an endangered species!
We also observed bats...
the majestic King Fisher....
as well as other birds
and many colorful butterflies and insects.
As we continued our hike through the jungle, we saw walking palm trees (which can "walk" several centimeters a year by putting down shoots and pulling themselves along toward water or light.), huge buttresses...
and attempted to climb lianes...
More than once we were glad to have rubber boots!
The girls are watching as Fernando tries to "provoke" a tarantula to show herself.
This amazing tower was built by a single cicada. They dig deep tunnels into the ground to pupate, the tower results from all the residual dirt and protects their tunnel.
Back at the lodge, a beef and rice lunch was served. We had about an hour for a short siesta before our next scheduled activity.
The second story of the lodge offered everything you could wish for to relax - hammocks, couches, a library, some board games...
In the afternoon, we were offered a chance to climb a 100 feet high tree. Both girls were excited, and Alexandra made it up the ropes, like a caterpillar, in only six minutes and 17 seconds, setting the day’s record.
The goal was to reach the platform high in the canopy from which a spectacular view could be enjoyed.
While Heiko took a copious amount of pictures (and Gisela was scared to death for the girls) the weather changed rather quickly and for safety reasons the experience got cut off short.
Sophia was very disappointed that she did not get her chance!
which is not as easy as you may think, even with a large machete!
Overhead, oropendulas were flying in and out of their hanging nests.
Heiko used the remaining afternoon to take pictures of hummingbirds which were feeding on two bushes next to the kitchen of the lodge.
Before dinner was served, Gisela, Alexandra and Sophia played cards (Cheat) with some of our fellow travelers, and Carlos surprised us with a birthday cake for Heiko...
Sophia and Heiko went to bed early, but only after observing bats which lived in the walls between our rooms. Heiko’s theory was that the tourists attracted huge numbers of mosquitoes—especially after staying a while in the lodge with little running water and bio soap—and then the bats were feeding on these insects by just circling around the lodge....