River and Rainforest

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
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Trip End Jul 23, 2003


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Sunday, March 30, 2003

After the forest, the river was one of the most prominent features of life at Bahuaja, with it providing the water we needed for the kitchen etc, a place to wash and cool down, and it was the way we got anywhere else and how we got our supplies and mail. It wasn't exactly a crystal clear river, with it having so much stuff suspended in it that you couldn't see your hand a centimetre below the surface, but it still beautiful and moody too. The first day saw it almost result in us leaving the camp with the water levels racing up and up the bank until it almost came to the level the camp was on, but they abated after reaching a couple of steps from the top of the bank. Downstream wasn't so lucky with many houses being destroyed.

The river had many different faces, from the gentle colours at dawn with the birds just waking up too, to the darkness of a storm approaching down the river, and the many stages inbetween. There were also the many strengths with rushing currents at its peak, such that you could swim against them and basically end up going backwards, to the gentle swirls in little protected coves, to the disappearance of your leg into the soft mud. The staff tried to convince us that there was a beach with solid sand and rocks and stuff that you could sit on but we had trouble believing that given the river we got to see. We did get to stub our toes on rocks every now and then when the river dropped for a few days, but most of the time there was just a lot of mud. The mud itself caused some interesting moments, including getting stuck in the mud, mud fights, mud packs beauty treatments for the boys, mudslides and the boat getting stuck in the mud as the river level dropped rapidly. One Saturday saw everyone down on the beach getting completely soaked and covered in mud, with entire buckets of mud getting poured over people if they had their back turned in the wrong direction. A little messy, but you just jumped in the water, got clean and then tried to get revenge! A fun afternoon.

Quite often we'd end up going down to the river to cool down after a tromp through the jungle, or just for a wash (wouldn't say clean is an entirely appropriate term as you couldn't escape the mud) and it would end up being quite a communal event with lots of people down there together. It could be quite a relief to get into the cool water after a hot morning in the humid jungle, especially when you're waiting for that storm to come and break the heat. One day saw nearly everyone down on the beach watching a great storm come rolling down the river. The clouds gave a great contrast to the forest, and as the rain headed towards us we could see the front heading down the river and could count it down until it hit - at which time we did a bolt back to the comedor before we got completely soaked, as when it rains in the rainforest, it really rains. A few times we stood on the river bank looking up river having a discussion about whether it was the clouds or the Andes that we could see. After the 'clouds' didn't move for quite a while it was concluded that it was actually the Andes that we were seeing, although some people took a little bit of convincing, mostly because you couldn't always see the mountains. We got a much better look at the Andes when we had a trip upriver to the reserve proper - no mistaking it for clouds then.

Our life really centred around the forest though. Living in it meant it was one of those things that you can't escape, not that I wanted to because it's a stunning place to be. You can go for a walk into the forest and you are bound to see something that you never noticed before. There's so much out there that you just can't take it all in with a single quick trip through it. There are of course all the huge trees that you have to look up to, and the smaller trees struggling to make it up higher to the light, the mosses, epiphytes, ferns, flowers, fallen wood and ground cover and so much more. Each level of the forest is different from the one before or after it, and supports it's own little network of life. I could happily walk around the forest just spending the time looking at the plants, and spent several days doing just that and taking photos - doesn't mean that I actually know what most of the plants were, but they were pretty cool just to look at how they all fit in together. Getting out into the forest was great, and the walks where you could go at your own pace and just look at stuff were some of the most enjoyable ones, rather than just walking to get somewhere.

Jose was one of the local guys who stayed on with us once the PhD student he was working with left. Watching him moving around the forest, you saw someone who was much more at home in the jungle than we'd ever be. He'd be up the trees without all the ropes and equipment we used, and much quicker too. He'd wield a machete with more ease and accuracy than we did - the twirling of two machetes on the river bank, and running down the gallery (a 20m near vertical drop) with three machetes in hand showed his level of comfort with the machetes in hand. The gallery was slippery enough just walking down, without running, but he did it was fewer slips than we made.

In the end the jungle became home for a time, with all its good and bad points, and when it came time to leave, there were a few sad backward looks, until Bahuaja faded from sight to become just a wonderful set of memories. The jungle is an incredible place, and if you get a chance to go there, take it and walk around with your eyes wide open to take in all that you can. I'd happily go back there again if I can, but we'll have to wait and see what the future brings in that respect.
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