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(No hairy spiders in this post.)

Industrious Ants

There are a couple of other critter characters we’d like to introduce you to that we met in South America. The first is the leafcutter ant. According to Wikipedia (so you know it’s true), leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on earth next to humans. Another article on Mother Nature Network explains how scientists are even studying these ants to find solutions to complicated people problems like finding new forms of clean energy.

I was fascinated hypnotized by the ants because they were just so darn productive. Check out this video of the industrious little suckers:

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We first ran into leafcutter ants in Paraty, Brazil. Simon, the owner of our pousada, told us when a colony decides to goes after a particular tree that tree is toast. We saw them again in Rio and followed them up a street and all the way around a corner to a park where they disappeared behind a fence. I shot footage of the ants in this video both in the Amazon and at Tayrona National Park in Columbia. In Tayrona, colonies of these ants striped the jungle trail to the beach. As we hiked along, whoever was in front would yell back, “Ants!” as a warning for the other not to step on our friends.

Big-Beaked Bird with an Even Bigger Personality

We met our share of birds in South America. (Remember Tina, the macaw parrot that lived at the guesthouse in Buenos Aires?) Juanito, the toucan who lived at Otorongo Expeditions’ lodge in the Amazon, just cemented our impression that many birds have big personalities.

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When I brought the camera out, Juanito was mostly subdude. But I was able to capture a few moments where he chased the staff around the property. My favorite Juanito staple though was when he would hop up the stairs to the lodge common room and stare at us through the screen and attempt to peck his way in while we were having breakfast. He had an entitled determination that didn’t quite fit his small stature but was pure comedy.

~ Molly

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Ok, I have to admit this post is mostly another attempt to share with you how cool it was to ride around all day on a boat in the Amazon. On the day that we went to go visit the big ceiba tree, we took the boat into the thick of the jungle to get to the right spot. It was very Indiana Jones.

Our guide Osmar explained that the changing levels of the Amazon River during the dry and wet seasons can create and destroy islands. The place where the big tree stood would soon become harder to access because of the falling water levels. You can see in the video and some of our pictures how high the water line used to be just a few weeks before we arrived.

The tree itself was probably one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in real life. But since its wood is good for boats, this species often fall to loggers. Otorongo Expeditions along with a nearby village worked to protect this one, which already had one scar from a logging attempt.

Osmar was also nice enough to climb high into the big tree to provide this wonderful perspective shot that shows just how big the big tree really is.

Oh and on the way back from our big tree visit, Nellu got the opportunity to play Tarzan.

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~ Molly

When we first started to plan our South American trip, we talked about going to the Brazilian Amazon and taking a boat down the river for several days. It was one adventure I was really looking forward to. But as we got further into the planning, it looked as if it would be too expensive to get there. I was disappointed. You can’t go to South America and not go to the Amazon.

But thankfully, another solution emerged. Lonely Planet highlighted a city on the other end of the Amazon River (the Peruvian side) as one of their top cities to visit in 2011 – Iquitos. And we’d be able to use our existing flight plan to get there. Perfect. But as we got to planning our visit to Iquitos, we realized the city itself needed to be just a jumping off point for an expedition into the jungle. (We really didn’t think it was wise to go roaming around by ourselves.)

For those of you who’ve never been to Iquitos, this video pretty much sums up the tone of the city.

We did some more research and found Otorongo Expeditions to take us out into the Amazon. We were a little beat up coming off our Incan Trail adventure. (Nellu had actually gotten sick a day after I did. I think it may have had something to do with the chicha but he’s adamant it didn’t.) So the idea of heading back out into the wild for another 5 days without electricity seemed ill-timed. But our first introduction to this whole scheme was an exhilarating 2.5 hour boat ride down the Amazon. This is what we came here for!

Compared to high-altitude hiking and camping, a few days at Otorongo’s lodge was pure simple luxury. We had a bed and a shower. Yeah, it wasn’t hot shower but tales of its coldness were greatly exaggerated.

And then there was the hammock room. We’d take our after-lunch siesta in the hammock room. We fell so dead asleep one time that Nellu was snoring (which he never does) and our guide Osmar had to come find us and wake us for our afternoon adventure.

The hammock room                       Photo by Nellu

Interestingly, there was a study that came out recently that highlighted the benefits of sleeping in a hammock. We actually left the lodge quite rested.

On some of our outings, we hiked through the rainforest but we spent most of our time on a boat on the Amazon River looking for wildlife. I couldn’t get enough.

And then we went looking for Amazon River dolphins! There are two kinds: the gray ones that look like smaller versions of marine dolphins and the pink ones which are larger with a much longer beak and harder to capture on camera. Here’s the best of what I did catch:

“I just love being on the water.” I must have that said ten times a day when we were in the Amazon…maybe more. I definitely said it enough to elicit the response from Nellu, “I know. You keep telling me.”

More being-on-the-water footage to follow.

~ Molly

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