Running the Amazon River with Rick

May 24, 2002

The Obsidians and many guests were treated to a good sample of Rick Ahrens’ wide ranging naturalist perspective. Last June, as part of a more extended trip to Peru, Rick (in a tour group of 12) boated down about 100 miles of the upper reaches of the Amazon River. They put in at Iquitos (about 600 air miles northeast of the capital city of Lima and 200 miles south of the equator). Travel along the Amazon is primarily by either boat or plane; roads are impractical because variations in river level of 30 feet occur (hence a rather “fluid” lifestyle is required of the natives along the river).

Because of the proximity to the equator, the 80 inches of rainfall is non seasonal and the day and night-time hours remain about equal all year. Rick’s detailed description of the flora and fauna revealed dramatic differences from a typical Oregon forest. One unfortunate common feature, however, are narrow strips of forest along the river bank that hide a denuded forest beyond.

The diversity of plant and animal species in the Amazon basin (mostly in Brazil) is unique, with about half of all the world’s species! There are about 1400 species of birds (300 of hummingbirds alone), 2400 of fish and 4000 plant alkaloids. The June 1 Register-Guard reported the discovery of a new parrot species in the southern Amazon!

The forest floor is very low in nutrients; the latter is supplied by the natural recycling of decomposed forest litter (a fallen tree can be greatly decomposed in just one year). Only 1–2 percent of solar radiation reaches the ground through the dense forest (making it difficult to observe and to take photographs of the wildlife). Surprisingly, however, the biomass of a typical Oregon old growth forest is greater.

There are many improved trails and even an elevated walk in the forest canopy. Overnight stays were in riverside “lodges” that are a bit spartan, but tolerable (if you don’t mind an occasional frog in the privy) and the food was good (including piranha — whose ferocity Rick finds has been exaggerated). Rick recommends the Explorama Tour Co. that arranged the trip, and suggests reading the book “A Neotropical Companion” by John Kricher.

Bep Fontana

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