The Amazon Rainforest is the most ecologically diverse place on the planet. More animals, plants, and insects live there than anywhere else in the world. It is the largest rainforest and the greatest source of oxygen and freshwater. Nowhere is the origin of life more perceivable than the Amazon.
So when my friend, Dave, booked a tour there the same week I had off from work, I jumped on the opportunity. I got my yellow fever shot (leaving my arm sore for weeks), my malaria pills (making me dizzy at the airport), stocked up on sunblock and bug spray, stuffed clothes, a notepad, a few pens, and Don Quixote into my backpack, went straight from work to JFK, and then there I was, sweating in a hostel in Manaus, Brazil, the gateway to the Amazon.
The Amazon has jaguars, snakes, poisonous frogs, howling monkeys, and piranhas. Then there are the insects – malaria carrying mosquitoes, spiders, and poisonous ants. Not to mention the poisonous plants of which there are so many that it would be impossible for me to recognize them all if I could.
I stayed at a cabina, or cabin lodge, in a room with ants and spiders. I was lucky – another guest spotted a tarantula in his sink. I spent the afternoon piranha fishing. The tour guide showed us his catch, opening the mouth to expose razor sharp teeth. But piranhas weren’t the only dangerous creatures lurking in the water.
That night, we returned to the swamp to find caiman, the alligators of the Amazon. Fabio, our tour guide, paddled ahead, using his flashlight to search the murky waters. The only sound we could hear was the paddle slowly pushing against the water and the croaking of poisonous frogs and crickets in the distance.
Fabio fearlessly searched the swamp until he found a caiman. He shone his flashlight on the creature. There they were, like two red fireflies, the eyes of a caiman.
And then Fabio did something I never could have expected. He got out of the boat. As slow as a sloth, he waded through the dark water, approaching the caiman. He reached his hand into the water! And then he pulled out a baby caiman.
Caiman in hand, Fabio came back to the boat. My mouths agape, I listened to him describe the history of Amazon caimans as he held it in front of me and the other tourists. I was sitting in the front of the canoe and the creature was mere inches from my eyes.
“Would you hold it for a second?” Fabio asked me casually.
I reached out my hand.
“Hold it by the neck first, so it won’t bite. Then put your other hand around its tail.”
I wrapped my fingers around its neck and then held it tightly with two hands. Its skin was slimy and its yellow eyes stared into mine.
The fact that Fabio actually went into the water, filled with caimans, big and small, was unperceivable to me. For him to take this wild, dangerous creature with his own hands (whoknew where its mother was lurking!), to wade through piranha-infested waters, was something I never could have imagined. It went beyond my imagination.
Yet to Fabio, it was no big deal. Not only was it his job, but he faced dangers every day, and he did it with a soft laugh and a gentle smile. I guess what amazed me so much was that there are always things that we cannot imagine happening, and then one day, they do.