It was June of 2008 and I has just finished my tour of Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley of Peru and arrived in the Galapagos. Thanks to being a solo traveler I got the last, single bunk on a small boat that was touring around the islands for a week. On one of our shore expeditions I went out into the crystal clear waters to snorkel. I was still very close to shore when I encountered sting rays, sea turtles, and numerous fish.
It is either ironic, or a higher power’s intention, that I should be faced with writing this entry with a heavy heart because it is about a time I felt such great joy—joy that is the last thing on my mind at the moment. So if I succeed in conveying to you a mere fraction of my highs at the time I experienced the majesty of Iguazu Falls, I will consider it a victory.
Last night I had the occasion to meet a friend I had come to know through Instagram thanks to our mutual love for travel and photography. This friend asked me to tell my “Top 5 travel stories,” which, along with requests for my “Top five (or ten) travel destinations,” is one of the most common questions I get asked. I am sure many of you have been asked something similar in your experiences; these aren’t easy questions to answer. Nonetheless, I will give it a shot in a series of my top ten travel stories to date.
One story that I get asked to repeat a lot, however, is my story about my time in the heart of the Amazon in Brazil. The subtitle for this story is really “Why you shouldn’t go to the Amazon and go to the Pantanal instead.” And my story, I feel, makes a compelling case for this argument, but it’s a little long so you’ll have to bear with me!
The Amazon, easily the world’s most famous rainforest, conjures images of adventure, romance, and danger, as well as visions of wild animals such as pink dolphins, jaguars, piranhas, and monkeys. The reality of the place is far different from the romanticized narratives we may have floating in our heads. The Pantanal, the world’s biggest swamp land (nearly the size of France), with its more open expanses and waterways, is the place to go to view “jungle wildlife.” The Amazon at its heart is a complex biosphere of intermingled life, extremely difficult to unlock and unravel during a short visit. Most of the wildlife you see here is the micro kind: wedged into rotten tree bark and under wet leaves; you only see the larger animals at great distances: in the canopy 200 feet above you or on the riverbank across from you. And the conditions are nearly unbearable at times.