You walk through the tall columns of giant grey trees, dappled with innumerable shades of green by light from above filtering through the leafy canopy. You can almost taste the oxygen-rich air, heavy with moisture. It seems to imbue you with an inexplicable euphoria. You wander on as though in a dream.
Strange fragrances waft in among the ever-present unmistakable compost odour of decaying vegetation. The cycle of life and death confronts you with shocking immediacy. All around you vegetation of incredible lushness spills upon and over itself. Vines and lianas cavort, twist and tumble in every direction. A spot of colour might be a flower... then it moves and turns out to be a butterfly.
The cicadas'1 tinny whine pervades the rich green light, but the sound stops respectfully as you walk close. The insects' instinct for life is strong - they don't know who you are. An alien cooing spreads through the forest. Luckily your naturalist-guide is an expert on the local wildlife, so he can identify the strange sound.
You stop for a minute and peel off the top layer of leaves covering the damp forest soil. Here you see countless scurrying motes of life; all incessantly moving towards their inscrutable destinations. Between and within the damp, papery leaves are masses of tiny white threads, which are the tendrils of fungi seeking sustenance from the dead. Yet these are part of life too, unlocking the life-giving nutrients once held by the living plant, freeing them to be used by new plants. And just a few inches away is a sprouting seed, its roots already pushing into the leaf litter, its small soft leaves already reaching up toward the precious light.
Where are you? Tropical rainforest. In the Amazon, on the banks of the world's biggest river. You're surrounded by endless tracts of green in overwhelming abundance - one of the world's biodiversity hotspots - home to more types of plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth.
But what does the Amazon mean to you? Peter Benchley's sensationalist TV series? A mysterious wilderness full of weird animals, yucky bugs and strange people? Until you've been there, impressions are mere illusions. The Researcher of this piece, over the past ten years, has been lucky enough to visit the Amazon many times. He's sailed along the full length of the river twice, and led 25 separate natural history and photography tours. Such was his experience, he was inspired to write a book - the leading travel guide to the Amazon - The Amazon: The Bradt Travel Guide>.
Yet, even now having been there on so many occasions, having met so many wonderful people, encountered so many bizarre creatures and with the perspective of a biologist (the Researcher's academic background) - the Amazon's mystery remains. Perhaps because it is ultimately indescribable - it's truth cannot be conveyed, only sensed and then fleetingly. Seeing it on TV, even in the best nature documentaries, offers merely a glimpse of a greater whole.
So you walk on, along a muddy trail. You observe more closely, trying to take it all in - but it is endless - a surfeit of sensory input. The beauties and intricacies of the forest are infinite. How unjust, how cruel, that we humans should find reasons to pillage this treasury of life. Yet the beauty and wonder remains intact in many parts.
Escape the drudgery of day to day life. You'll still find mystery, adventure and excitement... these the Amazon offers in abundance, even for our technologically jaded senses. In the words of Francisco Grippa, a well-known artist living in Pevas, Peru,
The forest, the river, the wildlife, the people, they are my inspiration - they are my life.
Let the Amazon into your life and visit there while you still have the chance.