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Latin America Shawn Dispatch


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Stroll the Walkway of Life: The Canopy, the Music, and the Magic of the Amazon

Join Shawn over 100 feet above the ground in the middle of the rainforest! We have it in video and virtual reality!
Take a multimedia journey through one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world.
The narrow cable bridge, which is the only thing to keep me from plummeting to the earth, wobbles uneasily as I make my way across from tree top to tree top; I pause for a moment to look out over the Amazon Rainforest. It is more than 100 feet to the ground. I try to forget that I am standing on a flimsy aluminum ladder suspended between two trees as I scan the forest below hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the many exotic creatures I can hear chattering away below me. I see nothing but hundreds of different kinds of plants and trees. However, I notice that a small lizard has followed me out onto the walkway. It stops suddenly, realizing that it is not alone, and then it scurries back onto the wooden platform which is nestled in the top branches of a huge cedar tree. I follow it up to the platform hoping to get a photo, and pause for a bit, grateful to be standing on something slightly more solid. Around me the trees are gently swaying beneath the midday sun.

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It's a long way down! A birdseye view of the jungle.
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This sidewalk through the treetops which connects 10 or 12 suspended platforms is almost half a mile long and rises to 115 feet at its highest point. It was constructed about three years ago by the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research to give both scientists and tourists the rare chance to observe life in the jungle canopy. Up here in the dizzying heights of the treetops, life is business as usual for a wide variety of birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Now because of the canopy walkway even people get a chance to participate in this mysterious canopy life which would otherwise be invisible, obscured by the dense foliage of the jungle. The canopy walkway which helps promote awareness and appreciation of the Amazon Jungle is just one of the several projects that the non-profit group ACEER has undertaken in its efforts to conserve this precious environment.

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This sidewalk in the sky connects about twelve tree platforms.
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As the ecosystem here rapidly disappears because of poor farming, mining and timber harvesting, ACEER is dedicated to its preservation using the most powerful tool they know of - education. Focusing on four central issues, history, ecology, conservation and community integration, ACEER sponsors a variety of programs such as teacher training and jungle field trips to promote international and local involvement in these issues. Each year 30-40 rural Peruvian schoolteachers visit the ACEER rainforest station on the Rio Napo (which flows into the Amazon). There they take classes on rainforest ecology and curriculum development. Thousand of foreign tourists also visit the facility and after touring such marvels as the canopy walkway and the ethnobotanical garden, they bring home a heightened appreciation of the jungle and a better understanding of its issues.

ACEER has also created a successful school adoption program in which schools in the United States adopt a school in the Amazon and raise funds to supply Peruvian students with sorely needed supplies and texts. A few students from the US also recently got the opportunity to experience the Amazon first-hand through a program which partnered with ACEER for a short time this spring, the JASON Project, which brought some of them to the rainforest to explore and perform experiments. They posted their findings on the Internet, which you can check out at The JASON Project.

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From up here, we get a chance to see the treetops up close.
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Although the canopy walkway was certainly interesting and exciting, my favorite part of this Amazon adventure was the medicine garden where I got the chance of a lifetime to learn about the many uses of jungle plants from a real shaman. (you can read more about that in my other update). I also spent some time simply wandering around the jungle with my mouth open in awe of all the incredibly strange plants and animals that live there. The biodiversity of this area is absolutely astounding. There are over 300 species of trees in a tiny 2.5 acre area near the ACEER facility, and there are more than 25,000 species of exotic plants in the upper Amazon basin. There are more than 2,000 species of fish in the Amazon River, which is more than have been discovered in the entire Atlantic Ocean! Although I only got to see a fraction of these many different types of flora and fauna, I was still overwhelmed because with each step, something that I had never seen would appear.

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Another strange and exotic jungle animal.
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Of course, not everything that lives in the jungle is friendly to humans. It can be a dangerous place full of venomous snakes and exotic diseases. I saw ants nearly as big as my thumb whose bite can cause blistering welts that last for weeks. The mosquitoes, which managed to consume most of the flesh on my lower legs in only three days, can be more than a simple nuisance, since many carry malaria, a disease which can be fatal if not treated quickly.

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 Shawn and the rainforest - from 100 feet up!
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Knowing all this, the Amazon can be a very intimidating place, especially in the pitch black night when the sounds of the jungle really come alive. It seems that every type of noise imaginable can be heard coming out of this utter darkness. Cooing and chirping...thumping, rattling, scraping, pecking...rustling, thrashing, pounding, sometimes growling, and always my very least favorite, buzzing. I sure would not want to be lost out there.

So, I definitely would not describe the Amazon Jungle as paradise. It is, however, absolutely the most fascinating place that I have ever had the privilege to visit. Everything seems razor tough, hardened by the intense competition to survive. But I know that it is a very fragile place whose existence hangs in the balance. In a few short years it could be gone forever. I leave it, however, feeling a little more hopeful for the future knowing that groups like ACEER are working everyday to preserve this magical place and with a little luck and a lot of help, maybe someday my children (when I have 'em) will also get to hear the mysterious music of the Amazon.

Shawn
 

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Team - One by One, The Liberation of Latin America
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