Upon returning from the Amazon, global studies teacher Andrew McLean instructed his students to write creatively on their experience in Yasuni National Forest. This is a response from 10th grader Bailey D.
I CAST MY EYES over the tumbling, brown river and up into the treetops; a mass of green that never ends. Wind pushes hair past my face in long streams, placing a brown veil across the world. The buzz of cicadas reaches my ears, a natural orchestra mixing with the thrum of boat engine. In this place heat clings to me, a warm embrace intensifying the fresh, earthy smells rising from river and trees. Blue above, green beside, and brown below. Breathing it all in I close my eyes, absorbing everything.
It is then that I feel like I am being watched. Cautiously, I look up and into the jungle. At that moment I could swear I was looking at someone, although surely there couldn’t be anyone there. As I continue to look images bubble up inside me, visions that seem like a reality.
Straw huts rise from my imagination, worn yet sturdy, a construction fading and camouflaged within it’s surrounding. Clay beneath my feet, nature at my fingertips. I thrust out a hand, well experienced in the art of scavenging for food, and pop a berry into my mouth, juicy and sweet. I’m savoring the flavor when a tornado of arms and legs hurtle towards me. They’re my brothers and sisters, pulling me towards the river. Our feet skim across a path, well known to us, but hidden to all others. Water rises up out of the distance as we near the river, a torrent of snaking brown water.
I peer out from amongst the trees as a boat thrums past. I see many people on this boat, and they look young. I’m about to look away when I swear a girl looks straight at me, although of course she cannot possibly see me. Her brown hair is getting whipped about by the wind, but her eyes hold strong. I feel a connection, as if I know her somehow, but the moment passes as she looks away.
The boat speeds up, and I’m pulled out of my reverie as we move off into the distance. I look around, no jungle, no straw huts surrounding me – only people I could almost call family. No one seems to have noticed anything different, but I feel like I have gained a whole other lifetime. A new identity. As I continue on this journey into the Amazon, the images stay with me, like a parallel reality. Everything I do is shadowed by another voice, a comforting and experienced one.
Day one we hike into the jungle, making our way to platforms towering 40 meters above. I cautiously ascend the ladder, harness hugging me tight. Hands go up slowly, rung by rung. I gasp, pulling my hand away from the ladder. It’s throbbing, as I look at the culprit. A bright green wasp. I’ve been stung.
I warily assess the tree in front of me. I’m half-way up, grasping it with nothing but bare hands and feet, scavenging for food. No luck yet.
The voice echoes in my head. Showing me a parallel life, the life that so many are living. It fascinates me, and I get wrapped up in it. Daydreaming.
We plunge into the river, water rushing up on all sides. My heart skips a beat as something brushes up against my leg, and I wait to get eaten alive. I chuckle. It’s just my life jacket.
Silent as a caiman, I slip into the river, legs powerful as they propel me past trees and swirls of brown water. I’m calm; this is my territory, this is where dinner comes from.
The voice’s stark contrast to my own startles me. We are experiencing the same things and yet our experiences are so different. It get’s me wondering what I would’ve been like if I’d grown up as a child of the Amazon. Who would I have been?
That is a question I will never be able to answer. I cannot change the fact that I am a New Zealander or that Tiputini was the first time I’d been stung by a wasp. I can in part imagine what it would have been like, but of course four days in the Amazon is not a substitute for a lifetime of living within nature.
Head spinning, I turn back and run into the jungle. Running away from a life I will never quite know. Losing sight of the boat and the girl and all the images that came with it. I am not accustomed to this other life, nor do I think I ever will be.