Nature Nurtures In The Amazon

by Dale V Atkins

I just returned to Manaus from the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge in the Amazon (actually on the River Negro which is indeed a black river not due to dirt but due to tanens from leaves and organic matter and has NO mosquitoes at all on the water...unlike the "muddy river" which has apparently has PLENTY.) Did I really need those malaria pills?

It is unbelievably wet is not called a rain forest for nothing..You cannot go out for 10 minutes without a rain jacket unless you don't mind consistently walking around looking as if you just lost the jungle wet tee shirt contest. I opted for the rain jacket (which doubled as my icebreaker a week ago when I was marching around in crampons on the Moreno glacier in Argentina but let's stick to one rain jacket adventure at a time.).

Just so you know, before I go any further, I am as happy as I can be. I look just like a hairdresser's nightmare (or dream depending on your point of view) as my roots are huge and my curls are wilder than in the '60s. It is good that HAIR has returned to Broadway because I may go directly from the plane to a casting call. Truth is, as soon as I land, I am going to the grandkids to give and get some great hugs and smooches followed immediately by an appointment with the hairdresser.

Sorry my photo of the "taxi" (a sea plane that the pilot and I needed to push into the water) didn't come through. Flying from Manaus over the Rio Negro Archipeligo (to the jungle lodge) was one of the most breathtaking sights I have seen. I love flying in small planes. It reminds me of flying small Cessnas with my dad when I was a child. 

The morning lightening, thunder, the whole dramatic works was glorious although it screwed up my 5:00 am canoe (with a small motor to cross the river) trip to watch the sunrise...we were in the middle of the river and had to turn back at 5:45 am because the storm began with such ferocity that even the boatman who grew up on the river was not open for any discussion. That canoe whipped around with such speed it made me feel as if I was doubling as a windsail. THAT was cute. As the black night sky became blacker with clouds I tried to snap some photos but it was impossible.

I was unable to fly back to Manaus so I put my dry clothes (well, sort of dry) into a bag and put on my rain pants and flip flops and hopped into a van which, a few hours later, crossed the river on a barge and the bounced into Manaus. Glad I packed dry clothes 'cause the thought of traveling for more than 20 hours in wet clothes was too much! So, as I did when I was 20 with a backpack on my back, (now I am 60 with a backpack) I dashed into a hotel bathroom and changed out of the wet stuff. So now, my entire suitcase is filled with wet clothes! After a few hours of serious people watching in the Manaus airport I boarded the 4 and 1/2 flight to Sao Paolo. Loved this part: we taxied from the gate and were about the take off when we returned to the gate! Why? Two people forgot important papers at the airport. Can you imagine that happening in NY? All of the luggage had to be removed so they could select their bags! Despite the delay we still arrived to Sao Paolo with ease and waited another 4 hours before an 11 hour flight to NY. Good thing I downloaded so many books onto my SONY reader.

There are so many impressions I have of the jungle and the people. I am so grateful and thrilled I stayed at the lodge. It was small, rustic, with lovely people, gentle staff and the most amazing and knowledgeable guide. I was with him morning noon and night and he never stopped talking (which was terrific.) I learned so much. I was not afraid at all and we did some pretty amazing things...well, maybe I had a moment when we were deep in the river jungle on a night cayman (kind of like a crocodile and kind of like an alligator) spotting adventure (you spot night animals by their eyes, by the way) and we saw many caymans, birds, snakes, toads, frogs...all by their eyes and then you approach them with a flash light (HE approached them...I remained in the little boat in the marsh wondering if any tree snakes, spiders and heaven knows what were going to be interested in exploring my curls...

I kept my hat on nearly the entire time I was in the jungle) Moreno, the guide, was going to bring an alligator into the boat so I could have a "closer look" ( a direct quote.) Well, this guy was working so hard to catch all of these animals so I could see them, I didn't want to disappoint, but fortunately for me the alligators were faster than he that night. At one point he was so eager to get the gator that he hopped out of the boat without his shoes and jumped back into the boat with quite a few thorns in his foot (sans cayman.). He DID, however, catch (and of course release after a had a VERY close look because it was twirling all over Moreno's hands) a baby coral tree boa (snake), a few amazing toads, frogs, spiders and various other wide eyed critters.

We also saw amazing night birds. The sky was filled with stars and a full moon (makes it more difficult to see animals but more fun with the vast reflections). Wouldn't ya know that Moreno LOVES snakes! Which, in turn meant that I had a choice...enjoy them or recoil (did I really say that!) Truth is, I did let go of much of my uneasy feeling about snakes and developed a whole new respect and appreciation for them. (They are not slimy, by the way...first hand knowledge) Same with frogs, spiders, turtles, you name it. There are so many different species of flora and fauna and he shared with me a depth of knowledge and perspective that only someone who has such a passion and who has lived in the Amazon for such a long time can have. He suggested several books for me to read since I was amazed that almost EVERY tree and plant we encountered was the perfect remedy for whatever ails ya, could ail ya or may at some point in your life did ail ya. He knew so much about the different Indian tribes, botany, ornithology, water, weather, history...I have had guides in my life but NEVER like this.

In the Rio Negro area at this time of year you don't see flowers or lots of colorful birds (although we saw many rare birds which I loved) because they are in the canopy (tree tops) where there is sunlight and more oxygen. Nonetheless, at this season we were canoeing in flooded forests (I must have taken 50 pix there alone) with the water rising and falling throughout the has another 20 feet to rise before June when instead of paddling among the tall trees you'll be paddling in the treetops which which will look like low shrubs.

Despite the thousands of miles of forest the earth is clay and not good for farming at all so if people keep clearing the forest nothing else will grow and that will be the end of the Amazon forest. It will because not grow back. There is so much to learn and say.

Am returning home with a full and open heart. I needed these few days of immersion in nature without a care for anyone else's needs, concerns, likes, dislikes, comforts or discomforts. This past spring, in honor of my 60th birthday, I was scheduled for a silent retreat in upstate CT. I did not go because, happily, my 5th grandchild was born (much earlier than expected.). I needed that break then but it was not "in the cards." Since that time much has happened where I have been very much "on call." I needed to get back in touch with nature and respond with my own rhythm. This was just what THIS doctor ordered.)

Dale V. Atkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who has more than twenty-five years of experience as a relationship expert, focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well, managing stress and maintaining balance in one's life. An author of several books, articles and journals for popular and professional audiences, Dr. Atkins is a much sought after lecturer and keynote speaker as well as a recurrent guest expert in the media. She frequently appears on NBC-TV's "Today Show". Dr. Atkins has a private practice in New York City. Visit her website at

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