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The Awesome Amazon

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The Awesome Amazon
by Lynn Regenburg Tagge
Ann Dittmar (WCAS49) photographs sights along the Amazon.

Photo by Michele Hogan

Although my husband, Dave, and I have been on previous Northwestern Alumni Association trips, I was especially excited, and admittedly a little nervous, before our Amazon exploration last April. Our previous alumni excursions to Germany and France didn’t require mosquito repellant, vaccinations or protective clothing, but we were up for the adventure and well prepared for the tropical climate and conditions, thanks to the materials the travel company provided about Peru.

We met most of our fellow Northwestern travelers at the Miami airport and flew to Lima together. After spending the night there, we flew northeast over the massive Andes Mountains to the city of Iquitos, the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon. There we boarded La Turquesa, the 40-passenger riverboat that would serve as our home for the remainder of the trip.

Photos do not do justice to the sheer beauty and size of the swiftly flowing Amazon and the tributaries we visited — Ríos Ucayali, Marañón and Tapiche. We were delighted to discover the black rivers — their coloring comes from tannin in the leaves and bark of the overhanging trees — and the trees and shrubs covered in morning glories.

We met warm and welcoming Peruvian villagers. Our boat crew took great pride in introducing us to their native culture and at night performed their version of the South American hit parade.

Our local guides, Roland and George, amazed us with their ability to spot from a distance and distinguish the species of the exotic birds and animals of the jungle. In addition to high-flying pairs of macaws and screeching parrots, we saw sloths slowly chewing leaves in trees, monkeys who loved to eat bananas and Amazon river dolphins as pink as bubble gum!

Of course, it was hot just four degrees from the equator, and afternoon siestas in our air-conditioned cabins were welcomed. We all enjoyed down time during the early evenings to just sit on deck and watch the amazing scenery pass before our eyes. The views varied from lush green jungles to the thatched-roofed homes of primitive river villages to hilly cattle farms to developing resorts and business districts.

Being an early bird, I went out every morning for the 6 o’clock bird-watching expedition. I left the piranha fishing in the flooded forest to my husband, who caught one of those toothy creatures. We both went on the night excursion to look for caimans — South American crocodiles — and “macho man” Dave even held one.

Because I suffer from acrophobia, I was not sure how I would make it through the canopy walk 100 feet above terra firma. With the encouragement of fellow travelers, I not only survived the experience but was also awed by the dense jungle. We hiked through a series of suspended bridges above the abundant plant life. Our guide said that trees grow very rapidly in jungle conditions — some as much as a foot a month.

So many unforgettable moments come to mind — receiving blessings from a village shaman, seeing the government-run research station at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, planting cedar and mahogany trees in the rain forest, marveling at 8-foot water lilies and greeting schoolchildren who were practicing English.

Seeing the contrast between the Amazonian river culture as it has existed for hundreds of years and the Peruvian cities adapting to the 21st century made for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. My hope is that as the trees our group planted grow, so too will our resolve to support the fragile Amazon habitat.

Lynn Regenburg Tagge (WCAS64) is retired and works part time as a carpenter’s apprentice in Escondido, Calif. Visit www.alumni.northwestern.edu/travel or call 1-800-NU-ALUMS for more information about the NAA travel program, including the Amazon River Journey in April.

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