The Amazon: The Amazon Pantry

The past few days in our outings exploring the Amazon, I’ve learned about a lot of the first the gifts the Amazon rainforest has to offer, both in terms of food and medicine—as well as observing many other natural wonders.

The rules are:

1. Don’t touch anything.
2. Use soft voices.
3. Don’t go off by yourself. Stay with your guide.

In the rainforest, it’s what you see, yes, but by far the most vivid sensory experience since we’ve arrived here is what we hear: steady tropical rain, a thousand sounds of life asserting itself, a thousand sounds and creatures I cannot name: calls and whirls and cheeps and plops and groans and kerplops and a dozen different whistles and counter whistles, a constant wall of unfamiliar, delightful sound—life insisting upon it self.

What compels me about this moist wet wild growing place isn’t the sweat on my forehead, the reek of repellent, the mud on and under my boots, or any of the huge green growing things surrounding me in such profusion—parakeets, macaws, two kinds of monkeys, huge river otters, dozens and dozen of brightly colored birds, it’s the cacophony I hear. When I close my eyes, the sound intensified, permeating my being with life and vibration and ecstatic joy.

But since I don’t have a recorder with me, I can’t share this amazing symphony here at this beautiful eco resort on the large wide brown Rio Madre de Dios river.

But here’s just a small sampling of what we’ve seen:

More than half of Peru is Amazon rainforest. This 400-year-old ironwood tree, one of the biggest in the rainforest is used by red and scarlet macaws to make their nests.

The bark of the ironwood is used to make charcoal.

Ironwood root.

Check out this vine.

There’s a tarantula in this hole.

Our guide, Gustavo, showing us a walking tree. It will kill its own roots so it can move, seeking light. It can move 15-16 centimeters a year.

Close up of the base of the walking tree. When a man wants to get married, he has to cross through these roots naked. The roots are also used as a weapon and as a grinder for yucca.

Monkey ladder fungus.

This belly palm stores water in it’s swollen “belly” for times water is scarce. Locals use the belly as a casket as well.

This ficus tree is the only tree that produces fruit in the dry season. It grows from the top down. When an animal eats a fruit from this tree, it poops out the seeds. They germinate in the top of a host tree, spreading downward in vines which spread down into the soil, ultimately killing the host tree.

The sap and bark of the ficus tree is used to create casts for broken bones.

This is called the chicken foot tree. Can you see why? Kids get glue from this tree.

It’s red shallow root system can be seen 100 meters away from the tree itself.

Snail. They are hermaphrodites. They have make and female organs but still need to mate. Snail coitus can take up to two days. That’s why they’re called, “the happiest animal in the world.”

Termite nest.

Close up of the fire ant tree. This tree is guarded by fire ants. It looked smooth and quiet until Gustavo scratched the tree. Then hundreds of fire ants came out onto the bark to defend their tree. They come out and sting any intruder.

Locals would tie the Spanish invaders to this tree to torture and kill them. The ants did all the work.

We tasted these berries. They were hot, a bit like a jalapeño. Mixed with onion, lemon and salt, they’re used to make a spicy salsa.

Gustavo called this the erotic tree.

I called it the dildo tree.

The thorny tree, the jungle papaya, causes constipation.

Close up of the thorns.

Even closer.

I just thought this was pretty.

This is an açaí tree. This is where that frozen purple stuff I put in my morning smoothies comes from. The roots of the açaí tree are used to dissolve kidney stones and reduce inflammation. The walls of the cabanas we’re staying in are made from its wood.

This hidow is a fruit, edible when ripe. When inedible, it’s used to create tattoos.

Here’s Si getting one. It will last for two weeks.

Parapara cures impotence in older men. It’s a natural viagra.

This tropical basil is used as an expectorant and to treat sore throats. It’s also used as a seasoning and to create a shampoo to treat men who are “loose in the hairs.”

These are Brazil nut pods. They fall in November and are gathered and harvested and processed at this time of year.

This is what the pods are gathered in.

This tool picks them up from the ground where they’ve fallen.

Each pod, the size and weight of a bocchi ball, contains an average of 17 nuts. One tree can produce 250-2500 nuts. Those that are whole are called first harvest. The broken bits are pressed into oil.

We cracked them with this press. They were coconuty, oily and delicious, a far cry from the Brazil nuts sold at home.

Matico numbs the tooth and tongue. We chewed some. It definitely worked!

The fruit from this tree….

Makes red dye.

Karyn likes getting her face painted.

One of the real treats of the day was watching this family of howler monkeys cavorting in the high tree tops. They were red and there was even a baby clinging to his mother’s back.

I could have watched them all day!

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