The jungle has been a romantic dream for many kids, rearing stories about Mowgli, or about exotic animals living in the thickest and deepest forests on the Earth. It has been one of my dreams too, but I knew that it was not just a “fairy tale place”, it was real, somewhere far from my home. Then, at school, we studied about the equatorial rainforests as one of the geographical zones on our planet. I recognized that this is the jungle from the stories. And we learned that the largest rainforest is in South America, and is called Amazon. From that moment, Amazon became one of the places that I wanted to taste. So, let’s first make our first virtual trip to the Amazon rainforest and explore this amazing world!
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Basic facts about the Amazon rainforest
Now is time for some geography. Let’s open the map of the Earth. Look into South America, particularly its northern part. If you open the physical map, you will see a large plain, surrounded by mountains on the west and north, hills on the south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. You know that Amazon River, one of the largest rivers on the planet is crossing this plain from west to east, but you can also see that there are many other smaller rivers joining into Amazon. In fact, the whole Amazon Plain is a network of rivers.
Then, if you open a satellite map, you will see that the whole plain is deep green in color (well, unfortunately, it used to be greener in the past, but even today it is still greener than the surrounding areas), with an area larger than the whole Western and Middle Europe. This is the famous Amazon rainforest, the largest equatorial rainforest on the Earth. It is full of wildlife everywhere, living in the thick jungle, the rivers, and the swamps.
Finally, if you open the political map of the Earth, you will see that most of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil, and the rest of it is shared between Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. But this is only the official dividing. In fact, it is a “self-kingdom” with its own local people, local culture, and local laws.
All of this has made Amazon rainforest like a „land of adventures”, and a paradise for explorers. It is also a dream for many tourists who want to see something more „exotic” than just London, Paris, and New York. But… yes, it is not a big city with all the amenities of the civilization, so not every tourist can stand it. Then, how can explore, visit, or at least touch the Amazon rainforest?
Touching Amazon rainforest by an easy tour
If someone really wants to visit the Amazon rainforest, the best way is to go to Manaus, the largest city of the whole plain. It is easily reachable by plane from the other big cities in Brazil, as well as the other neighboring countries, and even from North America and Portugal. You can also reach it by ferry on the river, or by bus from Venezuela.
From Manaus, there are a lot of tours that you can join. Just visit a local travel company, or find it online in advance, and you can follow the tour group- for one or more days. They will guide you to some attractions nearby, including a cruise on Amazon River, visiting a waterfall, sleeping in a hut in the jungle, chasing piranhas and crocs, etc.
You can enjoy the opportunity for a “trekking” in the jungle, go kayaking in the rivers, and watching the local wildlife. And all of this is definitely exciting, however, if you want to experience the Amazon rainforest in full, you have to do something different that not everybody can do.
Diving into the Amazon rainforest by an expedition
This is what I mean. Forget about travel companies, forget about tour guides! If you follow a guided tour, you are still „outside”, even you are physically in the jungle. But to dive into the jungle, you have to become a part of it. And this is what I would like to share in this post- about real diving into the largest equatorial rainforest on our planet.
There are people who were born in the jungle, grown in the jungle, and have spent their whole life in the jungle. They are the local aboriginal tribes. But they still spend their lives in one place. Here I’d like to share about other people, who have become a part of the nature and have explored it by traveling from end to end.
Amazon rainforest explorers
There were people living in this amazing part of the Earth for thousands of years. And only recently, starting from some 500 years ago, the first Europeans penetrated the Amazon rainforest. But they were conquerors. They were not so interested in the jungle, but in finding gold.
In fact, the first real explorers came at least 300 years later. Among them, I would mention some scientists like Alexander Von Humboldt, Henry Bates, and Percy Fawsett. They didn’t come to conquer and destroy, but to research and understand.
However, there were explorers, who crossed the Amazon rainforest without any motorized vehicle, only on foot or by canoe on the rivers. Among them I would mention John Harrison. But the most popular of them is Mike Horn, who did it for the first time in 1997, then again in 1999 in the opposite direction, as a part of his Latitude Zero journey.
Now, I would like to share the story of the last Amazon rainforest explorer- Philip Lhamsuren. He made it in his own way, and as the other explorers, he has become a part of the jungle, so he is one of those who tasted the Amazon in full.
Philip Lhamsuren’s expedition
Philip Lhamsuren is an explorer from Bulgaria and Mongolia, who has traveled in adventurous ways around the world. One of his first journeys was crossing a part of Eurasia by bike, then he has many other local trips. But his biggest challenge was Amazonia. Inspired by John Harrison’s experience (one of the most successful explorers of the Amazon rainforest), first, he tried to cross it from west to east- from Ecuador to Macapa in Brazil. He crossed the Andes and managed to descend to the Amazonian lowland before the border of Brazil, but his life was put in danger, with several times in danger by some local people who tried to rob and kill him. Finally, he lost his canoe, so he had to stop his first attempt to cross the Amazon rainforest.
But he didn’t give up, and soon after that he back to Amazonia. This time he was better prepared, with more experience, with a better-arranged logistic, and friends who supported him. Yes, in his second time he didn’t start again from the beginning, but from the western border areas of Brazil. And he made his route longer, not as a straight line to the mouth of Amazon River, but in a “V” shape. Finally, he successfully finished his expedition, being the last explorer of the Amazon rainforest.
Philip Lhamsuren’s story
I had the opportunity to meet Philip personally and we had a nice conversation about his Amazonia expedition, in which he shared with me his story and experience.
Me: Hi Philip, I was inspired by your Amazonia expedition. First I’d like to ask you: Why did you choose the Amazon rainforest?
Philip: Because it is still the largest wild forest area on the Earth. There are also the Congo rainforest, Papua, but Amazon is currently the number one. That was my goal, the challenge to cross it as only a very few people have done it before.
Me: How did you draw your route? As I see, it doesn’t just follow the Amazon River, but deviates aside, south of it.
Philip: Yes, one of the reasons was the length. I didn’t cross the whole continent at once but stopped at some point, then the second time proceeded from this point. Thus, if I traveled straight to the mouth of Amazon River, it would be too short. That’s why, following my own principles, I made it enough long, with the same length as if I would start from the Pacific coast. And the second important reason is that the jungle is wilder and safer far from the coast of the river.
Me: How did you keep the communication with the world?
Philip: I needed communication for two reasons: first, to contact the people who support me logistically, especially a friend of mine who lives in Manaus (in the middle of Amazonia). Part of the route I traveled by canoe on the other rivers, another part- just on foot through the jungle. While I walked on foot, my canoe had to wait for me at the next point, so my friend was who arranged this. For this, I used a satellite phone (there is no mobile network in large parts of Amazonia).
And the second reason was the orientation- I had to use GPS to be sure that I advance in the right direction. But to keep the battery, I turned it on only once in the morning, then only once in the evening, detecting the passed route for the day.
Me: How about the food and water? Obviously, for such a long trip, you can’t bring everything in your backpack, but you have to provide it from the jungle, right?
Philip: Yes, that’s right. Fortunately, there are rivers everywhere, so my main menu was fish. It is not difficult to catch enough fish in the large rivers to prepare your meal. And even far from these rivers, there are always some smaller rivers and streams with less fish, but with shrimps- they are very good for lunch or dinner too. Another food that I could find was Brazil nuts. They can be seen on the ground and can be easily picked for eating. There are also worms in some of them, which, when grow enough and become fat, are a good addition to the meal, like popcorns.
About the water, you should know that the waters there are clean. You can just drink directly from the rivers. Well, it is not always pure, but still enough safe and good for your thirst. Yes, some of the waters are still, and usually murky. Depending on the water quality, I had to filter it or even use a disinfectant tablet. So, I usually looked for running streams with stones, where the water is the best. Shrimps live in such waters.
Me: How was the weather in Amazonia, and how did you deal with it?
Philip: It is always hot and humid. Basically, there are two seasons- wet and dry (actually, not dry but just less wet). Yes, it often rains, especially in the wet season. During that time, in the lower part of Amazonia, the waters raise up to more than 12 m, reaching the crowns of the trees, or like a three-story building. In fact, the whole forest becomes a „water jungle”. In such time I just traveled through the jungle by canoe.
Me: And how did you walk through the normal, dry jungle? As I know, people usually bring a machete to cut the trees.
Philip: Yes, that’s how I advanced in the jungle. It is very thick. Normally, I had to walk noisy, and to shake the branches and lianas around me with a stick, because there are snakes and insects. My backpack was big and high, so it often touched and entangled the plants. In general, walking can’t be fast, but I could advance little by little.
Me: Which were the most dangerous animals in the jungle?
Philip: The snakes were dangerous, but I knew how to keep myself from them. But some insects like wasps and hornets were worse. They stung me several times and it was very painful. I had to get anti-allergic medicine. If there are too many, one can die from their stings.
Me: And how about the piranhas? Are they really such monsters like they are present in the movies?
Philip: No, of course. You should know something- in the jungle, everybody is a carnivore, and the piranhas are just one of the many carnivores. You know „the law of the jungle”- that’s it. Yes, they bite and can bite fastly, but they can’t do more than just wound you a bit. In fact, many other fish can do the same, even a normal sheat-fish. When I caught fish on my net, there are various kinds of fish that could be my dinner, and I had to arrange them quickly, otherwise, they start to bite and eat each other.
So, both I and the locals didn’t care too much about the piranhas (btw, they are delicious). But if you want to know which animal in Amazonia is really dangerous- it is the electric eel. They produce electricity that can kill a man. Even the locals run away if they notice it.
Me: How about the locals? As I know, there are native aborigines, but also there are some criminals in the area.
Philip: Yes, there are. In fact, all of them are a part of the „law of the jungle”. They all try to survive. That’s why some of them tried to kill me in my first attempt. I am easy prey for them. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they are all beasts, many of them helped me in different situations.
Unfortunately, now things are gradually changing in a bad direction. Amazonia is rich in resource place, so there are many interests focusing on this land. At the same time, it is difficult to access and to be controlled by the government. The narco-cartels have their areas in the jungle, and in recent years they involve the native aborigines in their activities, so the latter agree to cooperate to get more and more. But there are still some tribes with little or no contact with the outside world.
Me: How about the fires that happened recently in Amazonia?
Philip: It is not just recently, it is from many years ago. But seems from 2019 it is accelerating. Everybody knows that the fires are human-made.
Me: But this is a rainforest, with so much water everywhere, how is it possible to burn so easily?
Philip: They have their ways. There is a savanna beyond the boundaries of the rainforest. First, they burn the drier savanna, the high temperature dries the neighboring forest, and the fires surround it. As a result, those parts of the forest that are near the savanna are different- they are not humid, but dry, like the forests in Europe. They burn easily. Thus, little by little, by a combination of savanna, dry forests, and fire, the Amazon rainforest is shrinking and it seems nothing can stop this process.
Me: So, how do you think about the future of Amazonia?
Philip: It’s sad. I can say that I am the last real explorer of the Amazon rainforest. Only this year (2020) in June, it already shrank by 50% of the lost forests in the last year. As a result, this magnificent rainforest is quickly turning into spots. Those who would cross it from now would actually cross partially jungle, partially dry forests and savanna, or even urban, industrial, or deserted areas.
Me: Yes, it is sad. It seems that the Amazon rainforest will no longer be the largest equatorial rainforest on the Earth. The largest jungles that remain are in Congo and Papua.
Philip: Yes, but the same destruction is running there too, although in different ways.
Me: So, we just hope what can be saved, to be saved. Do you have plans for new expeditions?
Philip: Yes, I have many plans, but I can’t say anything clear for now, it depends on many things.
Me: Thank you for your story, Philip! It really impressed me, and I hope it will impress my readers.
Philip: You are welcome!
So, we finished our conversation, and the story that Philip Lhamsuren shared with me remained living images of the Amazon rainforest in my mind. This is what obviously means to explore this majestic part of the Earth- to become a part of it.
The future of the Amazon rainforest
Unfortunately, Amazonia as we know it is something that is uncontrollably going to the past, and the future generations will only read about it. Yes, probably parts of the once magnificent jungle will remain, protected in national parks, well-arranged for tourists. Most of the local aborigines will turn into citizens, maybe farmers, or maybe will just leave this area. Some of them will remain in „ethno villages” where tour companies will guide the tourists to watch their „live performances”. But everything is going to be different, only a shadow from the past.
Or maybe it can be still preserved? Who knows! Obviously, we can’t directly do too much. But we can hope at least to influence as many people as possible to stand in the right position. It will be difficult because human greed is too strong, but we can try. There are still things stronger than it. So, let’s not stop exploring the Amazon rainforest, if not in alive, at least with our hearts!
Take a look at some travel and adventure books about the Equator:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.