If anyone had told me a year ago that today I was going to be sprinting through a rain forest in Brazil during a thunderstorm, I would have laughed scornfully at how little the person knew me. A rain forest? In South America? The place with snakes and jaguars and spiders? I would have skeptically taken a sip of my tea made with filtered water, placed the cup beside my comfortable chair in my carefully temperature-controlled room, folded my very clean and moisturized hands, and told the person that I have no interest in being bitten, poisoned, eaten, or sweaty, thank you very much. Also, sprinting? That might be the least believable part of the scenario.
Nevertheless, this morning I sat (sweating) in a hot room in Brazil with my fellow classmates and professors listening to our guide explain that Hollywood gives an inaccurate portrayal of rain forests and we will very likely not see any animals, and especially not snakes. We ventured out with serious doubts about our guide’s prediction, seeing anacondas in every tree root. It turns out that she was right. Snakes were absent, spiders not so much. (I would post a picture had I been brave enough to take one- they were palm-sized, and even a long-range camera zoom couldn’t get me close enough.)
Our guide was very passionate about Brazilian ecology, and very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. She stopped every few yards to point out a moss-and-fern covered tree, a flower that changes color as its pH shifts, or a curtain of stringy roots that grew from a plant growing on another plant above our heads. Whenever one of us let out a squeal upon discovering a daddy long-legs or a large grasshopper on our personage, she calmly picked it off and put it on herself instead. The guiding principle of the Atlantic rain forest, she explained, is not competition but collaboration. The moss and ferns growing out of the tree trunk are not parasitic; the organisms coexist and even contribute to the growth of the other.
It started to sprinkle when we stopped to look at the beautifully misty reservoir, so we decided to wait it out under the protective canopy. Then it started to thunder very loudly, so we decided to cut the tour short and head back to the cars. Then it started to hail, so Kirsten and I decided to run ahead of the rest of the slowpokes with my very wimpy $2.oo umbrella. We were quickly soaked through, and directed our steps instead to a nearby concession-stand type of building at the bottom of a grassy slope. We made it there (one of us by wiping out and sliding down the hill, but you don’t need to know who) just in time to hear a loud crack as a large tree crashed to the ground ten yards in front of us.
The rest of the group joined us after a few minutes, and we all stood wringing out our clothes and watching the storm on the porch of the building. The tree had fallen across the road leading out, so we weren’t sure how long we would be stuck there. However, here the Brazilian principle of collaboration over competition proved to be true for the people as well as the plants. The woman in the concession stand brought us out several rolls of fresh bread and butter, and soon another man arrived armed with only a machete-type sword to clear our way out. We were expecting it to take at least an hour, but he hacked the trunk in half and several others cleared the brush away in only about twenty minutes. What I was envisioning as a Jurassic Park-type situation turned into a wonderful experience of teamwork and hospitality. While I’m sure that the rain forest is beautiful on a sunny day, I wouldn’t have preferred to experience it any other way than in a violent thunderstorm with friends who are ready for adventure and Brazilians who are ready to help us when we inevitably need it.
We’ve reached the end of our week at Universidade de Metodista, and although I have been bitten and sweaty, I haven’t been poisoned, eaten, or even struck by lightning. I am very thankful to all of those who have helped to make this week wonderful for all of us, and I am so glad to have ventured out of my temperature-controlled room! I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’ve had a blast and would love to come back again. Iguazu Falls, here we come!