Stories from the Amazon

  • Jacobs Takes to Ecuador to Begin His Latest Adventure

    Going at a pace until the wheels fall off the wagon was beginning to catch up with me as I struggled to stay awake and pack my bags. Ten hours remained before my flight to Ecuador was set to take off at 10 a.m.

    Ecuador boys in yellow capsHow do you pack for a six-month journey when you are not sure what the future will bring?

    The Amazon is both a river and a river basin. It starts in southern Peru at around 18,000 feet and flows to the coast of Brazil to the Atlantic almost 4,000 miles later. More than 1,100 tributaries contribute to the creation of the Amazon River.

    The river basin is a huge expanse of land similar in size to the lower 48 states. The upper reaches of the river basin touch Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

    Almost half the distance the Amazon travels is through the largest rainforest in the world. This means I tried to pack into one large backpack and a smaller book bag what's needed for the mountains and also the hot humid rainforest. I've been abroad, but I haven't traveled solo since 2007; suddenly, I felt a little rusty.

    With everything imaginable spread across my living room floor, I began to assemble what I thought I would need for such a journey.

    A hammock for the long boat rides down the Amazon. A warm sleeping bag for the high altitudes of the Andes. Plenty of mosquito repellent and, of course, my camera gear.

    I eventually got to the point where I just decided it was time to go and hoped I had what I needed.

    I boarded the plane in Omaha and began my journey to Quito, Ecuador.

    At 11 p.m., I stepped off the plane onto the continent of South America and what really did feel like a world away from Nebraska.

    A man holding a sign at the Quito airport greeted me. He was a driver sent to pick me up and take me to my hotel.

    "Welcome to Ecuador, Mr. Jacobs," he said. "Your first time here?"

    "No," I replied. "I was here once in 2004, but I got sick and had to cut my trip short. I've come back to finish what I started, which is the desire to understand the Amazon River Basin."

    Walking uphill to where he parked his taxi, I suddenly noticed it took an effort to breathe. It was a reminder that the altitude of Quito is 9,200 feet.

    The next day, I met some of the people who were to be my travel companions on the organized rainforest journey. This trip would officially begin in three days. You see, you just can't jump off a boat and go hang out with indigenous people in the rainforest of South America; it is more complicated to visit people who have limited contact with western cultures.

    Together we spent the day wandering around Quito. At one point we ended up on top of one of the hills, overlooking the 2.5 million people who call it home. A busload of school children in black and yellow uniforms was spread across the hill to learn about the special location that has a statue of a winged virgin.

    As my travel companions examined the statue, I pulled out my photos to show some pictures of Nebraska students. Suddenly, children with curious eyes and faces swarmed around me. Next, an impromptu English lesson unfolded as I taught them the Hokey Pokey.

    They returned the favor with the song, "If you're happy and you know it."

    When we were leaving, one of the teachers came up to me and said, "Thank you for being so kind to our students."

    That made me think about what a student said to my friend, Amy Tharp, who is a teacher at Highland Elementary in Littleton, Colo. When I talked about my journey, Landon asked, "Does Dean really know what he is getting into by going to see the Amazon?"

    The answer to that would be "no," but when you're happy and you know it, it doesn't matter.

    Next, exploring Ecuador.

    Fremont Tribune

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