Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Composer Flautist Eight Time Emmy Award Winning Recording Artist Kat Epple Flautist - Composer Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
 

Voices from the Rainforest

El Arca, Our 90 ft. River Boat

A Journey on the Amazon River

By Kat Epple

 

It had been more than an hour since I had seen any lights on the ground as I watched from my airplane window. We were flying over the Amazon rainforest on our way to Iquitos, Peru. As the landing gear came down I could still see no lights, no airport. We were quite low when finally I saw flickering fires and the lights of the landing strip. As we taxied to the terminal the landing strip lights were turned off. They were not expecting another flight that night and electricity is precious in a city where all supplies including fuel for generators must be shipped by air or travel up-river by boat. There are no roads or railroads which access the city.

The airport was crowded and noisy with native dancing and singing, and long lines for customs. Eventually, I found the rest of my travel group and my luggage and climbed into the steamy interior of our bus. The tour guide joked that they would turn on the bus’ natural air conditioning as soon as it started to move. It was open-air and had no windshield.

Iquitos is a city of 200,000 and is located near the origin of the Amazon river. It was 11:30 on a muggy Saturday night. The streets were lined with people talking, cooking, and drinking and music was blasting from inside the discos. The taxis looked liked motorized rickshaws. There were no cars.

Our Intrepid Adventurers from left to right: Erma, Kat, Rae, and Karol

The bus stopped at a dilapidated dock and we and twenty travelers boarded the Arca, our home for the week to come. In a short time the boat started to move – our adventure had begun. I watched as the city lights receded into the distance. We then found our way to our small rooms. My sister, Karol, and I shared a room and my adventurous mother and my equally adventurous aunt, Rae, shared the room next door.

The journey down the world’s largest river covered 650 miles through parts of Peru, Columbia and Brazil. Our 90 foot river boat is the only research vessel on the Amazon. Our guide, Senor Daniel Rios, a native Peruvian, is affectionately called ‘the Professor of the Amazon.’ He has been a naturalist and guide in Peru for over 30 years. His scientific knowledge is extensive and his insights into the customs of the people, their magic, their medicines, and the politics of ecology were so valuable. The twenty plus guests on the boat were an assortment of amateur and professional scientists, an intelligent and enthusiastic group with a flexible attitude and interested in learning almost anything about the Amazon.

During our first night I was awakened as the boat grounded on a sand bar and the crew struggled for hours to get free. I held on to the top bunk bed as the boat rocked with the crew’s efforts to free us from the sand bar. Whenever we traveled at night, the first mate constantly searched the water ahead with a bright light so that we could avoid hitting the many huge logs which floated in the boat’s path.

At sunrise the next morning I couldn’t wait to get out of the room and catch my first glimpse of this magnificent river in daylight. It was a thrilling sight! Lush vegetation reached right to the water’s edge, the smells of unfamiliar plants, I could hear squawking of parrots but could not see them. The vegetation was so thick and so very green that the birds, especially green parrots, were difficult to spot. The river was only about a mile across this far upstream, although at the other end, 2,300 miles to the east, it is more than 100 miles across.

There were occasional thatched huts on stilts. Children would run along the bank to watch the big boat pass by. The only other boats on the river were the native people’s dugout canoes. The children laughed as they paddled out to catch the wake from our boat.

For our first excursion of the day we took the small launch up a branch of the river where we saw giant lily pads eight feet across. Twenty foot long spider webs were shining brightly as they caught the morning sun in the branches of the huge trees overhead. Fluorescent blue butterflies fluttered about the boat. Cicadas buzzed, birds of all types squawked, called and sang to create an incredible din of sounds.

As the boat docked at Yagua Indian Village, I was greeted by two small children, a girl and a boy, who held each of my hands as they walked with me. They seemed to enjoy answering my questions about what they learn in school, their names and where they lived.

The Yaguas wore traditional clothing made from tree bark and they played music on their unique handcrafted flutes and drums as they danced and sang a song in their native language.

The chief and his wife talked to us in their native language. Their voices were soft as they spoke about how they travel upriver to tend their crops (manioc). The chief explained that tomorrow he would go hunting deep into the jungle for four or five days.

As I began walking back to the launch my two little friends once again took my hands and walked me. I searched through my fanny pack to find something to give them as a parting gift. I found a ball point pen and a comb and I gave one to each of them. They really seemed to love their gifts.

When we returned to the boat it was quite hot. I donned my swimsuit and jumped off the boat for a swim in the cool muddy waters of the Amazon.

Later that day we took the launch up a small tributary called the Paranquiro. On the peaceful banks of the river we saw a fish house or farm house where people stay while tending their crops or fishing.

The clear, dark river seemed to end ahead as the water became covered with floating plats. The boat glided easily over the hyacinths. Suddenly hundreds of insects of all colors and shapes jumped into the boat. Click, click, splat, as they landed on the metal boat and onto wet raincoats.

The next day as the boat turned toward the Atacuari River I heard the familiar sound of porpoises breathing through their blow holes. Gray dolphin surfaced. They were smaller than the bottle nose dolphins that live off the coast of Florida and much shyer. But closer to the boat swan several large pink porpoises. This porpoise has a dome-like head and is twice as big as the gray porpoise. It is against the law to harm these fresh water porpoises but it is probably the superstitions surrounding them that has actually protected them. It is believed that ill luck will befall the killer of a pink dolphin. Pink river dolphin are blamed for unwanted pregnancies and birth defects since the males allegedly turn into handsome men at night and seduce ladies. The burning of dolphin oil is thought to cause blindness. So, luckily these defenseless mammals are respected and not much hunted for food.

At the point where the Atacuari meets the Amazon there is a definite line the clear black water of the tributary and the brown muddy water of the Amazon. I jumped in the water for a swim with the dolphins in the deep waters of the Atacuari and the Amazon Rivers.

After dinner, a small group of us took the launch up Rio Caballo Cocha. At the end of the river was a large lake where we stopped to fish. As I dropped my line into the water I noticed a stilt house in this beautiful, quiet spot. Three young children ran down the bank toward our launch. They were carrying enormous Brazil nuts that they wanted to sell. As we were negotiating for the purchase of the nuts I felt a fish on my line and pulled a large piranha from the water. It was quite delicious for lunch the next day.

After a beautiful sunset on the lake we headed back to the Arca. The night sky was spectacularly unfamiliar with no wash from the city lights. In the Southern Hemisphere new stars and constellations were visible, the Southern Cross, Clouds of Magellan, and any familiar constellations hung upside down! With our flashlights trained on the river, we watched the caiman’s eyes glowed a bright red reflection.

The Route We Took

Our next stop was in Leticia, Colombia. The borders of Colombia, Peru and Brazil all converge at this point. The primitive zoo in Leticia contained many of the indigenous animals. I played with an anteater which was a strange experience indeed as it wrapped its paws around me and tried to explore my pockets. I was also able to hold a cuddly, mellow and cute creature which appeared to be a small and distant relative of the bear family.

Our tour guide in Leticia spoke about how the war on drugs is expensive for the people of Colombia. He explained that many of their people feel that their war on hunger and poverty are more important.

We stopped at an open air market in Tabatinga, Brazil where the local people could buy anything they might need including vegetables, raw meats, clothing, hardware, shoes, fishing supplies, coffee and turtles for food. Small, makeshift wooden stalls with tables and a small wood fire were the local restaurants. They advertised their menus by hanging up whatever food was available: unrefrigerated fish, chicken, vegetables. This was definitely not a tourist town.

In one of the shops in Leticia I discovered two magnificent native flutes which I purchased. One was an end blown bamboo classical Peruvian flute. The other one was made of clay with carvings of leaves and adorned with bright red seeds. Whenever I play these flutes I am instantly transported back to the Amazon.

That night I stayed up talking with two of the young men who worked on the boat. When I offered to buy them a beer they offered in return to teach me some new phrases in pish. We talked late into the night about what their life was like on the Amazon and they asked me about life in the US. They called me by a nickname they had given me: '‘Gatita Blanca'’ white kitten.

After visiting two different Indian villages, the Juitoto and the Bora, our tour guide, Senor Rios talked to us about their futures: "Indigenous people degrade their cultures when the younger generation no longer wants to learn or live the traditional ways. The younger people of the villages often want to move to the cities, get jobs and apartments and live ‘modern lifestyles’. So the languages , customs, crafts, music and medicines are being lost because they are not being passed on. As the teachers and shamans (medicine men) die, their body of knowledge is lost forever. This causes the souls of their cultures to wither away. The villagers we saw today were just shadows of what they were. Native peoples mostly conserve their own land until they are affected by outside cultures." Senor Rios has witnessed many of the changes in the area over the years.

Just One of the Many Kats of the Jungle

Ethnobotanists are working today with native Amazonians to learn about their medicines, when to use them, where to find them. And how to prepare them. Whenever possible these scientists are learning directly from the shamans. There are many plants in the rainforest of which we in the ‘civilized world’ have no knowledge. The people who live in the rainforest do not, as a rule, get cancer or heart disease. This phenomenon is not well understood at all and much more research needs to be done before the people and their lore are gone forever. ‘Lessons of the Rainforest’ is highly recommended for further reading on this fascinating subject.

Our last night on the river tour was spent at the Amazon Lodge. It is a remote camp with thatched roof huts and kerosene lamps on the banks of the Momon River. I began talking with Anselmo, our camp guide, and discovered that he played the traditional Peruvian flute called a Quena. He played a very sad folk song for me. It was quite beautiful, emotional and haunting. I asked him to look at the flute I had purchased in Leticia to tell me if it was of good quality. He played it and pronounced it an excellent flute. A young man from our tour staff joined our musical ensemble on percussion. We played music all night long and I recorded it on my portable DAT recorder. Now, as I play it back and listen I hear our Peruvian music echoing the thick jungle vegetation. I also listen to the crickets, the night birds, the howling and rustling of the creatures who live in the unforgettable, beautiful Amazon rainforest.

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Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Composer Flautist Eight Time Emmy Award Winning Recording Artist Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
 

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