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Amazon Adventures, Day 4 – Toward the Lowlands
by -- March 7th, 2011

We had an early wake-up and breakfast, after which we met our new bus driver, cooks, and guides, Darwin and José.

Guides Darwin and Jose, searching for wildlife.

Guides Darwin and Jose, searching for wildlife.

Both are very knowledgeable about the rainforest, and Darwin is an explorer, searching for the fabled lost Incan city of the Amazon.

Today we made a journey “up and over” the Andes mountains, during which we saw snow-covered mountains and waterfalls. We learned that these mountains and the snow melt from them provide sources for the mighty Amazon River, and draw a border for the Amazon Basin watershed.

Appreciating a change in ecosystem while passing over a landslide.

Appreciating a change in ecosystem while passing over a landslide.

During the drive, there were drastic changes in the surrounding ecosystem. The road shifted from iron-rich red dirt in the highlands to grey mud resembling the underlying shale. At sites of landslides, we observed igneous rocks that Dr. Baker identified as granitic in composition.

Dr. Baker, Rachel, and Tara help push the bus over a landslide.

Dr. Baker, Rachel, and Tara help push the bus over a landslide.

The vegetation in the area also changed from sparse grasses and few tall trees to a thicker cover, with a distinguished canopy and understory. The leaves on the trees are broader and often have a waxy covers. In the afternoons, the area remains clear rather than falling under a dense cloud cover as it did at higher elevations. We are seeing ferns and taller vegetation, as well as lichen covering exposed rock faces. Taller trees are covered in moss, whereas at higher elevations, shrubby bushes grew on the hillsides. There has also been a dramatic increase in ambient temperature.

The drive down the mountains allowed us to witness the impacts landslides have on the mountain ecosystem, as well as on transportation. The loose rocks and mud are very prone to becoming loose and falling in the wet season. Our bus managed to pass over all landslides we encountered, though we sometimes had to get out and/or help push it over fallen rocks and mud. We were lucky to avoid any detrimental accidents.

Frog in cloud forest

Frog in cloud forest

We finally arrived at the cloud forest of San Paulo and had our first bednets to try out. The cooks made us a meal of trout, vegetables, rice, and soup, and then we took a night hike to see nocturnal creatures. We saw caterpillars, grasshoppers, tadpoles, a frog, and several bats. We also heard calls of frogs and birds. The forest is full of so much mystery!

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