The Amazing Amazon

This item appears on page 45 of the July 2015 issue.

We have an essay contest in play at all times, and, for the time being, we’re running through the topics chosen by the late Armond Noble, ITN’s founder and original publisher, as listed in his November 2010 “Departure Lounge” column. Armond was one for alliteration, so he couldn’t resist asking subscribers to write on “The Amazing Amazon.” 

ITN staff — with consistently widely divergent opinions — graded the many essays received on that topic, and the results turned out as follows. The winning essay was written by SHARON VanDEWARK of San Diego, CA, and she will receive a 3-year extension to her ITN subscription. In second place was the submission of GAIL WANG of Troy, MI, winning a 2-year extention. The third-place winner was NILI OLAY of New York, NY, who has won an extra year’s delivery of ITN. Their essays are printed below.

Armond had fun rhyming, too, and the topic of the current essay contest is “Crete is Neat”. If you are an ITN subscriber and have been there, write on the Greek island of Crete and what you found interesting or alluring about it in no more than 300 words (note: 300 words). Email your essay to or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is Aug. 31, 2015. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will be printed in ITN.

Have you ever walked in a forest where the trees were so high that you couldn’t see their tops or so dense that the sun couldn’t penetrate down to the ground? Have you ever sat on a bench at night and it was so dark that it made no difference whether your eyes were open or closed? That’s the amazing Amazon jungle.

The Amazon River is about 4,000 miles long, so I cannot say that I have seen “The Amazon,” but I can say that I have a better understanding of the Amazon Basin after spending two weeks in five Explorama camps near Iquitos, Peru, during February 2009. 

My stay involved many jungle walks, boat rides and village visits. I ventured into the jungle in the morning, afternoon and evening, sometimes in wet conditions and sometimes in dry, each providing a different experience. 

It was interesting to see the accommodations that the lower plants make to survive in such a thick covering, and, since my visit was midway between the low- and high-water seasons, I literally could see the water cover more ground each day.

I saw many birds that live only in the Amazon Basin, plus poisonous frogs. It was fascinating to watch monkeys as well as 2-toed and 3-toed sloths move — or not move — on the branches. 

Only a 5-minute walk from Explorama’s ACTS Research Station is the Canopy Walkway, and from that height I could view the wildlife and plants from a new angle. Being so close to the walkway meant I could go in the early morning, late afternoon and evening, avoiding the day-trippers. Each visit was fascinating, and each of the walkway’s 14 stations brought delights, especially seeing sleeping birds during the night visit.

It was an amazing trip.

Nili Olay, New York, NY


“The Amazing Amazon” is what I call my pet Amazon parrot, but it also describes his homeland. We took an Amazon River cruise so we could fully appreciate my bird’s “roots.”

Cruising the river, we saw lush vegetation the same color as my parrot’s feathers. The “Meeting of the Waters” is where the Coca-Cola-colored Rio Negro flows side by side with the brown Amazon. 

We stopped by a village, where the kids climbed trees to bring us fruit, one handing me his pet toucan to hold. 

We fed pink dolphins, the largest species of freshwater dolphins in the world, and fished for piranhas so we could get up close and personal with their razor-sharp teeth.

The Amazon rainforest is considered the “lungs of the world,” so take a deep breath and breathe in the fresh air. 

There are no streetlights at night, so the darkness highlights all of the constellations, such as the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper. Go on a night safari to hunt for caimans; the guide reaches into the water and GRABS THE CAIMAN WITH HIS BARE HANDS as if he was looking for his personal pet.

You get to see lots of animals, like you do on an African safari, but in South America you can get closer to them. Hold a sloth that feels like a beanbag, feed tapirs and capybaras and watch a parrot steal lunch off of your plate and fly away.

The Amazon is a magical place. We went to see the parrots but saw so many other amazing animals and scenery. Every animal lover needs to see the amazing Amazon at least once in their lifetime.

Gail Wang, Troy, MI


After seeing hundreds of putt-putting “motorkars” (enclosed, 3-wheeled motorcycles) in Iquitos, Peru, and stepping into a water taxi for my first view of the mile-wide, milk-chocolate-brown Amazon River, I knew this would be the “Wow!” part of my South American journey.

Meeting face to face with a giant tapir on the grounds of Ceiba Tops Lodge, seeing the ceiba tree as the tallest above the canopy level, and swinging (à la Tarzan) on the long, long vines dangling from this massive tree were other “Wow!” moments. On this same jungle walk were hundreds of heliconia with bright red-and-yellow flowers which, when “milked,” produced a creamy lotion — incredible.

Out on the river there were dugout canoes — heavily laden with huge piles of bananas and plantains and so low in the water, they looked as if they were about to sink — destined for village markets along the river or to markets in Iquitos. Water taxis were taking villagers to other settlements for visiting or to sell things.

On excursions, we saw houses on stilts, sloths in trees along the riverbank, and long, hanging nests similar to those made by weaverbirds. We also went fishing for piranhas and looking for (don’t blink!) pink river dolphins. 

On side tributaries, the Amazon was choked with carpets of floating water hyacinths. Monet would have painted them (like his water lilies at Giverny) if he had been there.

Visiting an indigenous Yagua village to see how they lived was a really big “Wow!” Participating in their dances and learning to use a real blowgun, hitting the post dead on, first try — awesome!

All this and more in an area rich in diversity and with a river full of surprises! Go. See it for yourself so you, too, can say, “Wow!”

Sharon VanDewark
San Diego, CA