Amazon Rainforest…living in the forest. Questions people ask me.

People often ask how is it possible for someone used to a comparatively easy Western life to live in the Amazon forest for any length of time.
For me it was easy….I wasn’t concerned with the lack of communication. I know some people would go crazy without constant stimulation and entertainment from TVs and radios, or contact by mobiles, telephones and i Pads or laptops. I had none of those to keep me company and only missed them when I thought of my family.
I found a constantly changing environment and the extraordinary wildlife kept me fascinated instead.

The heat and humidity of the rainforest tended to drain the body, well mine to be exact, of all energy. I was, therefore, quite happy to sit for long periods in my rocking chair on the verandah, camera at the ready, pen in hand, recording and writing about what I saw. I was richly rewarded in this way every single day by the forest, its wildlife and people, but I did have to get used to things I take for granted being different.

Hammocks “Do you have a bed?” “How do you sleep, aren’t you scared?”

My bed was a hammock. Quite comfortable, but cold around three in the morning so I doubled up a blanket and lay it in the bottom of the hammock and kept a light blanket ready to pull over when the cold awoke me.
Was I scared…….rarely is the answer. The mosquito net kept out creepy crawlies and the secured door and window ensured I wouldn’t be surprised by animals at night.

Interestingly it was lack of privacy I found hard to adjust to. Privacy appeared to be something alien to forest dwellers. I often shared my lodge with neighbours, friends, relatives of friends etc. They thought little of hooking up their hammocks to my bedroom walls or to the verandah. I often woke to find a stranger or neighbour sleeping on the verandah or in the kitchen.

Invited Guests…..
People came visiting without warning too, often at lunchtimes, which meant sharing my sometimes meagre, dwindling rations. The thoughtful visitors brought fish, nuts or fruit to share, but some assumed because I was a foreigner I was rich and would supply a sumptuous spread, these folk were quickly disillusioned as they were handed a small plate of sticky rice.

“How do you keep clean?”

Washing…bathing was done in the river several times a day. I knew there were all sorts of possibly dangerous creatures, some able to remove a body part or strangle or poison me, in the water, but needs be. River dipping was the only way to keep clean without modern facilities. Really I rarely thought about the possible consequences.

Our tiny second-hand generator only lasted a few months, so lighting in the evenings was provided by solar lights brought from England or by candles. Impossible to read or write but enough for dinner table conversation or cosy chats.

For all its difficulties, I miss the forest every single moment.

Inviting river at dawn…..but what lies under the calm glassy surface…….

Agami Heron…Chestnut-bellied Heron…Agamia Agami

Agami Heron…Chestnut-bellied Heron…..Agamia Agami

The Agami Herons were regular visitors to the waterfall area. Being shy they kept hidden in the undergrowth most of the time, but occasionally I would catch sight of them on a branch or moving slowly along the river bank.

The Agami is a long billed, long necked, short legged, medium size heron. It has a chestnut neck and chest and with a creamy white stripe down the middle of the fore-chest. The wings are dark green in mature herons, brown in immature birds.

Agami gather together to nest in large colonies and usually have two blue eggs. A quiet, shy bird, when gathered together they make a low snoring sound. They eat fish, frogs, snails and small reptiles.

Despite their reputation for shyness the Agami did not fly off as we passed by in our canoe, but carried on picking amongst the reeds for fish, frogs and small reptiles.


Ferry Boats…Amazon Rainforest Travel.

Ferry boats…Amazon Rainforest Travel.

Travelling in the Amazon is usually done by boat, either canoe, small fast boat or ferry.
Ferries can be small, sleek and fast, but more often medium size and slow.
These wooden craft are the boats favoured by locals for longish trips, because they are the cheapest way to travel on the endless river systems.

They are also relaxing. Passengers will often bring their own hammock on board. The hammock is then attached to hooks on the boats ceilings and used to sleep and rest in and to keep children entertained and safe.
It is usual to see men fast asleep and snoring, women breast feeding small babies or reading or playing with children, old people talking animatedly in family groups, teenagers flirting and holding hands, all laying in their hammocks.
I found it a peaceful, calm and civilised way to travel and preferred it to the sleek, fast, modern craft with the noisy engines humming away, vibrating through your body and ending all possibility of conversation.
Although admittedly the engines on these old wooden boats can be noisy themselves and can belch out unpleasant diesel fumes. Distancing your hammock from the engine compartment is an art and requires good knowledge of the boats design.


I had to board one of these ferries in the middle of a deep caiman and piranha infested river one summer morning.
I stood up in the canoe and grabbed one of the huge tyres on the side of the boat. I had one foot in the canoe, the other in a tyre. For an instant I panicked, then turned towards the ferry and held on for dear life. All the while the canoe and ferry were moving, but in different directions.
I managed to climb up on top of the tyres and grabbed the handrail and hauled myself over.
The captain and passengers looked on nonchalantly as the ‘Gringo’ ie me, boarded in this unusual fashion…..ferries are usually boarded from harbour decking. The captain came up to me with a broad smile and shook my hand with a look of respect.
I was royally fed and watered by the kind locals on the five hour journey back to town who prepared meals like fish soup in a tiny kitchen.

A forest neighbour built this model of a ferry for his son.

Palla, Conta or Shapaja Palm (Attalea butyracea) Amazon Rainforest Trees.

Palla, Conta or Shapaja Palm.(Attalea butyracea)

There are about 1.8 billion Palla across the Amazon Basin. The palm leaves have always been used by indigenous people to thatch the roofs of their huts.
The large leaves of the Palla were used to thatch the roof of my own lodge. The leaves last 5/10 years, depending on the weather and skill of the thatchers. My roof was looking decidedly sad after just three years and had several gaps through which the rain poured, but I just had it patched up rather then put a plastic or tin roof on as was suggested.


My friends, local people, were able to weave the palms too. They made sunscreens for me and room dividers.


Local people were also able to make intricate decorations from Palla leaves. They included hearts, flowers, birds, fans, insects, and so on. They sometimes made them without taking the leaves from the stem, as shown.


The Amazon Rainforest has 16,000 different species of trees, including the Palla palm. It is thought there are four hundred billion trees altogether in the rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is truly a treasure.


Caiman…Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Dwarf Caiman. Brazilian Amazon.

Caiman….Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Caiman.

There are several types of Caiman in the Amazon rainforest…Black Caiman, Spectacled Caiman, Yacare Caiman-(Jacares in Portuguese), Cuviers Dwarf …..The Black Caiman is the largest at 13/20ft (6m) and the Cuviers Dwarf the smallest at some 3ft (1m).
The Caiman resembles alligators. It is a four legged reptile with a long snout and long tapering tail. Their dark coloured, plated bodies have markings, stripes and spots, that help them blend in with the rainforest.
Caiman eat fish, birds, small animals and snakes. They can live for 50 to 80 years.

Caiman lived on the banks of the river close to the lodge.
I didn’t realise just how close, until a friend, a forest guide, went for a late dip in the river. He took a torch and on returning regaled me with a description of the size of the biggest one, worked out by the distance between its eyes, which glow in torchlight.
‘You are joking,’ I said with surprise and ignorance…but no, he was not joking. He assured me that bathing during the day should not be a problem, but to be cautious in the evening.

I was concerned by the behaviour of Caiman only twice. Once when I was fishing with a local and a large log seemed to be following the canoe. He laughed when I pointed out the ‘log’. It was a Caiman, he said, and it can smell fresh, Britisher flesh!
The other time I was concerned by a Caiman was when I was doing the washing up, sitting on the harbour decking with my feet in the water. I caught sight of the eyes of a large Caiman staring at me from a short distance away, then it sank and I jumped up and moved quickly away from the waters edge depriving the large reptile of its English breakfast.
Sadly, confirmation of their existence close to my lodge was made when, on returning to the lodge during the dry season, I saw the shrivelled body of a caiman on the sandy banks of the river, picked clean by vultures. Maybe it had been surprised by the rivers quick departure or maybe one of the Jaguars who lived in the forest had got him.


Amazon Rainforest Trees…Huicungo (Astrocaryum murumuru)

Amazon Rainforest Trees….Huicungo (Astrocaryum murumuru)

There are more than a billion Huicungo trees in the rainforest.They grow up to 15 metres and their fruits are edible.

Like many trees in the rainforest the Huicungo uses sharp spines on its trunk to protect it. Some birds ie the Long-billed Wood Creeper, are able to forage for insects without becoming impaled.


The hard seeds of the Huicungo are used to make black rings.