Letter from Brasil: The Amazon

The Amazon is nothing like one might expect. I went there expecting to see colorful birds swooping over my head, and anacondas by the dozen, while it turned out to be a much more relaxed environment. The jungle was thick and the air filled with moisture. But just by looking around, I felt like I could’ve been in a forest in New York and I wouldn’t have known the difference! We walked through the forest on the first night, getting to areas where the ground seemed to fall out from under us, with water up to our knees, and other places where our feet were what seemed to slip out from under us. I definitely had experience with that part, finding it hard to stay on my feet throughout the entire trek.

The night trek was by far the most exciting. Our guide got a little crazy and decided that everyone was going to turn off their flashlights and walk, hand in hand, through the jungle. At first, everyone entered into panic, but soon after we felt safe, and dependent on both the guide and our partners, who we were firmly holding hands with. The darkness gave us a chance to feel as one with the jungle, making us more aware of both the sounds and the possible pounce of an animal, which brought back with it, the fear!

We spent the majority of our time on the boat, either eating or just enjoying each other’s company, with about one activity per day outside of the boat. The first day on the river, we woke up, ate breakfast and headed out to see some sights in the motorized canoes. We arrived at an enormous tree that could be seen over the rest of the forest, and its trunk hugged by a minimum of 10 people with large arms nonetheless. The guides explained that before there were walk-talkies or any technology, they would use a machete to knock on the tree, which would echo and advise anyone of their location in the jungle with the pitch that hitting the tree gave off. As we rode around in the canoes, spotting sloths and birds, it was a very surreal moment, much like many of the other moments I experienced on this trip. Every day I had to stop for a minute and realize that I was on the Amazon River, with people from all over the world, experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The second day on the boats, we woke up early to go piranha fishing. All I have to say is that the teeth on one of those fish are quite ferocious! Although I didn’t catch anything personally, there were about two other people on each boat that did, and we were then able to see and hold them. That night, the guides took us out on the canoes to go alligator hunting. He was definitely experienced with catching them because when he spotted one, we all had to turn off our flashlights and stay extremely quiet. Then the boatman would slowly get out of the boat and pounce on what he thought was the gator, only to be deceived. Needless to say, they are definitely not an easy animal to catch! It wasn’t our canoe, but one of the other canoe’s boatmen who caught one and had quite the photo shoot.

Although there were many memorable experiences throughout the trip, I think the most exciting and important for me was the visit to the riverside community. It was early in the afternoon when we were told that we were going to visit a community that had been created on the margin of the river. A community so far away from civilization couldn’t be anything too exciting, I thought. And at the end of the day, I looked back to the opinion I formed before seeing the community, and it was absolutely wrong.

After getting off the boat and seeing the school that had been created by members of the community, for children of all ages, we were amazed. We introduced ourselves to the children, and talked to them for a little bit about what they thought of other countries, and they seemed to be mesmerized that there were students from countries that they had never heard of before! Then we were hyped up to play a soccer game against the natives, girls against girls, boys against boys. I was brought back to my high school days and am proud to say that I made the game winning goal to defeat them at the game they play best. The end of the afternoon was filled with playing duck, duck, goose and braiding hair with the numerous children that seemed to arrive every minute. By far, this was the best day of the trip. I now appreciate both the life of a minuscule riverside community and, even more, my short, but experience-filled life.

Alyssa may be reached at


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