Blame my parents. My Amazon fascination started when I was young, with Animal Planet and Discover Channel. My favorites were Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin- I loved watching them trek to the wildest places on earth, and it inspired me to travel myself. For me, the must-see destination had always been the Amazon. When I was sixteen, the opportunity presented itself, and I jumped on it. It would be my first time out of the country.
In August 2009, our high school’s biology teacher took a group of us from our quiet town in Wisconsin to Iquitos, Peru, the “gateway” to the Amazon. There were nineteen of us, including three chaperones. Seeing the huge, misty Amazon for the first time, I was a little overwhelmed. One of my life’s goals was being realized. After more than an hour on the river, we arrived at our first destination with Explorama Lodges. Beds with mosquito nets, open windows and rooms- it was all so wild! I was excited to make the lodges my home for a few days and was determined to have a great experience.
How quickly things can change.
The second day just before dinner, I was exhausted. Everything from that night is kind of a blur, but I remember falling asleep in a hammock and waking up to find my chaperone. When I finally found her, I had to leave the room after five minues to vomit. I was so sick. My biology teacher had said before we’d even left that he usually had at least one person who reacted badly to something in the jungle and got sick, but I never thought it would be me. I thought nothing could ruin my dream trip. Oh, the irony.
For about the next three days I was miserable. The sight of food repulsed me and made me want to vomit. It was awful getting out of bed in the mornings- all I wanted to do was rest. I don’t even remember how many times I leaned over the edge of our boat to throw up. But despite the nausea and whatever other discomfort I was experiencing, I was determined to make the best of it. I hiked all over, went on numerous boat rides, shot a blow gun, held a sloth, and even went on a canopy walk three times (that’s 118 feet up in the air)! In fact, I only missed out on one activity, a night boat ride, but it turns out I didn’t miss much- our group was too noisy to see any animals.
I never found out what exactly made me sick. Looking back, I’d say it was too much sun and not enough water. (So, future Amazon trekkers, when you are less than four degrees away from the Equator, let this be a lesson: you must FORCE yourself to drink!) Whatever it was, I do believe it happened for a reason. I got sick in a rather remote part of the world, thousands of miles away from home, without my parents, and I came out okay, it not better, than before I got sick. I walked into school a few weeks later feeling not nervous, but proud and confident. If I could walk out of the Amazon alive, I could do anything. I didn’t see my illness as a burden, but a lesson- I could do anything with a positive attitude, even piranha fish. You can blame my parents for my Amazon fascination, but the inner strength I found when I visited for myself was all my own.
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