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Thoughts on our Amazon trip

I've sort of melded pieces of a number of replies I've sent to a number of
people into what I've posted below.  If it seems a little disjointed, that's
why.  But at least it gives you a little patch work view of what we saw and
did.  I thought you all might enjoy it.

The river itself is truly awesome.  Can you imagine a river so big that when
you're in the 
middle of it, you can't see either bank?  That's how big the Amazon is in
places.  It carries 1/5th of 
the entire volume of fresh water in the world.  The Amazon basin is as big as
the whole U.S.
but the entire slope from the base of the Andes to the Atlantic ocean is only
about the same
grade as the bottom of your bathtub.  If Lake Ontario were emptied, it would
take only 3
hours for the Amazon to fill it back up again.  30% of all known species of
plants and
animals are found in the Amazon.

Our base of operations was the Harpy Eagle, a fairly typical Amazon river boat
- 3 decks,
and accommodations from 18 passengers plus 5 crew.  We had nice, clean (if
spartan) cabins
with bunks and a private bathroom.  Meals on the boat were large and delicious.

Our group of 18 included people with diverse interests and areas of expertise. 
Charlene Nash, the trip coordinator is the aquatic horticulturist for the
Tennessee Aquarium.  Stan Skinger, who maintains the water lily collection at
the Denver Botanical Gardens was heading up Victoria research for the Victoris
Conservancy.  There were several people with ties to other public aquariums and
botanical gardens, an aquarium retailer from the UK, a number of aquarium
hobbyists, and a few people who were "just" there to experience the beauty of
the Amazon first hand.  The APD was well represented by myself, Erik Olsen,
Olga Betts and Dave Gomberg.

We trailed 3 large motorized canoes which were used for most of our excursions
away from
the big boat.  We spent several days on the Solimoes, then went up the Rio
Negro.  We went
back for one more morning of collecting on the Solimoes just before we left.

Everywhere you look are birds and flowers.  Macaws buzz you when you get too
close to
their nests the way Jays do at home.  And it's never just one, it's always a
pair (they mate 
for life) which buzz you with military precision.  Toucans call back and forth
and eye you 
suspiciously from the tree tops.  

When we went out at night, fish actually jumped into the canoes.  Our lights
would catch the
eyes of Caimans in the water and Tarantulas in the trees.  I'll tell you,
people pick up 
their feet REALLY FAST when a small caiman is inadvertently dropped in the
bottom of the 

We could stand up in our canoes and pick Bromeliads out of the tree tops. 
(Orchids too,
although we did not collect them as they are protected)  We went out without
motors before
dawn to hear the howler monkeys.  Other times we saw troops of squirrel monkeys
Capuchins leaping through the trees.  

We didn't see a jaguar, but we did find a tree where one had very recently been
his claws.  Gave you a _mighty_ big respect for those claws.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are LOTS of aquatic plants, at least on the
Amazon and 
Solimoes and we collected many aquarium type fish from heavy vegetation.  I
think these areas
are avoided as primary collecting spots simply because it's HARDER to collect
there.  Also,
most serious fish collectors would rather go at low water, when fish are more
Most of the plants we saw at the "waters edge" would be high and dry during the
dry season.  We 
actually found heavy marginal vegetation in a few places on the Rio Negro too,
but only in places 
where there are breaks in the forest along the edge of permanent dry land.  

Year 'round, the temps only range from the low 70's to the high 80's.  It was
while we were there.  Nights were around 70, mid-day temperatures hovered
around 80.  It
was hot-ish if you were in the sun, but most of the time in the forest you're
in deep shade, 
and afternoon is when it's most likely to rain, which cools things off again
too.  If if gets
too hot, you just go in for a swim.  And yes, there are pirhanas, and no, they
don't bother
swimmers. A large one was caught not far from where we were swimming, but we
ate him, not the
other way around.<g>  OTOH, the natives _do_ take Candiru _very_ seriously.  No
one ever goes
in the water without a tight fitting garment of some sort.

The sunrises are spectacular, and the sunsets even more so.  Best of all is
being surrounded 
by a pod of Amazon dolphins breaking the water as a glorious sunset unfolds
around you.  

You have to have permits to bring any plant material back, and you have to trim
it, clean it
of all soil and disinfect it carefully.  As far as fish are concerned, as long
as they are 
not either Brazilian food fish or CITES species neither the Brazilian
government or our own 
could care less.  Agriculture went over our plants with a jeweler's loupe (no
kidding) on the
way through customs, but as far as the fish were concerned, they hardly gave
them a glance.
They opened my cooler, looked at the top row of bags and asked me if they were
all alive.  I
said, "I hope so," and the closed it up and waved me through.

The fish I brought back are not "important" in any scientific sense.  But
they _are_ fish that you couldn't walk into the average pet store and find.
 None of the fish I brought home are seen in the hobby more than
occasionally.  The species I brought home were:

8 Hoplosternum littorale (grey cat fish from the Caiman lake)
6 Corydoras pygmaeus (little catfish from near the Victoria "Randii")
Tiny baby Pseudoplatystoma sp. which Lee Finley says will grow big enough
to eat my children :-(
Baby Soribum lima, a more modestly sized shovelnose that tops out at about 18"
Several Hypostomus type sucker mouthed cats
Several Rineloricaria sp. too small to ID more accurately at this point
Pimelodella gracilis (tiny snake-like catfish)
3 Leporinus pellegrini (a small "head stander" type characin)
2 Copella natterii (splash tetras)
2 bronze colored "silver dollar" type characins
Knife fish tentatively ID'd as Steatogenys elegans

Plants I brought back include several ferns, some clearly terrestrial, others
amphibious.  Several bromeliads and tillandsias, and small philodendron type
creepers, a
passion flower vine.  Several stem type plants including at least 3 species of
that are not commonly available commercially.  Phylanthus fluitans, a
Hydrocotyle sp. and a
Marsilea sp.  

If you ever get the chance to go, JUMP at the opportunity.  I can't wait to go


P.S. Dave, Erik and Olga, please feel free to add to this as you see fit!