Savannah Grace

Heart of the Rainforest

“If I hear the word ‘activity’ one more time, I think I’m going to cry,” Kees said, speaking my mind perfectly.

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Having risen that morning at 4a.m. for the first activity, we arrived back at the lodge at 10 am, given just a couple hours free time before lunch followed by our next activity, a three hour trek through the bushes, then an hour night walk activity after our 7pm dinner.

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It was nice always having the trails completely to ourselves, the three of us slipping in the mud past monkey laden bushes and 500 year old Ironwood trees that reach way up into the sky. Vines wrapped like shackles around their branches keeping them from reaching the stars.

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Brazil nut trees are famously known for growing up to almost 40 metres (120ft), towering far above the rainforest canopies, dwarfing the rest of the trees. I was never a huge fan of its fruit until this trip. In fact, did you know where brazil nuts came from? Did you know they come from a tree? I didn’t either. I also didn’t realize that these delicious nuts that we find in supermarkets distributed in plastic sacks, could so easily be mistaken for a coconut. Yes. A coconut! And the amazing part was when you take one of the shelled nuts from the coconut and crack it open, it is so similar in texture and taste that you could be fooled into thinking you are actually eating a coconut. Though, the only similarity of the palm tree and brazil nut tree that I saw, was that their trunks both shoot up super high and the leaves sprout out at the top like a pompom.

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We were fortunate enough to try the full procedure from hacking open the shell with a machete to enjoying the meat of the fruit. This coconut-like fruit has 10-21 nuts within each shell. With a weight of around 5lbs, falling from those incredible heights, reaching up to speeds of 50mph during its 40metre descent, can be quite dangerous. Who knew the biggest threat in the rainforest was the brazil nut? Steer clear when they start dropping.

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The agoutis, a large rodent we’d seen previously sniffing around the lodge just outside our bedroom is the ONLY known animal in the rainforest that is capable of cracking these intensely hard shells open. Well, that is if you don’t count the capuchin monkeys who have apparently used stoned as a tool to crack them open.

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Jair constantly stopped us on the trail to listen for wild boar after smelling their unmistakably horrendous stench. We constantly teased each other. “I’m sorry to break it to you Jair, but that’s Kees you’ve been smelling all this time.”

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After more than an hour walking into the depths of the rainforest, I couldn’t help but think of how royally screwed we would be if we got lost. The occasional fallen tree would block the narrow path and we would climb over or walk around it, always finding the path again. But when we reached a swamp area and had to cross the murky, ankle-deep waters, leaving the marked trail behind us, I once again felt so very small and vulnerable. And then Kees, of course, had to mention the word “caiman” and “anaconda” and how perfect this was for nesting grounds.

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By now I had full faith in our guide but I still couldn’t help wonder how on earth he knew his way. Looking back the way we came, any signs of a path had already vanished in the bush and as far as my untrained eyes could see, there was no path to be found ahead.

Successfully crossing the swamp, we finally made it to the incredible tree, a MASSIVE 50 metre (160 feet) ceiba tree, also known as a Silk Cotton Tree. We’d seen large and similar trees on our way but the mother tree was like none other. 50 people holding hands may not be able to wrap their arms around that queen! We had truly found the heart of the rainforest.

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Walking up to her, Jair told us that the locals and shaman believe it to be a thousand years old. Though that is questionable, it undoubtedly has been standing in that rainforest for centuries. When the Europeans were riding around in fancy horse-drawn carriages down cobblestone streets and constructing architectural masterpieces and the Incas were building temples, here she was deep in the rainforest. While empires were falling and being rebuilt, despite the rapid growth of technology and civilizations, the tree remained. There she was ever present, listening to the sounds of nature and watching generations of birds and warthogs grow at her roots. Neutral to the passing jaguars, as they monitored their territory and hunted at her feet.

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The tree is sacred and the locals believe the spirit of the jungle lives within the tree and perhaps its true. She gave shelter, energy and life to so many creatures throughout the centuries that perhaps a part of those animals decomposed, gave energy and life to the mother tree so they could live on through her and thus becoming the heart of the forest together. Touching my skin to something that has been alive that long was magical. I feel blessed to have had the chance to be in her presence and try my very best to imagine the seed she once was.

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Savannah Grace

Without Googling, how many pounds of nuts can a brazil nut tree produces each year?

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