Student News

Swimming in the Amazon: Colombia 8

Christina Kopp – June 25, 2014

Kofi Adu ’16 and Caroline Pappas ’17 reflect on how much they learned from their experiences in the Amazon:

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Kofi: Today was a very exciting day for many reasons. We were split into two groups; some people did canoeing and others did a fishing expedition. I had never canoed before, so I found it a little difficult. However, with the help of the instructors and my friends who had experience, I was able to gain basic experience that I was not only able to use for this trip but also use when I want to go canoeing again. The most exciting thing about the canoeing was being able to swim in the Amazon River. I am not a great swimmer, so I was a little worried but everyone was wearing a life jacket and there were all of my friends to support me. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to swim but all of my peers and teachers encouraged me that they had my back. It made me feel good about making the decision to do so. After all, how many people can say they have swum in the Amazon River?

Today was a first for many things, including fishing. We had to create our fishing rod by ourself by using a nylon string, a wooden stick, and a hook. I was surprised at how simple yet effective this tool was. I did not catch a fish, but Caroline caught one, which was very exciting. From the corner of my eye, I saw Caroline’s string twitch, and immediately after, she yanked her string out of the water. “Lo tengo!” Caroline said in Spanish (meaning I got it) when suddenly a fish about 27 centimeters shot out of the water. Even though I myself did not catch the fish it was still a great experience to understand what fishing was like and to see someone catch one.

Towards the end of day we went to a tourist island near the hotel where we were staying. I saw many animals that I have never seen before including parrots, alligators, snakes, monkeys, and roosters. Besides seeing these animals we were tasked with talking to the locals and finding out about their lives and how the tourism business affects them. They told us about how their lives were changed by a law that forced them to stop hunting animals and instead create a tourist business from the animals. This was the main source of income for the people on the island. However, the animals are not always properly taken care of because the people on the island do not have the capacity to take care of the animals like they do in the United States. After the trip to the island we had an open discussion about the problems the people on the island faced. In my group we had a debate about the value of a human life versus an animal life. It was very cool to see how our simple trip to a tourist site led to a very informative and interesting discussion of something much bigger. I am really enjoying this trip and look forward to what lies ahead.

Photo Credit: Envoys

Photo Credit: Envoys

Caroline: In the morning of our second day here in the Amazon, half of us headed to fish, while the other half went to try and maneuver artisanal canoes. The canoes are very unstable, but the artisans of the area often use them to travel around the Amazon and deliver products to their loyal and also new customers.  For them, using these canoes is a breeze; they could even drive them with their eyes closed.  I was a part of the group that first went canoeing, and without knowing what to expect I embarked on this journey with an open mind.  After a small practice session in the very stable kayaks, we entered, as pairs, these special canoes.  Instantly I could tell that these canoes were less than stable and that although using them is easy for the expert artisans, it would not be a walk in the park for me and my partner, Megan, even though we both had some previous experience in canoes.  Once we had a rhythm of heaving our paddles through the water, I started to feel a bit more safe and secure.  As soon as I was comfortable, our guide led us to the center of the river.  I remember feeling extremely shocked when he turned to us and said:

“Now, the person in the back of the canoe must switch places with the person in the front.”

My heart started to pound at the thought of attempting this in these very unstable canoes.  Luckily enough, Megan knew the correct protocol for doing this after many years at camp, and we completed the challenge easily and securely.  I was standing tall in my boots now, and I started to attempt to do different strokes that turned the boat.  Once again, they took us into the center of the river and said:

“This time, we are going to change places again, but this time you should do it standing up and without putting your hands on the boat.”

At first I couldn’t understand why they would make us do this impossible task, but I soon learned that with all of the cargo that the artisans would use, this would be the only way they could possibly move on the boa, and it helped us to realize how much talent these Colombian and Peruvian artisans really have.  So, Megan and I attempted to line up our steps and keep the balance that we had previously been so sure of.  We took more and more steps, and it started to seem that we would be able to complete this task.  We reached each other in the middle of the boat and grabbed on to each other.  We took our first step to try and pass each other, and surprise — we fell right into the Amazon river.  

At first, I felt so disappointed that I hadn’t been able to complete our job well enough, but as I began to realize my surroundings, everything cleared up.  I was floating, with my life jacket of course, in the actual Amazon river, in the Amazon jungle, on the border of Colombia and Peru. There is nothing cooler than the thought that I have bathed in the waters of the Amazon river, and I began to change my opinion on how I felt about falling into the river.  Yes, I was floating there because I failed at something, but it ended up turning into an experience that is truly once in a lifetime, and I will never do anything like this again.  I truly believe that this realization of mine gave me an insight about life that I really needed:  Yes, I failed, but I took this failure and turned it into something positive and incredible.  I can’t wait to put this experience and realization into my daily life, especially in my life at Deerfield Academy.