I couldn't stop staring out the window when our plane first approached Iquitos, the main city of the Loreto region. The plane lowered and broke through white fluffy clouds, and there was the Amazon, green for as far as I could see. There were the famous switchbacks of the rivers, glowing in the sun, and I saw little brown houses, their roofs constructed out of traditional palm fronds, in clearings in the forest. After years of working with data from the Amazon rainforest, I was finally going to see it firsthand.
Before we saw the Amazon rainforest up close however, we met the people that study it and call the Loreto region home. Iquitos is a bustling city, the streets teeming with motorcycles and mototaxis (a little car pulled by a motorcycle). We headed for the Center for Natural Resources Research, or Centro de Investigación de Recursos Naturales, a part of the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana. Surrounded by a garden of local plants, with walkways lined by recycled bottles, the laboratory grounds are immaculate, with red roofs and wooden soffits. We spent the first day preparing our materials for field work the following day, and we met the diverse team of Peruvian students who work at the lab. We arrived at the home of UNAP student Susan, who accepted the other two undergraduates and I into her family's home, and we immediately found ourselves with a great friend. At seven in the morning the next day, we would leave to our first site and our first exposure to the rainforest – Quistococha.
Quistococha is a unique site because there are so many palms there, especially the famous aguaje palm (Mauritia flexuosa). There is also a touristic complex that goes by the same name, with a zoo and beach facing a natural lagoon. On that first day, we passed all the tourists and exhibits and headed straight for the water. After looking for the misplaced oars, we piled into two canoes, heavy machinery and all. I gave myself the task of bailing out as much water from the canoe as possible with a plastic bottle, as David, one of the Peruvian students, rowed us to the start of the path. Even as we excitedly discussed the work we planned to do that day, we had time to admire the canopy as we moved our way across the water. Bird calls I had never heard drifted from the forest and sometimes, we saw fish jump out near the shore, landing back in the water with a splashing sound.
Finally, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of the rainforest, after walking through the wetlands for half an hour, of course. Sometimes we fell into the mud up to our knees, and we sweat whole buckets as we swatted away mosquitoes. We walked onwards and reached the plot marked by neatly labeled trees. At that moment, once we had put all our equipment down and started setting up, there was time to look around. The canopies of the trees were the purest green I had ever seen, and the bark was multiple shades of brown, decorated with mosses and sometimes punctuated by terrifying thorns and spikes. Vines hung down and pulled at our hair. Bright yellow-bellied birds sometimes burst from the canopy and flew overhead. Thats when the power of the environment around us hit me and I remembered that we were really here. I gaped at everything around us and thought to myself: “Welcome to the Amazon”.
TO BE CONTINUED!
Hinsby Cadillo–Quiroz studies how microbes participate in ecosystem and applied processes. He and his research team are investigating whether microbe-mediated organismal and environmental interactions drive ecosystem processes, particularly carbon cycling. They are also examining how the environment, in turn, affects the evolution of microorganisms. They study new groups of microbes, microbe community patterns, and the diversity and ecological implications of microbe genomics. The team's research may be used to predict changes in greenhouse gas levels and develop bioenergy applications.