Exploring the Amazon in Brazil

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Misty Amazon Jungle valley sceneMcneal4

Over the span of my time in college, I have never learned so much as when I studied abroad last fall in the Amazon. The course I did wasn’t the typical study abroad semester, however.  It was an NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course. The trip consisted of us camping in the back jungles of Brazil, where our main source of transport was either backpacking or canoeing. NOLS is the premier school for teaching outdoor and leadership skills.

We began with a three-week hiking trip through an unvisited mountain range called the Sierra Ricardo Franco. From there, we canoed for a month down two tributaries of the Amazon River called the Juruena and the Tapajos Rivers. This untouched and pristine area is like no other in that it is one of the wildest places that exists today. Monkeys can be spotted during the day and pink dolphins emerge from the rivers. Despite the beauty of this place, the Amazon is a harsh environment in which to survive. With the bugs, heat, and dangerous animals, the jungle becomes more of a mental challenge than anything else.

mcNeal and a crew in boats on the Amazon riverDuring our travel through the uncharted territories of Brazil, we stayed with an indigenous tribe for about a week. Each of us was given a temporary family to live with, where our only means of communication was through the few phrases we had been taught and hand gestures. The people of this community took care of each other as if they were one big family. They grew and caught all their own food and lived a hard way of life, but despite their hardships, they were so happy and content with what they had. I grew to love this community in the short time that we stayed with them and learned so much from their simple way of life.

bizarre jungle branch or vine By the end of the trip we were capable of completely taking care of ourselves in the wild by means such as cooking from scratch on a camp stove, knowing first aid and using wilderness medicine. Our leaders had engrained in each of us leadership and survival skills I would never have learned anywhere else.

At this point we were able to travel without instructors. After a flight to Venezuela, we were transported to a remote area where there is a famous mountain called Mount Roraima. This mountain was the inspiration for the book “The Lost World,” and later the movie “Jurassic Park.” When we began our hike, it was more like stepping back in time to when the Earth had just begun.

My entire experience abroad was spectacular and one that I grew from in ways I never expected. The beauty of other cultures has never ceased to amaze me, particularly the cultures of the Amazon. A place this beautiful is just too hard to describe, and I hope everyone has a chance to get to see and experience it.


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