I am often asked if it is a bit monotone in the polar regions. I don’t think it is, there are so many hues of blue with the colours of the rocks but I do concede there is very little green, unless you count the sea. In the last four months I have found myself in the Amazon twice and here there is every colour of green imaginable.

Flying in the trees from above look almost like broccoli with the occasional Kapok standing higher than the rest, rivers the colour of coffee winding through this sea of green. By travelling in both August to Ecuador and November to Peru, I have seen this region in high and low waters. The greens range from the deepest, almost black, through to the near fluorescent brightness of new leaves. The trees are a multitude of shapes and sizes all striving to get to the light of the canopy. Huge buttresses keeping the largest of them upright. Strangler figs twisting around the contorting trunks of their hosts, so it is difficult to tell which is original and which is parasite.

In the poles the views tend to be endless, magnificent vistas where the horizon fades into the sky almost imperceptibly. You get big skies when you are on the major rivers, but once you are in the smaller creeks of the Amazon, the undergrowth is impenetrable. The trees coming down to the banks with the roots of the strangler figs and bromeliads hanging thick like a curtain. Leaves of every conceivable shape and size, some narrow and sharp, others broad as elephants ears, all designed to either shed or trap the abundant water. The flowers stand out bright against the green in shades of purples, red and oranges with berries equally as vibrant. The colours of the birds are magnificent flashes of yellow. From the ever present oro pendula’s, and casics who form large groups and weave amazing nests. Scarlets and blues of the parrots who sit in the very tops of the tree. The range of kingfishers in all sizes from green through purples. Jacanas that seem to dance along the lily pad, herons with tiger stripes, chestnut woodpeckers, red capped cardinals and the most magnificent of them all the iridescent blue of the cotinga.

If there is no wind, then there are times certainly in the Arctic where I have experienced utter silence: eerie and unnerving. This never happens in the jungle there is always a hum of activity. If you get up before the dawn, this is quite gentle and you can stand and listen as it reaches a crescendo with the rising sun. The myriad noises from, tiny chirping, the rasp of cicada wings, birds like the Kisakadee that continually repeat their names, then a bird that sounds like the gollolop of a blocked drain, whoops, squeals, laughter and the raucous screech of the parrots and macaws. This is just the birds. As the sun begins to sink, the amphibian chorus starts up with is ribbits, honks and I am sure there is one that says bollocks. 

Exploring the Amazon is all about the minutiae, tiny bugs and insects, spiders from the minute communal ones to the great hairy tarantulas. You can be looking at something for ages before you realise there is an almost imperceptible movement and it is a stick insect or a praying mantis lining up its next meal.

There is plenty to see. You just have to look hard for it.

Long nosed bats that cling to the underside of overhanging branches looking like they are part of the structure. Nothing comes easily in the jungle, you need to search hard and be tuned in to the movement, the change in smells and most importantly, have a great guide.

There are larger mammals and you may be lucky enough to see squirrel, howler and woolly monkeys as they traverse the canopy, stopping only to eat or stare back at the curious folk in a skiff. They can melt into the forest so easily sometimes, just the slight movement of the leaves giving away their presence.

Dolphins come in two very distant species but are often found together searching for food in the confluence of two waters. Don’t expect them to surf the bow wave or leap and spin like their ocean counterparts. They do occasionally leap, but rarely completely out of the water. The grey dolphins are small at around one meter and look like the familiar shape of a bottle-nosed dolphin, their larger cousins the pink dolphins are distinctly different. They are up to three times the size and have a hump rather than a dorsal fin, are pink in colour and have a bulbous head with a long beak. The water here is a murky brown or tannin black so you don’t see them coming. Occasionally bubbles give them away, but you really need to be looking at the right place at the right time to see them.

Another Amazon oddity is the sloth. When resting they are very difficult to spot, part of their strategy to avoid being eaten by the harpy eagle, its main predator. Curled into a ball of green matted fur they look like part of the foliage. If they are awake and moving this does help with detection, their long arms stretching out with three (or two) huge claws at the end for gripping the branches. Their fur is home to a specific moth who’s lave survive on the algae on the fur and the adults drink the liquid from their eyes. If a sloth does turn and look at you, it looks like it has a permanent smile with is dark upturned strip around its face.

I will always dream of cold wastelands but could easily be tempted back into the steamy jungles.

Thanks for reading

Sue Grimwood, Russian Arctic

Author: Sue Grimwood