People always ask me, “Why are you so drawn to the Amazon?” And I don’t really have an answer to that, except it must have had something to do with the impact it had on my nine-year-old self.
I was only nine when I was first traveled to the Amazon with my father, my grandfather and his crew aboard Calypso. This is not like going on a typical family vacation. This is the Amazon! You’re out in the middle of the jungle. And as a young kid, your eyes are wide open.
One of my most simple yet poignant memories from that trip is seeing a man on the side of the river, holding a bunch of bananas. We decided to get some for the boat, so we followed him into the jungle, toward his house. I don’t remember how far we walked, but from my child’s memory, it felt like it was a long ways away. We finally got there, and he had banana trees planted a bit everywhere. After choosing our lot, he invited us into his home. It was a simple wooden floor with a thatched roof, no walls. The kids were playing with these rudimentary toys made out of sticks and stones. His wife was cooking something over the fire and asked us to eat with them. Here they were, sharing their home and their meal with a bunch of strangers. That was such a warm and nurturing encounter, and it stayed with me over the years. At the time, I didn’t know what we were eating, but years later, I had some yuca and it tasted familiar. Had I had yuca before? When? Where? I fumbled through my memories and finally realized that was what we had eaten from that fire, with that family. It’s funny the kind of memories that stick with you over the years. For some, yuca tastes like potato. For me, it tastes like that incredible moment.
Another one of my favorite memories from that Amazon trip is leaving Calypso in a little dugout canoe with Yves, the soundman, to bring back some piranhas for the aquarium we had onboard to study fish. We paddled out to a quiet, sheltered spot where the water was shallow and trees were growing out of the river, like a mangrove. Then Yves began teasing me: “What if we fell into the water?” Next he stood up and started rocking the canoe. I was screaming up a storm! It was scary because I didn’t know what piranhas really were and thought if I put my finger into the water, they would eat my entire body. He finally sat back down, put a piece of meat at the end of his fishing line and, right away, caught a couple of red-bellied piranhas. They started flopping around in the canoe, so I started screaming again and hopping around while Yves joked, “You better watch your toes!” The whole ride back, I sat with my feet tucked under me.
The Amazon holds this innocence for me. Maybe because I first viewed it through my nine-year-old lens. I was drawn to the people of the Amazon. The people in the stories I read and heard about and the people I saw and met. I knew that one day, I would want to go back and know more.
In honor of our upcoming expedition to the Brazilian Amazon to film Tribes on the Edge we are giving away an autographed copy of my grandfather’s book, Jacques Cousteau’s Amazon Journey. You can enter here.
Merci and à bientôt,
To read more about my experience in the Amazon during the 1982-1983 and the 2006-2007 expedition please download the eBook, Return to the Amazon, available for the iPad.
Watch our teaser for the upcoming expedition, Tribes on the Edge.