Tuesday, August 4, 2009

by Miles Vernon
The Amazing
Adventures of Miles, Tony and Zach:
The Adventure to the Amazon rain forest in South America

June 7, 2009
Chapter 1
Starting a new trip

I am totally over the Antarctica trip and so are Zach and Tony. We are ready for a new adventure, and put that nightmare of crashing an airplane behind us. Even though New Mexico was fun, I’m ready to go to South America, in the country of Bolivia, where there are tons of rain forests and jungles to explore. Last time when we were going to Antarctica, we only had me, Tony and Zach, but after we left New Mexico, we came home with a elf owl named Phoenix, plus our whole archeology class is coming also. Phoenix is a baby Elf Owl, who was given to me by a young boy in the village of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

As we start our trip, this time we are getting in a much bigger airplane with our entire class and Mr. Finch, our college teacher, so I feel safer in a bigger aircraft. During our last trip to New Mexico, we were traveling over our spring break from college, now we are traveling over the entire summer vacation to Bolivia. We are going through a paleontology class at our school to study the species of the environment through the fossil of ancient animals, specifically dinosaurs. We are staying on the campus of a local college that is situated in the rain forest. As our whole class boards the airplane, a part of me wants to stay for fear of crashing again, but I don’t think that will actually happen. Once on the plane I give Phoenix his breakfast of dried bugs and water and we both fall asleep for the long trip.

I wake up to a hot, steaming airplane and it looks like we have landed. We sit patiently on the landing strip, as we get ready to leave. The entire class is chatting and excited that we are in Bolivia. When we get out of the airplane, and walk down the creaky staircase leading to the village below, it is like we are in a gigantic sauna. The air is thick and hot. Our class walks off into the rain forest, the bushes clear and one of our teachers say “Here is our guide Zulu and he will take us through Customs and to the college campus”. The only stinky thing is everyone had to get lots of painful shots to vaccinate us from diseases in Bolivia. We stood for hours in lines in an outdoor customs arena. Finally, we get on a bus that takes us through narrow dirt roads leading into the jungle. It is late afternoon and we are tired.

We get out of the bus, and I notice all types of plants and many types of animals surrounding me. I am too tired to examine them closely now. We walk inside a building that has a grass roof, bamboo frame and wooden doors with no glass on the windows. It is all-open to the outside. Even though it is a hut, it is very large building, and can fit about seventy people inside. We are in the entrance of Titicaca Community College in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, which is a couple of hours away from the city of Paz. We are located in the mountains in a lake region. I look past the college campus, and notice a large lake opening. I realize that one of the most amazing animals in the world is “standing” in front of me, the Mud Skipper. This creature is a fish that lives in the regions we are in. The Mud Skipper got its name from the funny way it swims which seems like it is skipping across the muddy water. I think Mud Skippers are incredible creatures because they’re gills are a special in that they can hold water inside of them, so they can walk on land, unlike any other fish on earth. Why I mentioned it was “standing” in front of me, is because its stubby front fins prop it up and allows it to walk. The Mud Skipper spends most of its life out of the water-that is creepy! So, I realize with this new sighting of the Mud Skipper that I am in for a big adventure.

After we get settled in to our little dormitory, I pull out Phoenix’s brass cage and set it down on a desk. I fall asleep and cannot stop thinking about our class trip to this exciting place through the rain forest.

Chapter 2
Into the Jungle we go

I wake up in the morning to the smell of pancakes that are school chef has prepared. I look out the window, and see and hear Spider Monkeys cackling to one another. It sounds like children fighting. After breakfast, we get on a bus again, and drive to a remote area called, Potosi. It is very full of life and Phoenix meets some bird friends, such as; Toucans, Hummingbirds, Scarlet Macaw, Golden Conure, Hyacinth Macaw, and biggest of all, a Hoatzin which look like an eagle with a Mohawk, and with his fiery red feathers appears on fire. Just like in New Mexico when we found Phoenix, I pick up a baby silky anteater. They are gold creatures that look for ants. They lick up the ants with their long tongues. They have long tails and are great climbers. The silky anteater is all alone and just a baby, so he looks like he may need care. Unlike other species of anteater, Silky Anteaters have short snouts and are about the size of a Opossum. He is the color of gold. So, I slip him in my backpack with Phoenix, and catch up with the class.

Since Tony lives in the city of New York, and is used to an urban lifestyle, he is not used to roughing it the wilderness. He seems to like it anyway. Zach is from Michigan, and he isn’t used to the hot climate either, but he is holding up too. Our teacher, Mr. Finch, is from the state of Vermont, where we attend college, and he mapped out a plan for us to take on a project in a specific area known to have lots of fossils. He asks us to look for dinosaur bones in the mud of this area just outside of the campus. Since I had found the Coelophysis in New Mexico, it is not my turn to dig. The gang throws their pack in the mound of dirt and begins searching. The teacher let’s me, Tony and Zach off the hook because had found a sizeable, amazing skeleton that was completely in tact. Our classmates start digging. Me, Zach, Tony and the creatures in my backpack begin enjoying a little walk during our free time, while our class digs. As we walk, I notice Jaguars climbing between the branches the trees above. I hug my pack tight to keep my pets safe from them. A couple of Coral Snakes slitter in the weeds beneath my feet. I am startled and quickly move my feet away because these snakes are poisonous, and can be deadly. Coral snakes have black, red and yellow stripes all over them and are usually medium in size. I also see some Golden Lion Tamarins, which are a type of monkey that has a mane and is blondish-gold in color. One of the creepiest creatures in the jungle, in my opinion, is a giant Armadillo. These creatures have thick scaly skin, like real scales. They also have humungous claws, but luckily, they are very friendly and will not attack people. As I look at these creatures, I get so drawn into them that I cannot hear our class packing up and leaving to head back to the campus. The bus has left and we do not even know it yet. Mr. Finch did not notice that we had walked away. We had walked deeper into the Rain Forest than we had thought, and Zach realized the bus had left. He starts yelling. Tony was upset too because our campus is 20 miles away and we are stranded once again in the wilderness. I start to think we have bad luck. First, the airplane crash, now this, and maybe we are a bad luck charm. We start running through the rain forest to see if we can catch up with the bus but it was too late. But, hopefully someone will notice that we are gone and we’ll be picked soon. I remembered that Zulu the guide took a group of kids on one bus, while Mr. Finch took another group of kids on another bus. So Mr. Finch probably thinks that me, Zach and Tony were with Zulu, while Zulu thought the other way around. So, nobody was going to save us this time. As we slow down, we realize that there is no use trying to catch up with the bus because it is too fast and too far away. When we look around us, I see one of the most dangerous creatures in the jungle: the Anaconda. As it slithers through the wet, mucky lily pads, it comes closer and closer. I am terrified of Anacondas because I know from previous books I have read, that they can squeeze their prey to death, then swallow them whole and it can it can even devour large, strong and muscular prey like alligators and cattle. It sees us and moves in. One of the worst things you can do when a snake approaches is to make eye contact and look directly in its eyes. We do not look at him at all and run right past the slithering animal. As we settle down and sit on a rock, we bring out our tents and set up a small campsite. In the trees, there is a magnificent creature: the South American sloth, which moves very slowly and can spend their whole life in one tree. We also encounter a small family of four clack howler monkeys, which howl to each other to keep in touch. When I enter my tent, Phoenix churps for food, so I feed him with the surrounding insects and bugs from my environment. I also notice that the Silky Anteater, who we had now named, Weddell, wants to eat some ants as well. We fall asleep to the soothing noises of the jungle.

Chapter 3
Calming down

We wake up and the smell of honeycomb from a plant above us lingers in my tent. It may sound crazy but we decide to make this a vacation, not really a disaster because worst has happened to us in the past, and we packed for the right trip this time. After I am awake, I stumble to my feet and walk outside my tent and wake up Zach. My pajamas barely kept me warm last night and I think my feet are frozen solid. Tony is already up and making breakfast of beef jerky and biscuits. We eat a delicious breakfast and take in the views around us.

I notice some beautiful plants, such as the Pitcher Plant, which is a cup-like plant that has acids in the bottom. It has a sweet smell that attracts insects, and the edges of the “cup” inside are slippery, so when the insect comes in, it slips down into the acid and is dissolved. I also notice a Venus Flytrap. A Venus Flytrap is a type of plant whose leaves are shaped like jaws, with spiny teeth all around, and it can quickly close on insects and eat them. Another plant I see was a Bee Orchid but it wasn’t the plant that surprised me, it was the Flower Mantis that is sitting on the plant. A Passion Flower is the ideal place for a Flower Mantis. This predator insect looks just like the flower petals; it stays perfectly still until another insect comes within striking distance. Then it grasps the bug in its powerful arm-claws and pulls it in to eat it. The Flower Mantis blends with the Orchid because unlike other mantises that are mostly lime green colored, this mantis is pink like the Orchid. The Passion Flower is pink just like the Mantis and has little green pollen sacs in the center. The last and certainly not least plant I see is the largest flower in the world: the Rafflesia. The Rafflesia is a dark red flower with white speckles. This flower can grow to more than three feet wide, but the smell is horrible, like rotting meat. The smell is meant to attract flies, which love to eat and lay their eggs in rotting meat.

In the pond, there is some splashing and a ruckus, so I take a closer look, and one thing I see is an incredible fish, called the Archerfish. From the book of rainforests that I have in my collection, I read that these fish “shoot” insects by spitting a jet of water at them. This knocks the helpless insect into the water and then with one gulp, the bug is in the archerfish’s stomach. Another creature in the water that I notice is a Caiman, which is a smaller crocodile-like creature. He lies in the water and waits for a smaller animal to come to the bank for a drink. The Caiman then pulls the creature to the water and drowns them, and eats them. This Caiman sits very still, not moving a muscle to surprise his victim. I also see a River Electric Eel that generates electricity to stun his victims and eat them. As I look around the river, something catches my eye – a creature that is not endangered, but kind of rare; the River Dolphin, and he finds food by making clicking noises that are sent out like a sonar then he listens to the echo and if something bounces back, he knows there is a Piranha, Catfish, or other creatures ahead. This sonar is his eyes and ears. Unlike saltwater dolphins that are blue, the River Dolphin is pinkish-brown.

In the trees, I look up and see more animals. I see all these animals: the Golden Cock-of-the-Rock (a foreign bird that is golden in color and looks like it has a fan on its head), Arrow Poison Frogs (that Amazon Indians use its poison on the tips of their arrows and make them poison darts), Emerald Tree Boas (which slitter through the green trees and are lime green in color, with white stripes on its back), and Uakari Monkey (who has a bright red bald head, and the fur the color of butterscotch). Over this journey, I see so many animals and I look at these amazing creatures and think to myself that God, whomever he is, has done some nice work to this planet. Suddenly Weddell starts crying for his food. So I pick him up, put him on my shoulder and look for a termite or ant mound. Finally we find an ant colony, and Weddell chows down, lick-by-lick. After Weddell's meal, me, Zach and Tony were hot, so we go down to the river to take a swim. In the river I see a small skeleton of what looked like an early amphibian named Ichthyostega. This creature was a primitive amphibian, which lived around 300 million years ago. Amphibians were the first vertebrae animals to colonize the land. Like their present day relatives, the salamander and frog, they had to return to the water to laytheir soft eggs. On land the eggs would have dried up. Ichthyostega had a dark green body, paddle like tail, webbed feet, and the underbelly is lemon yellow. So, I ripped it up from murky weeds, wrapped it in cloth to preserve it, and slipped it into my backpack. Usually, you cover it with plaster, but since we are in the jungle, I needed to think quickly.

AHAHHHHHH! I turned around and see Zach running out of the water, and he is screaming, “Jaguar”. I look up and sure enough a grown Jaguar in the tree is hunting us. She pounces from tree to tree with her little kitten following behind. Just when she corners Tony, and me and we think we are toast, Zach distracts the Jaguar by throwing sticks and yelling from behind the tents. We instinctively scatter to the side and away from the Jaguar’s grips. Tony grabs my arm and tries to pull me back to safety, but I notice that the kitten’s leg is seriously wounded, and may be broken. I quickly grab the kitten and follow Tony behind a rock. We are not out of danger now that I have the Jaguar’s little one in my possession, so we must move carefully and quickly. Meanwhile, Zach moves away from the Jaguar by lighting a match and threatening the cat with the flame. Later, he tells me he had learned that trick in the boy scouts in Michigan camp, and he seems pretty proud of himself as he re-tells this story.

Two hours later, it starts to rain. That is not a big surprise because in the rain forest, it rains almost every single day. We are prepared for it and brought umbrellas and ponchos. I bring the kitten into my tent and put a mini plaster cast on his tiny leg, but first I clean it with peroxide. I use the plaster and fabric in the laboratory that is used to preserve dinosaur bones. After awhile, I realize that the mother was not coming back and this little kitten was now ours. I already have Phoenix and Weddell, so now I have a new animal to add to my family. I think I’ll call her Nila.

Chapter 4
Getting back home

The next morning I wake up at around 6:00 a.m., because today I am getting out of here and going home. Tony and Zach wake up complaining that Nila had kept them up with her meowing most of the night. I honestly did not mind the purring and sounds she made and she settled nicely into her new little basket filled with pillows. I unlock Phoenix’s cage and let him fly out. After packing up all the animals’ belongings, and putting everything safely in my backpack, we begin to hike. Since the rainforest is Weddell’s and Nila’s home, they know their way around, while Phoenix is constantly getting lost. This is a weird environment for Phoenix because he is from the New Mexican desert, while we are now in the wet, luscious rainforest, and there are almost no plants in Phoenix’s original home. After a couple miles of hiking, finally we see some civilization. A little cottage is at the top of the mountain, and the sweet smell of coffee is lingering in the air. Once we arrive at the door of the cottage, a nice man named who looks to be in thirties greets us and tells us his name is Charles Kramer. We are welcome into the cottage and he immediately contacts the college dormitory to let them know we are safe. He hangs up and tells us a bus is being sent to pick us up in no time. When we sit down and learn a little bit about him, we find out he works for my favorite television show, Animal Planet. He tells us that he working on a study to find out about many species of animals is in the continent of South America. This is amazing!!! After about 20 minutes, we have had our fill of coffee and sandwiches, a yellow bus pulls up and Mr. Finch runs out thanking Charles enthusiastically. Mr. Finch seems very worried, but relieved once he can see that we are fine. I show Charles my new pets, Nila and Weddell, and he seems to be okay with me bringing them home. Nila is curled up into a ball on my lap and purring, and I think we are going to have a great bond. Weddell is on my shoulder, licking my ear. Phoenix is huddled up in his cage, fluffing his feathers. The bumpy ride through the rainforest takes about 30 minutes, but by the time we get there, I immediately call my parents to let them know I am safe. I am so excited and as I tell my parents about my adventures, my father tells me to come home quickly because we are going on an RV trip when I get back.

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