Amazonian adventure opens eyes

By Shruthi Vijayakumar

Hiking over a glacier at an altitude of 3200 metres was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. In these extreme and beautiful conditions with 80 km/h winds and minus 30 degree temperatures, I soon realised that we are all capable of achieving far more than what we think we are.

My name is Shruthi Vijayakumar, I am a 20-year-old Aucklander, currently studying economics and politics at the University of Auckland.

Earlier this year I was 1 of 18 young explorers selected from around the globe to attend a 10-day selection camp in Switzerland through the Pangaea Young Explorers Programme. Ten of us were selected to explore the Amazon, and on March 3 arrived in Brazil and embarked on a three week eco-expedition.

We joined Mike Horn, world renowned explorer and environmentalist onboard Pangaea, a 90-foot sailing vessel, and set sail down the mighty Rio Negro and Amazon River.

Our journey through the Amazon was just a feast to the senses. Every day we saw, heard, smelt, felt, even tasted things that we had never experienced before! Can you imagine the feeling of stroking the smooth silky skin of the pink Amazonian river dolphin? The sounds of the jungle, the birds, the insects coming to life around you as you lay in your hammock about to fall asleep? Or the sights of the sun-setting into the river as the Milky Way slowly reveals itself across the sky?

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Every day was filled with new learnings about ourselves, the region and the world we live in. We were very fortunate to spend many days exploring the untouched wonders of this region. Snorkelling through the flooded rainforests, hiking through the jungles, meeting local tribes and communities, exploring the swamps and paddling down the river were all incredible experiences and our surroundings were just teeming with wildlife.

We saw butterflies in every colour imaginable, insects, spiders, scorpions, piranhas, small crocodiles, toucans, parrots - but the highlight had to be the river dolphin! These friendly creatures would swim right up to us and nudge us cheekily as we played with them.

However, it wasn't all just fun and games. We also encountered the harsh realities of the region. The dolphins are just one of the many endangered species that are quickly disappearing from the region. As we travelled further downstream, we saw huge patches of deforested land, which looked completely unnatural and out of place. The fact goes that every 10 seconds, a piece of forest the size of a football field is cut down - a fact I still fail to comprehend!

Living on the boat, I learnt that we can live more sustainably in every aspect of our life. On board, every drop of water is valued, we use renewable energy, save power but beyond that, I realised we have a choice with every purchase we make.

On the very first day, Mike showed us how 90 per cent of the shampoos and soaps we had brought with us contained chemicals that would pollute the water. It may seem small, but it's still so important that we choose the environmentally friendly and Fair Trade option where possible. Every little bit counts and each one of us has to play our part.

Back home in New Zealand, I feel so grateful for everything we experienced and excited to further explore and discover the wonders New Zealand has to offer. We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful place and after this trip I feel really inspired to conserve our earth and work toward a more sustainable world at a personal, local and global level.

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- The Aucklander

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