Much of this Amazon Journeys site was created by Paul Crawford and Vicki J. Wade. Photographs by David G. Campbell ©1997, all rights reserved.
Natural History Journeys to the Brasilian Amazon
Leader: David G. Campbell, Grinnell College
Introduction. The Amazon River and its forest comprise the most complex ecosystem ever to have evolved in the 3.5 billion-year history of life on this planet. Today this wilderness harbors more species of flowering plants, birds and freshwater fish, than any other place on Earth. To journey to the Amazon forest and its waterways is the dream of every natural historian: it is to apprehend the full bouquet of biological diversity.
The Journeys. Since 1992, David Campbell, Professor of Biology, has led Grinnell College alumni/student trips to study natural history in the heart of this marvelous biome. All were voyages of adventure, beauty and discovery: two weeks near the confluence of the Rios Negro and the Solimões, exploring the white and black-water tributaries of the Amazon, isolated lakes, the upland and flooded forests, by day and by night. Campbell, who has conducted research in the Brasilian Amazon for nearly three decades, inducted the passengers into the flora, fauna and ecology of this most complex of Early biomes.
The Grinnell teams lived aboard the Harpy Eagle, a sixty-foot wooden boat of local construction. These journeys were not conventional tourism; they were educational expeditions guided by an experienced field naturalist, to one of the most remote and least populated areas on Earth. The captain (and owner) is Moacir (Mo) Fortes,a legendary Amazon guide born and raised on the River, who isa walking encyclopedia of Amazonian lore and legends. Mo is alsoa masterful fisherman who taught alums and students how to catchpiranhas and other local fish; the catch, supplemented with local fruits, often provided the day's lunch or dinner.
The trips were limited to twenty people, which insured that we were able to quietly blend into natural areas without disturbing the wildlife. We spent five to eight hours every day in canoes,observing the plants and animals of the várzea andigapó (flooded forests). The open river margin was especially suited to observe birds and monkeys. We also hiked along forest trails for an intimate look at the terra firme, the dry upland forest which harbors most of the biological diversity. Botany was the primary delight of these treks: David taught the travelers to identify many of the local plants, as well as explained their interactions with the animals that pollinate, disperse,eat and protect them. And there were auditory delights, as well: every night, we listened to the forest symphony, resounding with the voices of birds, frogs and insects.
The Ship. The Harpy Eagle, a traditional Amazon river boat, has ten twin cabins, four on the upper deck and six on the lower deck. Each cabin has a private bath and air conditioning.
Three twenty-four foot canoes with outboard motors and paddles were used in the flooded forest, for fishing in the lakes, and making landings. Hammocks are available for relaxing while cruising on the river. Well-balanced meals, using a variety of local fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly-caught fish and other items were served on board. The ship has a small library on the region, its people and its wildlife. A journey aboard the Harpy Eagle embraces the best aspectsof "ecotourism": all of the revenue goes to local Amazonians and provides an economic incentive for the river people to preserve,rather than destroy, their forest.
The Captain and Staff. Mo Fortes (who speaks English and German) is a world-famous Amazonian guide who exuberantly shares information about the natural history and people of this area where he was born and has spent his life. He has twenty years of experience as captain on the Amazon and its tributaries. The Harpy Eagle has a staff of five: a cook, a maid, a mate, and two deckhands.
The Professor. David Campbell, Professor of Biology and the Henry Luce Professor in Nations and the Global Environment at Grinnell College, is an ecologist, conservationist and author,who has conducted research in tropical forests in Africa, Asia, Australia and, especially, the Amazon River Valley. Since 1974 he has been the leader of eighteen scientific expeditions and nine tourist excursions to the Amazon. In addition to being leader and field guide, David presents slide lectures on all aspects of Amazonian natural history. Fluent in Portuguese, David has worked with Mo since 1980.
Diary of a Representative Trip. July, 1997, with more amazing photographs and a partial list of species encountered.
Other Journeys. 1994; June 7-21, 1995; 1996; 2000; January 2-17, 2002; July 1-17, 2004; 2006; 2007; 2009.