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The pleasure of simple things …

August 18, 2011

A can’t-be-put-down book, a chilled bottle of Inca Kola, a fan to keep away moths attracted to the lamps, a hammock to gently swing oneself to a state of bliss …

One of the things I long for from the time we spent in Tambopata Research Center is to lie in a hammock, swinging gently side to side, a book in hand as the caws of the macaws fill the skies and the intermingling of the sounds and songs of the jungle creatures, from buzzing bees to roaring howler monkeys synchronizing to form the most beautiful concerto I’ve ever heard. Reading a book in a hammock undisturbed by the modern sounds of city life is one of the simplest pleasures in life which we don’t indulge in often enough.

I had to travel 4500 miles to rediscover the peaceful and content feeling of having all the time in the world to just sit back and read. I fondly remember my school summer vacations, three months of bliss, which seemed to stretch to eternity as I voraciously finished off one book after another, in the calm and breezy surroundings of my grandparents home. Every morning I had all but two important decisions to make – what I wanted for breakfast, which my dear grandma would lovingly prepare for me … and which book I wanted to read, from the wonderful collection of books my uncle and grandpa had in their library. The rest of the day would go by in a fascinating daydream, as I explored hidden isles and partook vicariously in picnic lunches with the “Famous Five” and solved thrilling mysteries with “The Three investigators”, or got butterflies in my stomach as “Hercule Poirot” sat in his chair with his dashing mustache and solved crimes without batting an eyelid … those days are amongst my most cherished memories of summer vacation!

I relived some of these childhood memories in Tambopata, thanks to an amazing book we discovered on the shelves of their library – The Tapir’s Morning Bath by Elizabeth Royte. Even though most of our days were spent exploring the Peruvian rainforest with our guide, we had a few hours to ourselves in the afternoons and evenings after lunch and dinner. On the first day, we stopped at this small 4-shelf bookcase in the common area, to see what they had. We expected to find a lot of scientific research books and heavy-duty literature on ecology and biology, but instead found several copies of one book which caught both our eye and imagination – The Tapir’s Morning Bath. What a vividly imaginative name for a book!

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book to read in the middle of the Amazon. The book was filled with details of life on another research center, one very similar to Tambopata – the Barro Colorardo Research Institute, an island covered in tropical rainforests, located in the Panama Canal. Everything in the book echoed what we had been out seeing ourselves every day! Whenever I read about something I had actually seen that morning in the rainforest, I felt giddy with an intellectual head-rush. It was the best possible way to understand the motivations and thoughts of scientists at a research center. Leaf-cutter ants, the colorful motmot bird, the sheer diversity of plants and trees in the rainforest, the driving force amongst species for competition and niche specialization … the book was packed cover to cover with interesting stories and real-life anecdotes and details of experiments and theories to explain the web of life and it’s connections in the rainforest.

The book gave us a completely new perspective on things that we would not have noticed or deeply thought about. We would never have come to appreciate and understand at such an indepth level, the hardship that goes into any form of research involving animals and birds or plants, the difficulties and frustrations for gathering usable data points, the web of questions that get more and more complex and intertwined as a researcher tries to tease out the answers for just one … it was a mindblowingly immersive way to understand and learn about the rainforest and appreciate what we know and marvel at how much we still don’t know. We could not finish reading the entire book during our stay, but as soon as we were back home, we ordered it online so we could continue going back to the rainforest, vicariously through Elizabeth’s stories about the hard-working and intrepid scientists and researchers at BCI.

I finally finished the book yesterday. Exactly two months since we first set foot in the Amazon. Some day I’ll go back. And find another book. To read while swinging gently in a hammock as macaws fly overhead in the azure sky.

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