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The Artist Telegraph By Geoffrey C. Smith


Life in the Amazon


I'd like to reflect on my time in the Amazon and draw attention to the lives of the indigenous people who live there. To say life in the Amazon Rainforest is different would be an understatement. As I journeyed deep into the Jungle, I felt as if I was transported back in time with each step in.


Specifically, my observation of how the native people lived in harmony with the natural environment, in rhythm with nature's calendar, reminded me of our how our ancestors navigated land before modernity. I came to realize that there are many lessons we can take from the tribes of the Amazon who still live in within that framework and how they reconcile their living environment with Mother Earth's natural cycles.

An indigenous boy watching us pass by.


Our guides, Guillermo and Renzo, taught us all about the Amazon people. They explained that more than 400 indigenous tribes live throughout the Amazon! The indigenous tribes are like guardians of the Amazon Rainforest who have populated the Amazon for millennia. There were at least a million people surviving in the rainforest until contact was made with the Europeans in the 16th century. Once this contact with the outside world occurred, the population of the indigenous people dramatically declined. Historians estimate the number is somewhere around 90% within the first hundred years of European colonization! Contact with outsiders brought disease, persecution, and other strife to the native peoples, which ultimately killed many. It's a sad truth in history, and no wonder some tribes choose to stay away from the modern world.


Today, as I am writing this blog on Aug 30, 2022, the news came out announcing the last remaining member of an un-contacted indigenous group in Brazil has died. He was nicknamed 'Man of the Hole' because it was thought that he dug holes as a way to trap animals or to hide from others. For years, he had been the last remaining member of a tribe that was wiped out by ranchers and illegal miners in the 1970's. What happened to his tribe was unconscionable. 'Man of the Hole' had since survived on his own up until last month. His body was found covered in macaw feathers in a hammock outside his straw hut. It is speculated that he put the feathers of a macaw on himself when he realized he was dying.


Homes on stilts off the Amazon River. You can clearly see how high the water rises here. The front porch of this home becomes their dock during rainy season (March through July).


The Amazon River runs through the rainforest like a highway. As such, everything revolves around the river. They revere it and live harmoniously with the land. For the people of the Amazon, everything in their world revolves around water. Houses are built on stilts to protect from the water to withstand the annual flooding during their wet season. Outside their homes are platforms/patios that will double as docks during those times. Since the Amazon floods every spring, the locals must have their homes prepared for the influx of water. Not every year is matched in water levels. Some years are more severe than others, however, the locals still must be ready for anything.




In Iquitos, indigenous people commute in busses or drive around in little motor cars that are almost like a hybrid between a motorcycle and a car. They zip and swerve around each other.


Ways of life in the Amazon Basin vary. Some indigenous people live a sustainable existence, like their ancestors thousands of years before them, obtaining clothes, food and medicine from the forest. Villages outside the cities are remote. Most of the tribes have had contact with the outside world, but they continue to live their lives utilizing the ancient practices of their ancestors. Other groups of people there have a modern lifestyle, living in city centers like Iquitos. Many people earn a living through tourism, fishing, farming and/or hunting.


Our guides explained that the indigenous people we observed rely on radio and cell phones to stay in touch with the outside world. Areas have cell towers, and some families will have diesel generators as well. From afar, we saw many indigenous people tending to their homes while their children played along the riverside. The children were barefoot but dressed in modern clothing.


A treehouse where shamanic rituals occur. Westerners will travel down here to participate in ceremonies with local shamans in order to heal.


Myth and magic have circulated through the Amazon for centuries. Legends of Chuchuhuasi and Pacaya Samiria are shared amongst the people. Stories are told of a hidden city called El Dorado. Ancient shamanic rituals and plant medicines are performed deep in the forest. The religious practices of the Amazonian people are very important to them, and often involve using various forms of hallucinogens as part of their practice. Even Westerners will make the voyage south to the rainforest in order to attend ceremonial rituals intended for healing.



As travelers in the post-COVID world, we were unable to interact closely with the indigenous people while we were there, but we enjoyed waiving from afar when we passed by. I was fascinated to learn about the way they lived. In Florida, we have tried to bend water to our will. In the Amazon, the locals accept the natural world as it is. They make it possible to thrive in both dry and wet seasons, living with nature's changes. They have learned to sustain their lives with the rise and fall of the water. I think there's a lesson we can learn from their symbiotic relationship with nature.


Learning about life in the Amazon was enlightening while also mysterious. There is much hidden away from the modern world, beneath the rainforest. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to explore the Amazon Basin. It was so wonderful to experience this secluded part of the world with my father and my wife. We met amazing people along the way that we enjoy keeping in touch with. It was a truly incredible trip.


Be Well, Be Loved,


Geoffrey Smith

Want to hear more about our trip? Click here to explore the wildlife we observed on our trip in the Amazon!


If you're interested in the travel company we used to plan our adventure, check out Natural Habitat Adventures. If you book with them, please let them know I sent you!


Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.



References


https://www.adventure-life.com/amazon/articles/indigenous-people


https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/people_amazon/



The Artist Telegraph by Geoffrey C. Smith


The Wildlife of the Amazon


Sunset over the Amazon River.

At 90 years old, my father had seen many incredible places across the planet. He is the epitome of a 'world traveler,' but he had still yet to visit a notable place in South America- The Amazon Rainforest. Because of this, my wife and I had the opportunity to take the journey with him for the trip of a lifetime. A trip to one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet... Check out some of the amazing animals we saw while we were there!



 

Pink River Dolphins

A pink river dolphin pops out of the water to say hi. Notice how its coloring is more grey on top of its head while the body is pink. Each dolphin is unique in the way its color transforms.


Have you heard of the pink river dolphin? Also known as boto, this dolphin's history is a story about evolution. Years and years ago, the river was disconnected from the sea, which caused the river dolphins to be trapped in the Amazon Basin while others escaped roaming the oceans. Eventually, the sea and river came back together again, but the river dolphins had evolved to adjust to the freshwater environment. Because of this, they differ from grey dolphins. Pink dolphins developed characteristics like longer snouts, larger bodies and brains, and melon-like heads compared to grey dolphins. And over a period of time, the river dolphins' bodies will slowly turn light pink. How the coloring evolves is different for each river dolphin; they don't all look the same.


South Americans respect the pink river dolphin immensely. Many myths and legends surrounding the pink river dolphins have been passed down in their culture. They consider the botos to be sacred and believe it to be bad luck to eat them. Many myths surround these beautiful creatures. One popular legend suggests that the pink river dolphin morphs into a handsome man at night and seduces the village women. If you are interested in more myths about the botos, Click here!


 

Brown-throated Sloths

A brown-throated sloth hangs off the tree in the Amazon Rainforest.


Sloths hang off the tree branches throughout the rainforest. Sloths are arboreal creatures who can't move very fast on the ground. They are actually the slowest moving mammals that exist! Their long claws are what make movement challenging, with the average speed of a sloth at one foot per minute. Interestingly enough, sloths are actually good swimmers despite their slow walking speed!


Though sloth's personal hygiene is questionable, their lack of hygiene is actually a characteristic that offers them safety from predators. Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with algae and mold. The sloth's fur provides an environment for algae and mold to grow and thrive. In return, the algae and mold provide a green camouflage that protects the sloths against predators like jaguars, snakes and eagles. Wouldn't be my most ideal protective layer, but you have to take what you can get!


Rhynchonycteris

Rhynochonycteris hang upside down, off trees near the water, undisturbed by the sunlight.


Have you heard of these daytime bats? Most bats are lunarphobic, meaning they avoid bright light. Rhynchonycteris, or proboscis bats, are a bit different! They are unencumbered by light, so we were able to catch sight of them in the daylight. These bats blend into the thin tree trunks, almost becoming synonymous with the trees. They hang upside down while they sleep during daylight, out for the world to see. These tiny mammals measure about 6 centimeters long and enjoy situating themselves by the water in low-land tropics like you see above. A little fun fact: bats are the only mammal species that flies!


 

Green Anacondas

A green anaconda "tastes" the air, taking inventory of its surroundings.


Watch your feet! Green anacondas slither the forest floors and swamps throughout the Amazon. While underwater, anacondas can hold their breath for up to ten minutes on just a single breath! Interestingly enough, they are sexually dimorphic, which is characterized by their size. The female anacondas have the ability to grow much larger than their male counterparts, sometimes up to 30 ft!


Anacondas aren't venomous creatures. Rather than relying on venom to hunt, they instead wait to pounce and wrap their bodies around the victim, tight enough to suffocate them. They have the strength of up to 90 PSI, which is similar to the weight of 9,000 school buses- their jaw strength or bite strength is up ten times that! Anacondas will eat many things, including reptiles, fish and mammals. If they eat something big enough, they can go months without needing to eat again due to their slower metabolism.


Anacondas don't have any natural predators. Their biggest 'threat' is actually that of human fear. Humans have feared the size of these snakes, figuring they should attack, or otherwise be attacked. Anacondas are also hunted by humans for their skin to turn into leather or use as decoration.


 

Channel-billed Toucans

A toucan strikes a pose for the camera.


About 450 different bird species call the Amazon Rainforest their home. It was surreal to see birds like the channel-billed toucan above, or others like the scarlet macaw, less than 10 feet away. The range of their colored feathers is stunning! Though we were able to get close to the toucans, it's not often you'll see them wild in the jungle.


The channel-billed toucan can live up to 20 years. They survive on a diet of fruit, insects, frogs and other small reptiles. Toucans cannot speak like parrots, but they do have their own way of communicating. They are known to chatter and click their beaks at one another. And toucans are actually known to be one of the noisiest birds! Their bills were originally thought to be large as a way to attract mates. Now scientists are linking the size of their bills to heat regulation.


 


Red-Backed Poison Dart Frogs

A red backed poison dart frog smiles for the camera.


Various kinds of amphibians traverse the Amazon Basin, many of which are poisonous. Measuring just under 20 millimeters, this red-backed poison dart frog can still cause a lot of harm to some species despite its small size. Some types of poison dart frogs are more dangerous and toxic than others. For the red-backed poison dart frogs, they don't manufacture any of their own poison. Instead, their poison is created from their diet, which is composed of termites, mites, ants and beetles. They have quite the diet, don't they!


 

Hoatzin


Known infamously as the stinkbird, the hoatzin is a special species found only in the Amazon Rainforest. These birds have the nickname stinkbird because they give off a bad odor due to their digestive system. Their system is made up of multiple chambers, which causes the food they digest to ferment while in their bodies. This digestion is referred to as foregut digestion. A strange connection: they happen to digest their food similar to how cows do. Hoatzin eat mainly plant material, with the exception of some bugs and insects that happen to be on the plants.


 

Butterflies


We encountered many butterflies while we were there. Watch one land on my camera!


 


Amazonian Squirrel Monkeys

Monkeys eating fruit.


It's no surprise that many of the species in the Amazon are arboreal or tree dwellers. Arboreal mammals are capable of adapting to the Amazon's dynamic ecosystem between the wet and dry seasons. Amazonian monkeys are no exception. Collectively, the Amazon Basin has more than ten different types of monkeys, ranging from squirrel monkeys to pygmy marmosets.


Squirrel monkeys, like those pictured above, are little busy bodies! They scurry around the jungle's understory, avoiding raptor predators like hawks, vultures and eagles wherever they can. Squirrel monkeys will eat fruit, insects, and lizards, which are most abundant from May to October.


Observing the monkeys was intriguing because they operate similarly to us. We watched the monkeys as they fed on fruit and climbed through tree branches high in the sky. Their opposable thumbs make them seem most human to me! What do you think?


I know I will always remember the wonderful time in the jungle, spent with my father and my wife, and all the new friendships we created during our time there. Exploring the diverse fauna of the Amazon Basin was an incredible experience! Although deforestation poses a huge threat to the future of these amazing species, I am hopeful humanity will turn this area so all these inspiring lifeforms will thrive.


Be Well, Be Loved,


Geoffrey Smith

Want to hear more about our trip? Click here to learn more about the indigenous people who call the Amazon Basin their home!


If you're interested in the travel company we used to plan our adventure, check out Natural Habitat Adventures. If you book with them, please let them know I sent you!


Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.



References


https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/amazon-river-dolphin

https://www.wwf.org.uk/learn/fascinating-facts/sloth

https://allbirdsoftheworld.fandom.com/wiki/Proboscis_Bat

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/green-anaconda

https://abcbirds.org/bird/channel-billed-toucan/

https://www.aquariumofpacific.org/onlinelearningcenter/species/red_backed_poison_dart_frog

https://owlcation.com/stem/Hoatzin-or-Stinkbird-Facts-That-You-May-Not-Know




Updated: Sep 2

The Artist Telegraph By Geoffrey C. Smith




The Nature of the Bahamas


Drone footage above paradise.


I love new experiences, never knowing what I might encounter! It's why nature never ceases to inspire me. My trip to the Bahamas was no exception. I stumbled upon sea turtles, lemon sharks, Antillean nighthawks, and laughing gulls to name a few. . These experiences and adventures continue to fuel the inspiration for my art. Let's explore!

Watch me sculpt stingray candelabras.


Stingrays

The idea to travel to the Bahamas began when friends of mine told me I had to see the stingrays on Munjack Cay in the Bahamas. They have a home near there and had heard stingrays gather along the shore to be fed by humans. Knowing how I can't miss an opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat, my friends kindly invited my wife and me to their home to make a trip out to see the stingrays.


It was incredible to see the stingrays in person. Some of the rays were almost 3 feet across! I wasn't expecting that. I mostly enjoyed watching the way they moved along the seafloor, scattering sand with their fins to find hidden prey. In the past, I have sculpted stingrays, inspired by the way they move through the water. You can watch me sculpt the stingray candelabras above!


Stingrays tend to be odd man out, but they are amazingly smart creatures! They are able to communicate with each other and known to have high cognitive abilities. Stingrays contain venom in their spined tails and use their brilliant sense of smell and electropaths to find their prey. They don't use their stinger to hunt but rather to defend themselves against predators. Their light gray coloring helps them camouflage against predators such as hammerhead sharks. Their skeleton is entirely made from cartilage instead of bone which allows them more flexibility. They flap their pectoral fins to move themselves through water, some of them able to travel up to 30 miles per hour!


Check out stingray art I have created!



Sea Turtles

I caught a sea turtle wading through waters on my drone! I was excited to capture the sea turtle since most species of sea turtles are considered endangered. The most common sea turtles found in the Bahamas are Green sea turtles, Hawksbill sea turtles, and Leatherback sea turtles. Hard to say which type I caught on film from this view... any guesses? Comment below!


I sculpted little sea turtle hatchlings to highlight the humble beginning of their life. Sea turtles begin their lives on earth a few inches in length from nests on the beach. The incubation temperature of the nest determines the sex of the turtles, so sand temperature is very important. Cooler temperatures produce male hatchlings while warmer temps produce females. Fluctuations in temperature will produce both male and female hatchlings. Then once they leave the nest, they make their way into the ocean where they spend years in the water.


It's incredible to think that sea turtles have been on this earth in their current form since dinosaurs wandered the planet. That's more than 100 million years! They are capable of spending hours underwater. If you are a fan of these prehistoric animals, take a look at other sea turtle art I created.


Antillean nighthawk nesting on the ground.


Antillean Nighthawk

I was overjoyed when I captured the Antillean nighthawks on my camera. These stealthy birds are hard to capture due to their speed. These beautiful birds have an interesting feather pattern of white, tan and brown feathers. Their coloring can be easily mistaken for graveling because their feathers' colors looked freckled in their plumage. Antillean nighthawks don't construct nests. Instead, they set up shop on open soil or gravel. They like to feed on moths, beetles and other insects. They are best known for the way that they hunt. When they hunt, they descend straight down to swoop up whatever insect they set their eyes on. It was incredible to see and hear them as they stealthily captured their dinner.


Learn more about lemon sharks!


Lemon Shark

Juvenile lemon sharks surrounded us in the Bahamas when we went to feed the stingrays. It was surreal, imagine four or five sharks darting around you in the same water your feet are in! Lucky for us, lemon sharks are known to be less aggressive than other species of sharks.


Why are they called lemon sharks? They get their name from their yellow hue which helps them blend into the sand while they hunt for food. Lemon sharks like to eat crustaceans. Similar to stingrays, they use electroreceptors to find prey. When they pick up an electrical pulse from movement, they stalk their prey until they attack.


Despite how the media may make it sound, shark attacks are very rare. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening that to be attacked by a shark. There have only been 10 documented unprovoked attacks by lemon sharks on humans, none that were fatal.


If I made you less fearful of sharks and you're interested in inviting one into your home, check out my shark art.


Two laughing gulls walk along the beach in the Bahamas.


Laughing Gull

Have you heard the call of the laughing gull? As its name suggests, it sounds just like a a high-pitched laughter. Laughing gulls are noisy birds that can be a bit more aggressive. They are known to steal prey from other birds. Though they generally consume a carnivorous diet, laughing gulls tend to scavenge for anything they can find- notably berries or even trash.


Though they aren't endangered, laughing gull nest colonies were almost eliminated in the northeastern United States during the 19th century due to egg and plume hunters. Luckily, their population survived and is thriving nowadays.


I hope you enjoyed the natural world of the Bahamas through my eyes!


Be Well, Be Loved,


Geoffrey Smith

Please email me your questions or comments, I would love to hear your thoughts.