This post will be a bit of a departure from the regular technical track. About a month ago for my birthday my wife bought me a trip to anywhere - as long as the budget was reasonable. There are three places I would like to see before I die (which I hope is in the sufficiently far future) - Africa, the Galapagos Islands, and the rainforests of South America. After taking a look at the price for the first two I set my sights on South America. After some time I came across a place called Manu National Park in Peru - not far from Cuzco. I have booked my trip there and have now started to read material about neotropical rainforests.
By the way, if you choose to visit the rainforest some time I highly recommend you take a look at http://www.manuexpeditions.com. They are a very professional outfit and have helped me plan every hour of my vacation.
Manu is a quite interesting place. When looking for a pristine rainforest - I searched for a place that few others go. While Manu has far more wildlife than places such as Costa Rica, it is extremely difficult to get to. One has to fly to Lima, spend the night, then fly to Cuzco, spend the night, take a bus over the Andes mountains for a day, and then take a motorized canoe for a ways to get there.
It is amazing how complicated rainforest ecosystems truly are. There are several common misconceptions about rainforests.
1) Many believe with so many green things growing there the soil would be excellent. Actually it is much poorer than soils in temperate zones. In rainforests dead matter is recycled very quickly back to living things. While in temperate zones we have seasons in which less decay can take place (winter), this is not the case in the tropics. Most trees there have shallow but extensive root systems that have a symbiotic relationship with fungi that break down matter into the chemicals that the trees can use. The result is a rather infertile soil where nutrients reach only the top five inches.
2) Everyone knows that it rains often in rainforests, but where does the rain come from? It may surprise you to know that as much as 70% of the rain comes from the rainforest itself through evaporation.
3) The rainforest is full of poisonous snakes. While there are several species of poisonous snakes in the rainforests of Peru, it is extremely unlikely that one will come across any snake - no less a poisonous one. I have heard that poisonous snakes such as the Fer-de-Lance are more common in Costa Rica.
What fascinates me most about the rainforest is how delicate of an ecosystem it truly is - everything hangs in a very tight balance. Many species of birds and insects specialize in one particular prey. Very often the bird or insect has evolved in a way that makes it particularly adept at catching that particular prey. In a sort of arms race the prey continually evolves in ways to avoid predation, while the predator evolves ways to circumvent these adaptions.
I will surely have more to say about the rainforest in future blogs. From a software engineering perspective, the rainforest is the most perfect yet also most complex piece of code. There are no null pointer exceptions in the rainforest.