South American Chronicles: How it all started

Rio Napo - Ecuador

I have already written elsewhere an introduction to how we both ended up in the South American continent, with a camera, a bunch of microphones and a mission to record as much footage and sounds produced by insects as possible. However, having moved my writing to this website, before I can delve into intricate descriptions of the impossibly beautiful rainforest habitats, I feel like I should probably give you quick summary of the story. So, if you fancy reading some old and more detailed posts, follow the links at the end of the page. Otherwise, keep reading here…

The story so far.

With the generous support from the University of Manchester, the contribution of our faithful pockets and savings from a few years of work and the assistance of our slightly insane minds, Nick and I decided it would be a good idea to make a short movie about the Unheard Sounds from the Rainforest.  It made perfect sense! Nick had itchy feet and wanted to go far, far away from all the comfort that surrounded him.  I had been getting progressively more interested in wildlife filmmaking at the time.  We put the two things together, joined forces, and decided we'd try and pursue one of our oldest and most untold dreams: to make a film.

South America made sense too, believe it or not.  Given his background in Environmental Management, Nick had always wanted to travel to South American countries. In part to study and participate in various models of conservation whilst pursuing his interests in photography and sound.  I, for my part, was already heading in that direction because of a work trip to Ecuador with the University of Manchester. And so, that was our deal. We met in Ecuador a few months later, just a camera and a few microphones, together in the jungle.

Some things went the way they should have, some didn't quite work out great, but overall we learned a lot of lessons about the brutality and unforgivingness of the Amazon, about wildlife, about the equipment and how to best capture wildlife whilst being under the baking sun, at 95% humidity, surrounded by myriads of insects that want to drink your blood and lay eggs under your skin.

All valuable lessons, indeed.

Three months later, I was flying again to Peru, to meet up with Nick once again, and continue the project where we left it in Ecuador. This time more prepared, more motivated and more sure that we were doing the right thing, in spite of what friends and family kept saying.

We ended up spending another 40 days in the rainforest of Peru, this time with a clearer idea in mind of what we wanted to record. We weren't after the multicoloured Paradise Tanager bird, nor the bizarre Emperor Tamarins… but all those tiny little creatures whose sounds make up the bed of noise you can hear in any incredibly biodiverse environment, such as a tropical rainforest. The crickets, the grasshoppers, the ants, the millipedes, the beetles, the katydids, the flying creatures, the diggings creatures, the singing creatures and the hissing creatures. They exist in such abundance and at the same time it is so easy to ignore them when squirrel monkeys are dancing above your head, Oropendolas are enticing you with their curious calls and even more attractive and colourful creatures are charming you with their looks. But the rainforest is like a symphony of contemporary experimental music: classical harmony gives way to dissonant chords and predictable rhythms leave their space for more elaborate ones.  There is no score, no theory nor director, but somehow all these creatures are able of making incredibly beautiful music.  You can stand still in the middle of the forest and hear a very loud group of frogs, belting their call out like a cry for freedom, when a group of crickets, from a tree somewhere behind you, decides to produce their stridulating call, at seemingly regular intervals. Immediately the frogs go silent, giving way for the crickets. As their metallic streak increases in rhythm and intensity, now sounding almost like techno music, a soloist bird joins in. Its call is loud, but keeps in perfect rhythm with the crickets. You can't help but smile, and that is only the beginning! You soon realise there is a river a few hundred meters away from you, whose deep sound is acting like a drone. If you pay attention and can hear the ants (yes, there are so many of them and they are so big, you can actually hear them!), you can hear a countless number of leaves rustling around you, and of course, you can hear the millions of flies, mosquitos and butterflies flying around your head, constantly trying to feed off your blood and sweat. It's wonderful, it's never tiring, it's awe inducing, and we wanted to capture it all.

Of course, in two and a half months, we barely scratched the surface of what we wanted to do. But  we still managed to come back with some decent field recordings and several hours worth of footage of little creatures from the undergrowth. And, more importantly, we have not lost a single bit of passion for what we do. In fact, this experienced has confirmed to us that this is what we love and want to keep doing.

Stay tuned for more stories from our time as improvised wildlife filmmakers in South America.

Rio Alto Madre de Dios - Peru

In which I first arrived in Cuzco, Peru, where Nick was waiting for me: (here)

In which our not-so-glamorous arrival into the Peruvian rainforest is described: (here)

Greta, Oropendola Productions