It’s five in the morning and you’re already dripping with sweat. Although the sun is still to make an appearance, you’ve been clambering up this muddy slope for a while now and your leg muscles are burning. But this doesn’t matter. You’re making your way towards one of the most awe-inspiring sights on Earth, and you know it.

A few more minutes and you’ve made it to the top. It’s still dark though, so you sit down and wait. Silence, except for the sound of your own breath; alone, except for your own thoughts (…and hiking companions). You close your eyes and a wave of calm washes over you. You feel at peace.

Suddenly, the night is pierced by a sound, a song. A lone bird, unable to contain its enthusiasm for the new day. He’s not alone in his happiness: you too are looking forward to dawn. It’s at this moment that a speck of light appears on the horizon and starts to grow, allowing you to distinguish some of the shapes around you, although your view remains obscured by a heavy cloud layer (and some cracking cloud formations).

Your surroundings aren’t really that difficult to describe. Actually, a single word does the trick: ‘trees’. This is unsurprising: after all, you are currently sitting in the middle of one of the last four remaining pristine rainforests on Earth, at the top of Turtle Mountain in the Iwokrama Forest, a protected forest reserve in the centre of Guyana, South America, otherwise known as the ‘Green Heart of Guyana’.

Gazing out towards the horizon, the clouds start to lift. You realise that you and the growing light in the sky are separated only by an infinity of trees. At this height, you’re above the canopy and it’s just trees, trees for as far as they eye can see. You’ve never seen anything like it: miles and miles of untouched, unspoilt forest.

You sit there, staring at this awe-inspiring view in front of you, trying to take it all in. As the sun continues to rise, you watch the clouds moving across the sky (creating some amazing formations) as the air becomes warmer and the birds become louder. The treetops start to rustle as their inhabitants emerge from their slumber. You become aware that the forest seems to be buzzing, which it is; buzzing with life!

One of your companions suddenly starts motioning frantically. You follow his gaze to see movement in the canopy directly below you. One of the highest branches of a nearby tree has a visitor. Shaggy black fur, a long tail and a deep pink face, this red-faced spider monkey is enjoying its breakfast in the early morning sun. It turns its head and stares at you for a few moments, but then looks away, seemingly unphased about your presence. You on the other hand, are silently exploding with joy at this encounter.

You sit there for another hour or two, caught in the beauty of this endless sea of trees, spellbound and unwilling to leave. You haven’t been able to spend time with your own thoughts like this for a while, especially when the majority of your time is normally spent in front of a screen. It’s refreshing, stimulating, maybe even liberating. You realise that this morning, the sun isn’t only shedding light on the forest, but also on your own emotions.

It doesn’t feel real: in what world are you able to sit in the middle of a rainforest, watch the spider monkeys wake up and the macaws fly past, whilst being serenaded by the dawn call of hundreds of birds? What is this world, so different to your own, where nature is left to prosper and look after itself? You wish you could stay here for a little longer, however the rains are upon you and you should make the descent before it becomes too slippy. You leave, but this doesn’t mean that your mind doesn’t remain in the clouds above the canopy.

Upon your walk back down, you realise that your perspective on life has changed. The worries and stresses aren’t nearly as overwhelming as before. You’re motivated for the future. This is good, this means you’re going to be able to change things and make things better for yourself.

You get back to the bottom, speechless. You understand now what it’s all about. There are other things to do now, but you’ll be back. Just watch this space.

  • Iona Cunningham-Eurich
  • : Iona Cunningham-Eurich, 4th year Msci Zoology at University College London (UCL). Based in London but grew up in the South of France with a love of the outdoors. I have had the incredible opportunity to visit Guyana 3 times with Operation Wallacea, an organisation that organises research expeditions to various places in the world aiming to complete long-term biodiversity surveys. On my last trip, I was appointed Assistant Chiropterologist, working on the bat mistnetting surveys. I wish to pursue my career in the conservation sector. Twitter: @ionace Instagram: @justlonningaround
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  • : I post my favourite pictures from my travels (mainly Guyana, but also other places) on my Instagram (@justlonningaround) with a focus on bats. My twitter (@ionace) is focused towards my academic development.
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.