Piotr Naskrecki was taking a nighttime walk in a rainforest in Guyana, when he heard rustling as if something were creeping underfoot.
When he turned on his flashlight, he expected to see a small mammal, such as a possum or a rat.
“When I turned on the light, I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing,” said Naskrecki, an entomologist and photographer at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
A moment later, he realized he was looking not at a brown, furry mammal, but an enormous, puppy-size spider.
Known as the South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), the colossal arachnid is the world’s largest spider, according to Guinness World Records.
Its leg span can reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), or about the size of “a child’s forearm,” with a body the size of “a large fist,” Naskrecki told Live Science.
And the spider can weigh more than 6 oz. (170 grams) — about as much as a young puppy, the scientist wrote on his blog. [See Photos of the Goliath Birdeater Spider]
Some sources say the giant huntsman spider, which has a larger leg span, is bigger than the birdeater.
But the huntsman is much more delicate than the hefty birdeater — comparing the two would be “like comparing a giraffe to an elephant,” Naskrecki said.
The birdeater’s enormous size is evident from the sounds it makes. “Its feet have hardened tips and claws that produce a very distinct, clicking sound, not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground,” he wrote, but “not as loud.”
Deep in the Ecuadorian wilderness is a seismic monitoring station known as Casa del Arbol or “The Treehouse” because it is simply a small house built in a tree used for observing Mt. Tungurahua, the active volcano in the near distance.
While the simple wooden room is a sight to behold, the real attraction is the crude swing hanging from one of the tree’s skinny branches.
With no harness, net, or any other safety feature the swing (itself nothing more than a thick stick suspended by two ropes) arcs riders out into the void over the canyon.
Adventurous visitors are welcome to take a ride on the swinging seat, which may have been updated recently, adding a small, fabric belt to hold you in a bit.
You’re not actually swinging out over a void, but over a steepish hill, about 100 feet up.
Iquitos is an important port city of the Amazon and Peru’s largest jungle town.
It is located in the Amazon basin at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers, about 3,700 km upstream from the Atlantic Ocean and 1,030 km north-northeast of Lima.
Surrounded by water on one side and thick amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there, or travel by boat, which takes a full week of floating along the hot and humid Amazon.
With a population of 422,000, it is the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road.
The area was inhabited for thousands of years by natives and nomadic hunter-gatherers, who lived in small seasonal settlements close to the rivers, before European missionaries arrived and settled the local population around the rivers Nanay, Amazonas and Itaya.
Some say the city was founded by the Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century; others claim that it actually was not founded until nearly a century later.
In any case, the city did not start attracting settlers until the beginning of the 19th century when rubber was discovered.
Thousands of immigrants from around the world, mostly young single men who hoped to make their fortunes in rubber, came and settled here.
The rise of the automobile and related industries had dramatically increased the worldwide demand for rubber.
Some men became merchants and bankers, and made their fortunes that way.
Many of the European men married indigenous women and stayed in Peru the rest of their lives, founding ethnically mixed families.
The immigrants brought European clothing styles, music, architecture and other cultural elements to Iquitos.
The city became wealthy through its rubber industry throughout the rubber boom,
Although unreachable by roads, the city is not without vehicles. Motorcycles and motocarros – a motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back – dominate the streets, whizzing manically around as if “an American style biker-gang had taken over a city”.
Sometimes all it takes to get something started is a knock on a door—and necessity. Oded Wagenstein was walking in the rain down a side street in the Cuban town of Cienfuegos when he was seized with the urge to use the restroom.
Seeing no other options, he knocked on the nearest door, using body language and the sound of water to relay his request to the elderly gentleman who answered.
Juan Alfonso, 59, works as street sweeper. He told Wagenstein that he refuses to be excited about the changes ahead. “We all have jobs, houses, and clothing,” says Alfonso. “We even have our own version of Coca-Cola. I do not need anything.”
In what would become familiar in Wagenstein’s experience in this neighborhood, the man not only warmly invited him inside but made him a cup of coffee. During this impromptu visit, Wagenstein learned a bit about the man—“his wife had died, and he is lonely but he finds comfort in the fact that young people seek his expert help in repairing radios and turntables,” Wagenstein says.
“Because of the rain I decided to spend the rest of the day on that same street,” he continues. He learned more stories from the elderly residents who lived there, about being lonely but also about the role of their community in giving their lives purpose.
With most homes lacking lights, front doors stay open to let in the sunshine. Onelia, 93, believes turning strangers into friends is a Cuban custom, and thus anyone passing by Onelia’s door is her potential friend. “As I was the first foreigner to enter her house,” Wagenstein says, “she mentioned that it would be so nice if others would come to visit her too.”