Anticipation buzzed within all four of us as we boarded the plane to Iguazu, excited to both see the waterfalls and to be in the jungle. My mom, sister, and grandma came down from the United States for Bridget’s two-week vacation, and after spending a week in Buenos Aires, we headed north to the jungle, a type of climate that my mom and sister had never visited before.
As the airplane descended, I craned my neck across Bridget and Mom from the aisle seat to see lush and verdant land, entirely full of trees. We imagined ourselves hiking through the forest, spotting toucans and snakes along the way. But upon looking closer out the plane window, I noticed that something was quite wrong here: the jungle was striped. What horror had humans committed this time to have organized the trees we saw from up above into perfect rows.
We landed in the airport in the thick of the natural jungle – the Iguazu nature preserve – and I forgot about the nightmare I had noticed from up above. Thick vines and leafy trees grew from the brick red soil on either side of the road. However, our hotel sat outside of the normal tourist circuit from the airport to Puerto Iguazu to the falls, and as we veered off the main highway and away from the national park, the scenery changed. Pine trees instead of jungle lined the road for the rest of the drive, explaining the grid of trees we saw from the air. In some places, the pine trees were the only things growing out of the red soil, soil that looked too different from their normal habitat. In other places, the jungle fought back, sending vines spiraling up and strangling the pines and attempting to suffocate the roots with thick green understory. People had even completely cut back everything in one area, and ½-meter tall pine trees were the only plants in the entire barren acres of land.
The taxi driver explained that these pine plantations all supplied paper factories. Humans had completely devastated the rainforest and used the valuable hardwood, and rather than replanting the entire rainforest – a long and intensive process – they planted pines instead, creating a lucrative paper industry here. The pine trees grow to a harvestable size in thirty years, and they can plant three generations of pine trees before the trees entirely deplete the soil of nutrients and render it too infertile for even the pines, that will grow almost anywhere. Then, over hundreds of years, the slow-growing hardwoods of the rainforest will attempt to replenish the soil and to take back what was originally theirs, if humans even give them that privilege.
This shocked all of us, but especially my grandmother, who had flown low over the red dirt roads and the forested areas of the Iguazu area in a friend’s tiny airplane long before the creation of any industry in the area. Even the taxi driver had grown up playing in the jungle, and though he had been desensitized by driving through pine forest every day, it still upset him. To see hundreds of miles of pines – from above and then from below – where a jungle that holds so much biodiversity and wilderness used to lay disgusted me. I tend to use paper more liberally than plastic, because I focus more on what happens after using the substance, and paper biodegrades. To add the production into the equation, and all the jungle that it sacrifices, puts a new spin on it.