Rusty Johnson’s Rainforest Romance

    While traveling through a Peruvian part of the Amazon River, falconer and traveler Rusty Johnson became friendly with the native Indian tribe and grew acutely aware of their battle to maintain the rainforests, a complex ecosystem. Each minute, Johnson said, several football field-sized tracts of rainforest is destroyed, irrevocably changing the environment and its people.

    He began working with the tribe to raise awareness about the rainforest. He also helped to bring nets to the jungle to protect people from the flies that spread deadly malaria. In fact, Johnson has created a program by which American children can purchase nets and then see a videotape of the people who benefit from their generosity.

    Peru gave back to its energetic new ally. Josiah, his tour guide, introduced Johnson to his cousin Madeley Rios, a Cucama Indian. Rios speaks Quechua, her native language. But she and Johnson were able to converse in Spanish, which allowed a romance to bloom. They were married three years ago by a 90-year-old local shaman woman, then wed again when they returned to the United States. Their son Cody was born a year ago.

    Johnson has returned several times to the region, bringing more supplies donated by American business people: toothbrushes, clothes, shoes. He helped build a wooden walkway for the local school, housed in a palm hut.

    Johnson says that he feels America is the greatest country in the world, but he would like to raise his son with more of a Peruvian Amazon attitude: a respect for the land and our relation to it, a level of discipline that American children lack, and a lack of sense of entitlement. He admits that the latter may be toughest to instill; when his son was born, doting American relatives showered the boy with gifts.“Cody had more things before he was born than my wife has had in her entire life,” Johnson says.

    The Amazon adventures of the Ulster County explorer will find their way into Johnson’s new book, which will also recount his courtship of Madeley. The author wants to alert people to the beauty of the rain forest and its importance to the world. He wants to correct some myths, as well.


Dispelling myths and appreciating beauty


    “People think there are pythons hanging from every branch,” Johnson says. “I want to remove that stigma and want people to see the romanticism and see the beauty in it and the simplicity.” He hopes one day to begin a series of Amazon tours for college students.

    In fact, Rusty Johnson feels a tour of the Amazon rain forest would benefit every American. “If I could control the world, every child should spend at least two weeks in a third-world country,” he says. “To still be thankful for what we have here, but to see that we could be happy and have a wonderful life and you don’t need all the extravagant things that we have here.”


To learn more about Rusty Johnson’s lectures and tours, or how you can help the Amazon people save their rainforests, visit


Jay Blotcher’s only experience with pythons is watching Monty Python movies in the comfort of his home. He writes often for Hudson Valley Parent. See his cover story in this month’s Hudson Valley Life, our other publication.