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Tales from an intrepid viajero in Latin America Despite promising myself that I´d never be so self-indulgent as to write a blog that´s exactly what I´m going to do. Welcome to the blog that I´m writing while studying Spanish and travelling in Latin America over the next 8 months

Amil de La Amazonas - surviving deep in the Amazon Jungle for three days

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 18 June 2009 | Views [2785] | Comments [4]

The more astute amongst you will have noticed that I am indeed trying to row a motorised boat with a stick. That`s what happens when the motor on the boat you are in breaks down 2km from the nearest "settlement" in the middle of the Amazon. More on that later.

For my last "adventure" on this trip I decided to go to the Amazon to do a three day "travesía" through the jungle. This involves a two and a half day hike deep in the Brazilian Amazon followed by a Kayak ride back to the jungle lodge of Palmarí. While I did all the stuff that I describe below, the real hero of my trip was my guide, Valera, a Peruvian who has lived in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years. He`s a bit like Bear Grylles except he doesn`t get himself into situations where he needs to eat maggots to survive. The travesía that I did is not something that is commonly done - Valera told me he has only taken 30 or so tourists on it in the three years he has been a guide. Most people just go fishing or do "light" activities in the Palmarí jungle lodge located somewhere in the Brazilian Amazon. In fact, Valera told me only two people in the 200 strong Palmarí community venture that deep into the jungle - it is unforgiving territory.

Valera and I prepare for the trip by making a couple of tough decisions. Our rucksacks our very heavy and it is over 30 centigrade so we decide to jettison some non-essentials. We cut down on the amount of food we will take - why take tinned meat when you can fish for your dinner. Decision number two is a bit tougher - do we take a litre and half of water each for 2.5 days hiking or do we jettison the bottle of rum and take more water? The bottle of rum will enable us to sleep at night while the water will probably help us to survive a bit longer. I tell Valera that I don`t drink that much water while hiking and sitting around a fire, drinking rum and listening to the "caiman" (alligators)is probably as good as it gets during the evenings in the jungle. We jettison the water. I am mildly dissapointed when Valera tells me that my walking boots aren`t appropriate for the trip as we`ve gone through a lot together - only wellington boots will do.

We are dropped off by boat about 20 mins from the jungle lodge. After sinking knee deep into flooded jungle within a minute of disembarking I realise why wellington boots are necessary. The first few minutes are passed wading through "flooded jungle" - this is jungle that is underwater during the rainy season but becomes normal jungle during the dry season. Apparently the water level has gone down at least 4m in the last week. We get to a dry part and out comes the machete. Paths do not exist that deep in the Amazon. This is pure machete territory. Added to this, the jungle has set a plethora of "natural" booby traps such as fallen trees, numerous holes down which animals live, "quebradas" (water crossings") and vines that loop around your feet and trip you up. Despite all this I am definitely enjoying myself - it doesn´t get much better than listening to all the bird and monkey noises while cutting your way through thick jungle. Although I do wish Valera would stop shaking the trees - doesn`t he know that there could be green tree snakes up there?

After a few hours we stop for our first break and I`m not sure I´ve ever sweated so much. Still, best to keep the long sleeves on as I don´t want any mosquito bites. We don`t drink any water at this stage but get the rum mixer out - Brazilian cola. We continue on our way in the unforgiving humid conditions cutting random fruits to quench our thirst. Valera tells me the name of them but I`ve never seen half of them before and have not heard of their names in either Spanish or English.

We finish walking at around 3pm and I ask Valera how he knows where the hell we are and what direction we are walking - he doesn`t have a compass and there aren`t any paths. Thirty years experience in the jungle is the answer I get. Sometimes you´ve just got to trust the guide...We tie our hammocks around some trees and hang the black bin liners over them in case it rains. Time to find some dinner in the quebrada. While we are fishing, Valera informs me that there are caiman (alligators) in the quebrada so we best keep a good watch for them. I divert my full time attention to looking out for the caiman - I`d rather be alive than have nice fish to eat for dinner. We don´t catch anything. Luckily we have brought some tinned sardines with us to cook on the fire. Valera cuts some tree down and splits it in half and he tells me this palomita will make an "excellent" salad along with the onion that we have brought with us. It`s surprsingly tasty - or maybe I`m just very hungry. We sit around the fire and drink the rum and Balera smokes some of his "pure" tabacco. He tells me about the time when he got lost in the jungle for nine days. I start to pray that it doesn`t happen to us. The amount of noise in the jungle in the early evening is quite startling. We retire to the hammocks at 6.30pm.

I hear some very loud noises in the middle of the night and ask Valera if it is the caiman. No, those are toads, he informs me. I`ve never heard toads make so much noise before.

I wake up at around 5.30ish to a cacophany of bird sounds and rays of light parting through the dense jungle. Really a great way to wake up in the morning. One of the things about being deep in the jungle is that even the most basic operations hold a certain degree of fear. Take going to the toilet for example. Once the trousers are down you are prey - the mosquitos just make straight for you and before you know it you have hundreds of bites in slightly unedifying places. The incentive to stay down in such a vulnerable position is minimal as you never know what might decide to attack you.

We start walking at around 7am. About an hour into the days walking Valera points out some footprints to me - "mire, son las huellas de jaguares". Oh great, now I am about to get hunted down by some jaguars. Nothing happens. Further into the days walking I manage to slip up on one of the fallen trees we are traversing and end up on my arse. Valera seems to find this quite amusing. We stop at some tree and Valera tells me that its leaves have "medicinal" properties if you have aches and pains. He informs me that you rub the leaves against where the pain is and it gives you a little fever, you shake a bit and then the pain goes. He lets me  know that his arm hurts a bit so he gives me a demonstration. The last thing I need is Valera going down with a fever. He seems to survive ok though.

Eventually we come to a quebrada crossing. Valera hacks down some thin trees with his machete to create a bridge. He tells me in a very matter of fact way that there are caiman in the quebrada so it is probably best not to fall into it. The rest of the days walking is tough but rewarding - Valera points out to me all the things that you can eat in the jungle and all the bird species and animals we come across. We finish walking at 1pm. In fact, we`ve finished the travesía. "Usted camina muy bien. Nunca he terminado esta caminata tan rapido". It appears we have done the travesía in record time, a day ahead of schedule. He tells me I`m a very good walker.

We spend the rest of the day fishing and do manage to catch some dinner this time although I`m spending most of my time looking out for caiman. We eat well and drink the rest of the rum. It is just as well as there is a lot of noise in the jungle that evening. This time we do hear the caiman and I spend most of the night hoping they don`t come near our camp - we are about 6m from the quebrada edge. Valera tells me that they never venture out so we are safe enough.

I wake up to find the our rucksacks have been attacked by thousands of spiders and termites. Less than ideal. A good half hour is spent trying to get rid of them. We wait around for a while and a boatman arrives with our kayaks. We have a 3-4 hr kayak ride back to the jungle lodge. It is tough work under the strong sun but is incredibly spectacular. Eagles are in the sky, all kinds are bird species are flying above the river and we even see pink dolphins. This is how life should be. We get back to the Palmarí and everyone seems interested in what we´ve done. It has been an unbelievable adventure.

The next day, Valera and I decide to take the litte motor boat out for a ride along the river. About 2km away from the nearest settlement the motor breaks down and Valera`s best efforts to repair are not enough. I am about ready to accept our fate and wait however long it takes to get rescued. Valera on the other hand has a plan. We are only 50m or so away from flooded jungle. If we can get there we can cut down some branches and use them as oars to get back to safety. Ummm, but Valera how do we get to the flooded jungle? Paddle with our hands of course. So, Valera and I spend the next 20 mins paddling with our hands to get to the flooded jungle. I try to avoid thinking about the possibility of a pirhana attack and finding I no longer have hands. Valera`s machete hacks down a few branches and we spend the next hour and half "rowing" with the branches back to safety. The guy is truly a genius. I`m absolutely exhausted and have to spend the rest of the afternoon recovering in a hammock. We treat ourselves to a few beers of celebration.

The Amazon is an unbelievable adventure if you have enough intrepid spirit to look for the hardest things to do. Valera was an unbelievable character and incredibly resilient - I couldn´t have surived more than a day in the jungle without a guide as good as him. Some people live very simple lives but have a knowledge and feel for the jungle that I can only dream of.

Tags: amazon jungle trekking survival

Comments

1

why does it not surprise me that you managed the walk in record time?

Ted and I are planning are BBQ to celebrate your return, by the way...

  Chris Jun 19, 2009 2:47 AM

2

Hey amil_patel,

We really liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others could enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Jul 13, 2009 5:17 PM

3

cool

  ggyytty Oct 13, 2009 4:10 AM

4

Hi Amil, could you drop me a mail - would like to do a similar trip this shortly, and would like to pick your brain (:

thanks!

  Al Apr 2, 2012 4:41 AM

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