That time we got eaten in the jungle.
Where? The Amazon rainforest, Brazil.
When? July 2018
With whom? Martin
We had desperately scoured the Internet for affordable amazon packages that didn’t involve a fancy lodge with day trips. We wanted an experience that was a bit more rough and wild with lots of hiking and camping. We eventually found one company that seemed to offer what we wanted, but I actually wouldn’t recommend them so won’t mention their company name here. Feel free to contact privately if you would like more information about this using the contact page.
Getting to the jungle from Manaus involves a boat trip, a vehicle on the other side of the river to take you as far as the road goes, and then another boat trip. Boats are how everyone gets around in the rainforest from tourists to natives, as it is faster and safer than trekking. The boat from Manaus takes you via the meeting of the two rivers, the Amazon and Rio Negro, and here the two different colour waters sit side by side, not mixing. It looked as though a child had drawn a line and coloured one side black and the other side brown.
Our first night was piranha fishing, where we caught very small piranhas with a bit of raw chicken as bait! As we cruised the river in a very low speed boat, we could admire where the river meets the thick jungle on all of its banks. We saw some wildlife like howler monkeys and iguanas, and apparently howler monkeys were very rare to see, which we were sceptical about the second and third times we saw them.
Pods of grey dolphins live in the river and they frequently break the surface, so every so often we’d hear another “wow” from the tourists in the boat.
The sunsets in the jungle were absolutely stunning, as the trees broke up the sun’s rays so it looked like they were pointing to the sky with a red or purple back drop. Travelling by boat gave us the perfect opportunities to watch them.
In the evening we went caiman spotting, which was very different from when we did this in the Pantanal, as the guide, Paulo, actually caught us a caiman. We called her Cameron. Paulo showed us her teeth, let us hold her, stroked her belly. The belly is where the nervous system is so you can stroke its belly and it will completely placate the animal.
We ended up spending a night in the jungle with some crazy Polish scientists. Their English was fantastic, thankfully, as our Polish isn’t. It astounds me that Martin can remember a few sentences in Polish yet the only Spanish he can learn is “I am a cat”.
Our beds for the night were hammocks which we set up by tying them to the trees, placing a mosquito net over the top for some superficial protection. In reality, they get everywhere and they will bite you. There is no escape. I tried in vain to protect myself by putting on my waterproof trousers and jacket, creating a mini sauna. It didn’t work.
We barbecued chicken and drank some beers and reluctantly joined in with the drinking of cachasa, which is some really gross local rum that is used to make caipirinhas, the cocktail for which Brazil is famous.
As we went to bed, the Poles sang us a very exciting Polish lullaby as they drunkenly roamed about the campsite. As I lay there in my hammock, I listened to the sounds of the jungle. Once all the people were quiet, I could hear so many noises coming from all directions. I desperately tried to ignore that dreaded high-pitched buzz of the mosquitoes that were digging into my flesh through plastic protection and instead tried to focus on the cacophony from the less abhorrent wildlife. I could hear a ton of insects, crickets, frogs, monkeys, the trees moving in the wind and from the monkeys, and occasionally, if I strained my ears, I could hear the sound of a jaguar.
The following day, Martin and I said goodbye to our Polish friends and head towards a native family. They start breeding young! A 20 year old had a toddler and a 15 year old had a new born. We spent the day with the family, chopping wood, learning how to make crickets and crowns from the reeds, picking pineapples, cooking and eating.
On the table, the family kept their trophy caiman skull. The skull itself was bigger than my torso, approximately as big as a normal-sized human’s torso, so you can imagine how big the caiman must have been when it was alive. The family took great pleasure in telling us how delicious it was.
After dinner, Wainu, the head of the family, cracked out a bottle of cachasa and sat with Martin and me. As the rum came out, we both groaned internally as he poured us very generous shots to drink neat. He only spoke Portuguese so with my little knowledge of Spanish, we communicated. He told us that he wakes up at 4am every morning to take the children to school, which starts at 5am because later in the day is too hot. He told us how he had hunted snakes, jaguars, caimans for sport and to protect his family. We conversed for hours, each cachasa making it easier to communicate and understand each other before we retired to our hammock for the night for round 2 of being eaten in the jungle.
In the morning, we got up early for some deep jungle trekking. Almost immediately, we left the path and started hacking through vegetation with a machete that we had borrowed from our new family. We saw squirrel monkeys dancing around the tree tops, making jumps we thought weren’t possible from one tree to another.
We reached a river, using falling trees to cross where we could find them. It was a narrow stream with very clear water so we could spot the stingray trying to hide from us in the river bed. We moved further up, following the water. I came across what looked like a solid log, but then it started wriggling. We’d found a sizeable electric eel! It moved in the direction of the stingray and they ended up having a fight. The eel won. It had size and weaponry on its side!
When we got back to our native family house, they looked pretty impressed with our wildlife spottings. It’s not a jaguar but it was something I hadn’t seen before.
Info: Manaus is the place to go to the Amazon from Brazil, although you can also get some rainforest experience from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and even Bolivia. As a tourist, you have to have a guide in the rainforest, and it’s sensible too as there are so many things that can eat you (excluding mosquitoes). Despite the heat, it’s advisable to wear long trousers while trekking because some of the plants are sharp, and some are poisonous.
Product of the week: Last week, I recommended some decent mosquito repellent which met the approval of our jungle friends. This week, I’m recommending Garnier Ambre Solaire suncream. It is so worth paying the extra couple fin quid for a non greasy suncream, and this one is amazing. Once applied, you cannot feel that it’s there. We’ve invested in a factor 30 and a factor 50 trying to be sensible but most places are suggesting we should have factor 70 plus.
Tip of the week: Every body kept telling me that alcohol helps with the mosquito bites. It doesn’t, in any way, but it does help you care less about them. I could recommend some cachasa and chatting with the locals. Don’t let the language barrier put you off as you could miss out on a hilarious night!