Amazon Jungle Tour - Day 1

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
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Trip End Feb 26, 2011


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Where I stayed
In a basic jungle lodge

Flag of Bolivia  , El Beni,
Sunday, January 9, 2011

We carried our bags down to storage at Dolphin tours and left all our valuables in a tiny unsecured hut. The woman on the desk was full of smiles clearly still amused by my antics yesterday. We got taken down to the river by a rather portly lady and shown which one our boat was. There was a market going on with un-fresh river fish on sale (the eyes were about as clear and sparkly as dishwater). With no-one else about we boarded our boat and sat and waiting until a few more Bolivian looking guys arrived. There were probably about six of them but one looked more like a tourist than anyone else. It turned out his name was Tony (this really got us guessing where he was from and was probably in his early 50's), I guessed Brazilian, Erica didn’t like the game of guessing where he was from and found that he spoke Spanish and Portuguese but very little English. It turned out he was French but our conversations were somewhat limited. The Dutch girls from our Pampas trip boarded the boat next to us so we had a bit of mickey taking about who’s boat was fastest, is that a hole in the bow of your boat etc.

We then set off up the Beni River to take us into the Amazon Jungle proper. Whilst the pampas is a wetland and grassland area therefore very easy to see animals, the Amazon jungle is... well a proper jungle and it is very limited how much you can see through the dense foliage. It was stunning though as we worked our way against the flow of the river, big hills and mountains barely visible other than the green covering. I instantly felt like I was overcome by the dizzying amount of oxygen in the air. After a couple of hours we came to a clay lick where there were lots of brightly coloured Macaws nesting, really beautiful birds and a great way to start our adventure.

Our guide Juan Carlos sat behind us (they weren’t joking when we were told he didn’t speak English) but although my conversational Spanish is still rubbish I generally get the drift of a lot of conversations. He had a great smile and we looked forward to receiving his protection from the elements over the next two days. Behind him were maybe 6 people who we assumed to be crew however in reality we found out on the way they were just people cadging a lift, so we made continual stops in the most unlikely locations dropping off big sacks of stuff and the guys along the way. After maybe three and a half hours on the boat we pulled in to the side of the river where we expected someone else to be unloaded however despite there being no sign, no path or anything it turned out to be our drop off point, we just looked at each other in disbelief. We marched a couple of metres through 3m grass to find a muddy path. We carried all our stuff from the boat including the food etc for the next few days on our heads, arms etc just wherever it would fit. I lost my first flip flop very early on in the process with it getting stuck in deep mud (isn’t that what you wear in the jungle?). After about 15 minutes walking with the lead guy hacking his way through with a machete we found a river crossing. This really wasn’t Erica’s bag as it was a log (who says she lacks balance) but it was also sloping upwards a good deal with notches cut out of the log to make steps. With all our possessions we lacked balance anyway but the lady nearly ended up in the stream much to the amusement of the crew of the boat. We soon found a clearing with our camp. It looked all good really with a small outdoor kitchen, a dining room, toilets (we weren’t expecting that) and a dorm room. It must be said the dorm more resembled a prisoner of war camp than what you would consider an Eco-lodge however we weren’t complaining because the cost of these trips is so low really, even Erica was satisfied as long as the lodge was remotely bug proof.

After a lunch we booted up and donned enough mosquito repellent to keep any animals away not just mosquito’s, Juan Carlos started by doing a bit of a prayer to Pachamama (mother earth) predictably blowing coca leaves in to the air. He then however seemed to read the leaves and told us this would be a good 4 hour walk. He then prepared some type of concoction for himself using some kind of tree bark, more coca leaves than I’ve seen anyone use, bicarbonate of soda, and several other unknown elements then piling the huge load into his gums. He said something along the lines of "this makes me at one with the jungle and able to see, hear and smell things I could not normally see". Ok we thought he has got wacked out of his brain on some kind of hallucinogens and this guy is all that stands between us and a deadly spider/snake bite.  Great.

We headed into the forest and I have absolutely no idea how he knew where we were for the next 4 hours.  We found him an amazing guide despite our lack of communication, Tony and him spoke a lot and we picked up on a few things. He would however drop to the ground making a ssshhh gesture then start sniffing the air, before turning round and smiling like you have never seen a smile before and nodding at E and I, “Si, Buenos”, then we would increase pace and run whilst crouching in the direction he had smelt something. Erica would ask “what is it?”, he would respond with “Puma or pig”, and sure enough as we stealth walked we approached maybe 20 or 30 jungle pigs feeding, he kept nodding at us as if to say look what the coca leaves have done, then he would whisper “Pachamama” and make a praying gesture. It was bonkers although the view of the pigs wasn’t great at all and they soon smelt us and alerted each other disappearing into the distance screaming like a pig of all things.

After hunting down our second set of pigs the guide was going ballistic stuffing as much coca, twigs and bicarbonate in his mouth as would go “Pachamama!” all of a sudden the pigs changed direction and pretty much surrounded us before closing in on us to give us a really clear look at these beasts of the jungle. I (Andrew) was taken aback by it, it just seemed so much more natural than the pampas out trekking through mud and swamps to get a glimpse for only about 10 – 15 seconds of a creature you know will smell you and disappear faster than you can say “is it going to attack me?” The pampas for me was all too easy, it was almost like being at a zoo, you get to see lots of other tourists and there are animals everywhere, here you are miles and miles and miles from another human being and we already knew we were bloody fortunate to see these creatures.

Anyway the walk continued then the guide started to turn to Erica nodding and smiling talking in Spanish. He then started making the most bizarre noises obviously recognisable as being monkey noises. He started to go nuts and then all of a sudden maybe 50 Capuchin monkeys appearing out of the canopy, “Pachamama!” about 100 coca leaves into the mouth then as Erica and Tony started taking pictures he passed me a drink which turned out to be sherry, I felt like a bit of a pillock but having learnt about Pachamama I poured a bit on the ground first before drinking. If I did that in Salford it would be a good hiding outside, but the guy seemed to love it.

The monkeys hung around for ages then we decided to make a move, at one point the guide stopped and crouched, I was with him at the front and asked what is it, he responded with the words “bear white”, still to this day I have no idea what it could be but as soon as I told Erica she dropped to the floor I guess part way through weeing as she responded with “the only white bear is a polar bear”, oh well whatever the guide was on it kind of worked and didn’t work at the same time. To be fair I’d put it down to a lack of English, as instead of bear white we would have been more likely to see snow white and all seven dwarfs, I’m still baffled at what we could have meant though!

We also saw some great butterflies and lots of spiders along with lots of jungle birds, we either didn’t know the name of or can’t remember. Anyway the first walk was brilliant, when we got back Juan Carlos was hugging us all and giving us high fives “Pachamama – muchos animales”, I’m sure even the least Spanish speakers amongst us can guess what that meant, it had been good.  Tony, Erica and I had our evening meal sat in our usual silence and we had already expended all our Spanish, and Tony expended all his English in our conversations to date, so this left only my hand gesturing and imitating pigs and things to amuse ourselves. It was pitch black and we a candlelit dinner for three where only two of you talk is never the best. Anyway to lighten the mood I decided to point out to Erica the cockroaches above the table. Oh dear, it wasn’t the wrong thing to do but within seconds we realised we were absolutely infested with the little bastards. There were hundreds all over the walls all over the kitchen surfaces, ceilings, pots pans, oh no we had already finished eating they would have been in our food and everything. The next thing Erica saw was a mouse on the beam above us, she was flipping out by this stage, and I had to confiscate all the lights, thankfully I checked the mouse out and it turned out to be a huge insect about twice the size of a mouse, that I convinced Erica it ate mosquito’s made it was a good creature for her. Thankfully the cockroaches would mainly be confined to the kitchen area we guessed.

We sauntered back to the POW camp room with the amazing sound and volume of the jungle all around us. We were going on a night hike through the forest, something Erica was dreading..... but not as much as what we saw next. We opened the door to the dorm and there were hundreds, no not hundreds literally thousands of cockroaches everywhere, obviously with no electricity in the jungle only my head torch lit the way so I sent Erica back outside. My bead had about 20 on it and they were all around the edge of the mattress (if you could call it that) on the bed frame and between the slats, the floor and walls were covered. I picked up my coat for the night hike and about 30 came out of the arms, hood and god knows where else. I’m not particularly scared of cockroaches but I realised all of a sudden I was, and I had no idea how to break the news to Erica. I casually wandered out and said “on the positive side you have tucked your mosquito net into your mattress, there are a few creepy crawlies in there”, she bolted and Erica being Erica didn’t even see the cockroaches but found a spider the size of my own hand with the fingers extended and what looked like pincers or teeth out of its head. She nearly started crying straight away then noticed the sea of cockroaches around the place.

I just wanted to get the hell out and was delighted that Juan Carlos soon appeared with a candle and enough of his coca concoctions to probably kill the whole lot. He sat down and started chatting to Tony, I pretty much had the subject straight away, they were talking about venomous creatures, in particular snakes or 'serpents’ as I recall, I picked up on the fact that in the pampas you can be at a hospital in a few hours, you can ring ahead and get a helicopter or ambulance and there are lots of people and medical supplies to help, in the jungle, you are stuck with no phone, no way of reaching the outside world and until someone turns up either to collect a tourist or drop a tourist off you will not see another human, he then proceeded to talk about 4 girls (chicas) and then the conversation got really gripping, I heard the colours black and yellow mentioned and snake, then Juan Carlos started making a snake gesture with his arm, Erica who had been staring into the darkness looking like she was having a nervous breakdown noticed the waving arm and instantly knew he was talking about a snake then at the top of his voice he made all the noises of the snake attacking the girl and biting her legs, followed by her agonising screams and shouting for Juan Carlos who carried her back from the jungle, he probably replayed the story and actions maybe 4 times and by the end Erica almost had tears rolling down her cheeks. Erica lost interest after the actions but he then proceeded to say he healed the venomous snake bite using ground up coca leaves, this pretty much sums up the Bolivianos (and Peruvians) love affair with the leaves of this plant. His message was he had experienced just about all the jungle could throw at anyone and we had to trust his experience. Anyway it was time to head off into the pitch black jungle with only our head torches and Juan Carlos in his white wellies wielding his machete for protection. The lady was not happy, I just wanted to be away from the roaches.

Well we didn’t see all that much on the night walk really, we saw a lot of spiders, some Tarantula nests but no Tarantulas, and a lot of other bugs and things. Jan Carlos pointed out a lot of Hallucinagenic plants and I wondered if they had formed part of his special jungle potions. At one point Erica moved her head into a branch of a tree and let out the loudest and most ridiculous scream I have ever heard, to be fair, Tony and Juan Carlos found the whole incident quite amusing after the initial shock of the whole thing. I wasn’t sure if she was glad it was all over or not, I for one was not but it was time to ‘man up’ and get straight into bed and try and get to sleep before the situation got too much, Erica did the same and was given special battery privileges being allowed to keep her light on to try and scare the little sods away from her. I stripped of to my undercrackers and hoped and prayed they wouldn’t breach the net, it was obvious however that they would.

Within 30 minutes I was asleep, within 45 Erica was asleep, mission accomplished but I don’t know how, it was bloody awful, we are not trying to complain about it though, we paid about 35 for a two day trip in the Amazon, of course there are going to be lots of spiders and creepy crawlies, but we hadn’t expected cockroaches on the scale of this. Never, never again: I’m a layman get me the hell out of here.
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Comments

Rorie on

Eventhough ye were in a different part of the amazon to us, this blog may aswell have been an exact account of our 2nd night in Manu Jungle. To be fair though it dont think we got visited by as many cockroaches as ye did but there were a crazy amount of locusts the size of your fist trying to bite there way through our mosquito nets. Turning the light off though did help cos they seemed to be attracted to the light. It wasnt the nicest of experiences and one which like ye guys i'm sure, i'l never forget, only thing though which sickens me is that we paid 1000usd each for our 6 days in the jungle and ye guys paid 35 quid each for 2 days so just goes to show that we didnt exactly get "Value" for money!!!!!!!!!

Hope ye still manage to enjoy the whole experience in between all the crazy and scary stuff cos like you said Stevo, it is more of an authentic jungle experience to the pampas tour.....

mum on

OMG

Carlene on

Well I just don't think I could have coped with that. You are both much braver than me. That would be my worst nightmare. Glad you lived through it though x

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