This post is part 2 of Rylei’s Jungle Survival Training in Brazil. For part 1, click the previous link.
Day two began much the same as the first day had, walking endlessly through the jungle as the sun began to come up. It managed to be both breathtaking and daunting. The Amazon is never quiet at any time of the day, never still, and yet it lulls you so easily into a sense of calm.
While I had assumed I was learning to navigate in some sort of general direction, it turns out there was an actual destination in mind when I eventually stumbled upon two canoes on the shore hours later. I had never been in a canoe before, and to be honest I didn’t want to be. My friend and I had attempted sea kayaking a year before and it has gone down in our shared history of the most hated thing we’d ever done. Canoeing didn’t look much more promising, and the fact that I was to have a go at it solo even less so. My guide gave me some general directions on how not to flip the canoe or get stuck in the shallows and I pushed off.
The first hour or so was tranquil, floating on the surface of the Amazon river watching birds fly overhead from the looming trees and the fish leaping from the water. At one point we even saw the pink river dolphins, bright flamingoes in a sea of grey. I focused on the tranquility, my body moving through the motions of rowing without much thought except to the burn in my lazy shoulders.
And then the fish jumped in my canoe.
How to Appear Less Wimpy
To be fair, when the fish jumped into my canoe, I didn’t yet know it was a fish. I’d been half asleep, lulled by the repetitiveness of rowing and lack of conversation and was startled when something flung itself into the vessel with me. I did what every adventurous, sure-of-herself traveler would do: I panicked and rocked and overset the canoe.
I surfaced quickly and began to tread water in the warm river while trying to right my canoe. My guide paddled frantically to me, cursing my stupidity. I yelled over that something had jumped into my canoe and when he told me it was a fish, I wondered how I could spin that story to my brother to make me appear a bit less wimpy. I reminded myself to google if the Amazon had sharks. My guide held my canoe firm while telling me through gritted teeth to get out of the water before a caiman decided to make me his lunch. Nothing like a bit of panic to make you get into a canoe rather quickly and inelegantly.
After practicing not getting lost on the river, which I proved woefully inadequate at by paddling incessantly down dead-end routes, we made our way to shore mid-afternoon. Here my guide decided we would learn how to camouflage ourselves from large animals that otherwise might take great pleasure in hunting us. Some of the techniques were somewhat obvious, though no less cringeworthy as I covered myself in mud from the river. Apparently it both masks your human smell and works against the tireless mosquitos. Perhaps a more inventive way to cover your scent however is finding one of the sap covered trees in the jungle alive with thousands of ants.
My guide had me take my hand and thump it against the tree trunk before holding it there. This part is not for the faint hearted, as literally hundreds of sap-covered ants will then leave their tree and crawl over ever single part of your body, covering you in a fine sap. Getting them off is relatively easy as your natural inclination is to wiggle and fling them off while screaming at the top of your lungs anyway and they will quickly abandon you for their nest. The guide warned me to cover my ears when the roam your body as they can get in there and do some damage. No thanks.
We spent the rest of the day learning how to treat illness and injury in the jungle – which plants can help with fever and infection and which are poisonous. I learned that the bullet ants wandering around can actually inflict a bite that feels like you’ve been shot, and that somehow my guide who’d been barefoot this entire trip had only been bit twice in the past two decades. He showed me ants that can be encouraged to bite your open wound, inflicting serious pain as they clamp down before twisting their bodies off their heads, leaving behind a kind of macabre version of sutures. But I suppose if it comes down to bleeding out or lugging around a arm full of decapitated ant heads, the choice is clear.
That night I built shelter using the palm fronds from nearby trees, thatching them together with a series of twists and knots until I had a neat little canopy to place over my hammock. The sky was calling for rain. My guide helped me set a trap for a jungle bird we could eat for dinner, and before the dark had set he had caught us two which we killed and plucked before roasting over the fire. It was hands down the best dinner I had in South America, probably because I was so hungry after the day’s exertions. I fell deep into sleep that night, not even hearing the monkeys if they decided to howl all night again.
Day 3: The Final Day in the Jungle
My final morning in the jungle came early just as the previous two had. We tore down our makeshift camp before my guide nonchalantly told me I’d be on my own for this last leg.
He calmly explained the general whereabouts of the village I would meet him at. I was to navigate myself there, alone. I had four hours – if I didn’t make it by then, he’d set out and find me. He seemed wholeheartedly confident in his abilities to find me if I got lost. I wondered how he’d feel coming across my half-eaten body. As I was still contemplating death by jaguar, he took his leave of me.
I made my way to the river and filled my bottle and then sucked up my fears and set off. That tree has moss and moss means.. Uhhh something. It means something. Overloaded with information and no sense of what it all really meant, I felt like I was wandering aimlessly in any which direction. Finally I sat down and tried to get my bearings. I briefly debated leaving some sort of breadcrumb trail to be found by my guide eventually, but realized he knew this forest like the back of his hand. And he had taught me how to get around. Sort of.
Eventually I stumbled into a village. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the villagers or me. I wasn’t even sure it was the right village. I didn’t see my guide anywhere and wondered if he had set out to find me. A strange man waved to me and pointed at a hut where to my surprise I found my guide. Enjoying a nice cold beer. He smiled and swung me around congratulating me on making my way to the village in less than two hours, half of my allotted time. I thought I’d been out there alone for days.
We ended the day with a dinner made by the local villagers who also made me a grass crown to wear and gifted me with a cool blow dart, complete with piranha teeth. I had fun lolling around with the local children learning how to take my various enemies down with vicious poison darts, though my aim was a little off. Finally, we set off back for the Eco lodge, dirty and sweaty but happy in the knowledge I might just make it through the Amazon on my own.
Or a zombie apocalypse at the very least.