He came for me at four in the morning in the jungle.
I opened the door of my hut to find a weathered Brazilian man standing in the dark. “I’m looking for your husband,” he informed me. I looked around the dark hut for him, too. I was pretty sure I hadn’t gotten married the night before, but those Brazilians make their caipirinhas strong. “For the jungle survival course,” he clarified.
Turns out the random man standing before me was my guide, and he’d never had a female sign up for the course in the thirteen years he’d run it. As I grabbed my rucksack and followed him in the dark to his boat, he told me I’d given off a masculine vibe in my email correspondence with him the past few months. I wasn’t sure quite how to respond to that, so I kept quiet as we set out into the predawn hours in the Amazon.
For as long as I’d been planning this trip, I’d been wanting to get to the Amazon and try my skills at a jungle survival course. My elder brother is an accomplished US Marine, very Rambo-esque, and I’ve always wanted to my hand at survival skills and be like him. So when I found a company that specialized in three day, two night Amazon survival skills courses, I signed up without hesitation. As we drifted throughout the noisy rainforest alive with the sounds of animals, I wondered at my impulsivity.
As we floated to the beginning of our journey, I learned what was to be expected of me: over three days we would walk anywhere between fifty and seventy five kilometers, depending on my navigation abilities, to a village. I would learn how to find my way through the forest by using landmarks and the vegetation; I would learn how to find civilization if I got myself lost. We would be sustaining ourselves on water we found, and by eating local fruits and vegetation or hunting and fishing if I proved adept. I would learn how to build shelter from the elements and the animals. I would learn how to survive on my own. As I listened to him outline the plan for the next three days, I expected to be daunted but all I felt was excitement.
Day 1 in the Jungle: Always the Hardest
The first day was by far the hardest. As we trekked through the jungle, I tried my hand at navigating using the tips my guide gave me. With him pointing out the name of every tree and insect we crossed paths with, and which could be useful for navigational purposes, I was quickly overloaded with information. Every tree looked essentially the same to me. All of the bugs looked menacing. I navigated us in a big circle at least twice before I got the hang of it, all while my guide infuriatingly said nothing. I was going to be one of the seventy-five kilometer walking students at this rate. I forced myself to calm down and realize he wouldn’t let me die in the jungle. It’s probably bad for business anyway. After that realization, I gave myself a break and slowly started to get the hang of it as night began to fall.
We made our way down to the water in an attempt to fish for our dinner. Notice that I said attempt. He handed me a spear as we stood knee deep in the water, him holding a flashlight and myself looking anxiously around for caimans. As he moved the flashlight around on the surface of the water, the fish are supposed to come investigate and that’s when I’m supposed to stab them. I have never failed so utterly at something in my life. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally managed to sort of hook a fish using the spear like a shovel and toss it onto the shore where it flopped around. My guide looked horrified at my spear fishing tactics before silently going ashore to kill it. He returned and took the spear, spearing three fish of his own in about a minute.
A Lesson in Not Being Picky
We made our way back to camp and I learned how to make a fire in the rainforest using dry leaves and branches. We set the fish out to cook; I don’t even like fish, yet seeing as my other option for dinner was grubs, I kept silent. The first night it didn’t rain, so we simply set up hammocks by tying them around two trees almost five feet in the air. When I questioned why they were so high up, I was told it was so the animals didn’t get us. I gulped at the thought of snakes slithering up to me while dead asleep. It turned out my guide wasn’t worried about the snakes. He was worried about jaguars. I began to rethink my life decisions yet again as I sat down to a fish dinner.
In the jungle, we went to sleep almost immediately after it got dark because we would be up before the sun was. I had thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but walking endlessly and tiredly trying to stab fish with a stick proved exhausting and I must have fallen asleep quickly. I woke sometime in the middle of the night to the most terrifying noises; a loud growling sound interrupted by screeching sounds. It was deafening. Jolted, I tried to roll out of bed and nearly crashed down from my hammock. My guide looked across as me in the dark and simply said, “Howler monkeys” before rolling over and going back to sleep. I laid awake for hours listening to their haunting calls back and forth to one another, heart pounding. At some point I finally drifted off to sleep, lulled by the sounds of the Amazon, terrifying as they are.
I was eventually shaken awake by my guide to a dark Brazilian sky to begin my next day in the jungle. I groggily checked my watch to see that it wasn’t yet quite four in the morning. As I sat in my hammock, he handed me a cup of fresh brewed coffee. I wondered where you found coffee in the jungle as I took a sip and then hastily spat it back out. When I shot him a glance, he shrugged his shoulders at me and told me he’d boiled some tree bark.
Not quite the Starbucks I was used to.
For part 2 of Rylei’s Jungle Survival Course in the Amazon, click the previous link.