The jungle is insane, its beautiful, amazing, fucked up and dangerous; but its not the big scary monsters in it that will get you (although there are plenty), it’s the small stuff. It’s the tiny stuff, or the things you can’t even see that will really fuck your world up. It’s the millions of bugs, it’s the parasites, it’s the heat and humidity. It’s the bacteria in the river water that he’s cleaning the dishes with, it’s the tarantula hanging above my head on the boat ride, it’s the lethal milk leaking from the trunk of the “death tree”. It’s the blood Nancy is shitting or the massive amounts of fluid I’m losing. Its her fever, its my fever, it’s the “jungle doctor” that will get you in the end. It was midnight on the second day of jungle camping that I said, “this is bad, should we go? I think we need to get out of the jungle. Are we going to be ok?” Nancy had a fever and I was burning up too. We were both shitting our brains out and couldn’t eat a full meal. Our cook, Jose, besides being in love with me, was obviously insulted that we weren’t eating more.
Jungle, day 1: Nancy and I left Nauta at 10 am for the jungle with our cook Jose and our guide Miguel. Miguel was fascinated by tourists and jungle lodges and never missed an opportunity to point them out. As we’d pass a boat of tourists he would turn and shout back at us, “look, tourists!! Tourists!!” Ah, yes the elusive white person and his strange and fascinating habitat! It is the ONLY reason I came to the jungle. 1.5 hours down the river we hung a left onto a smaller, denser branch of the jungle. The noises of the animals were louder here and the insects were nothing less than violating my personal space boundaries.
Now, I’m not claustrophobic but I will admit the first time we got out of the boat and went into the jungle I got seriously light headed and a little anxious. Maybe it was the giardia or maybe it was the fact that the forest was closing in around me and the bugs were ravaging my white jungle-virgin skin. On that note, I have giardia. I’m pretty sure it came from the “treated” water they were pouring down our throats but I could have been from the fact that I watched him fill up an entire raw chicken with river water, swish it around, and pour it back out. But this, my friends, is another story… Back in the jungle my tunnel vision was creeping in and I was trying to get as close to the ground as possible without actually touching it because it was teaming with things I was sure would kill me, meanwhile Miguel is cutting down a tree for food. Day one of the jungle: I hate it here.
Jungle, day 2: our campsite is set up but Nancy and I are only getting sicker. Jose is upset that were not eating more of his food and Miguel is pacing with his machete ready to find some crazy shit in the jungle. We eat breakfast and leave early for a hike. By the time we got back I was drenched in sweat, completely dehydrated, trying not to shit my pants. After lunch we went piranha fishing, which I am pretty ridiculously good at, and which also made me temporarily forget how sick i felt. The fishing poles were nothing more than long sticks with fishing line tied to them. We’d load up our hook with piranha meat, stir up the water a little bit and plunk the end of the line in the water. Immediately they start ravaging the end and, at this point, since there is no reel or any mechanical aspect to the fishing pole, you start yanking the line out of the water. Note: This is now my weapon of choice if I were ever in an epic battle. I was flinging fucking piranha EVERYWHERE. Nancy was dodging them for her life, Miguel was cracking up and I was hooking piranha’s left and right and literally launching them 20 feet behind me into the jungle.
Later that night after we ate, Miguel and Jose told us the story of the jungle demon. This devil takes on the form of someone familiar to you and calls your name at night in the jungle. You follow him but every time you get close he runs further away, still calling your name. He basically leads you way the fuck out into the middle of the jungle where you die because…you’re in the jungle. The only way to tell that this demon is not really who he appears to be is because he has one tiny deformed foot or claw or something that he can’t change. So I guess if your friend is ever calling you into the depths of the jungle…tackle him and take his shoes off?
The other thing they really enjoy talking about is the way all the tourists have died in the jungle. You would think this would be the last thing they would want to tell you late at night when you have a fever and nothing but a hammock and a mosquito net to keep you safe but ooooh no. One guy hit his head on a rock in the water, one guy got heat stroke, then there are the electric eels in the water. On and on and on and on.
*“tomorrow we have chicken for lunch” Jose says before going to bed. It wasn’t until the next day when I went to investigate the commotion on the boat that I realized why we didn’t need a refrigerator to keep the raw meat cold; the raw meat was flapping around the boat trying to hide under the bench seats.*
Safely in my hammock, Nancy had just run at lightning speed in only her underwear and giant black rubber boots to use the jungle bathroom. I hear a voice say, “Lindsay, I love you. Stay here in Nauta with me.” Oh. My. God. It was Jose. This has to be a joke, I start to laugh nervously and say “nnno. I’m leaving, I have lots of places to go.” I thought that would nip this little problem in the bud; I was wrong. He started BEGGING me to stay. Where is this coming from?! I told him he wasn’t in love with me. He told me I was the most beautiful girl in the jungle. I couldn’t stop laughing. Where the FUCK was Nancy?! This is bizarre. I’m telling you Jose, begging a girl to stay in the jungle AFTER she says no is never going to work. Sorry buddy. After this night we had a couple other weird encounters even though I tried to steer clear of him. After a hike that left me absolutely soaked and feeling like I was going to barf he told me I look like I sweat honey. What? I wish you all could have seen me that day. Even Nancy started laughing at that. I was 3 days into a jungle camping trip and 6 days from the last real shower I’d taken. There is NO way it was a good look on me. I said nothing, I’m pretty sure I was having heat stroke, I was in no mood to cater to stupid fucking comments like “your sweat is like honey”. All I could do was roll my eyes and suck down as much nasty “treated” giardia water as I could handle.
Day 3: I found 3 tarantulas on our night hike. Now I’m really afraid to use the jungle bathroom. Also, a giant rain storm starts and the thunder constantly rumbles for hours. A BIRD SIZED MOTH ATTACKS MY HAMMOCK. I’m not kidding, it was the biggest moth I’ve ever seen. Out of nowhere this giant, red eyed moth starts attacking my mosquito net trying desperately to maul my headlamp. I’m screaming, Nancy’s scream-laughing yelling “TURN OFF YOUR HEADLAMP”, eventually after flailing around helplessly in my hammock for a while yelling terrible things I flip off my headlamp and the devil-moth leaves immediately.
Day 4: Today is the last day. There are monkeys in the trees above us as we leave on our last hike. Its warm and muggy but this hike is beautiful and I fill my camera’s card full of photos, I might even go as far as to say I was feeling GOOD on this hike. That was until we got to the death tree. Miguel told us to step back away from this massive, thorned beast as he held his machete up to ready to slice the tree open. “Why?” I asked Nancy, why do we need to stay back? Miguel said, “one drop of the sap of this tree will kill you instantly.” WHACK. He hit the tree hard, water hit my face. “Que?!” Milk poured from the wound in the tree and he explained that if it touched your body you will form blisters that contain the toxic poison that, if ingested, will kill you immediately. It was at this point that the hike began going downhill for me. My heart sank and it was all I could do to convince myself the water that hit my face came from the tree above and not the stupid death tree. For the next hour I repeatedly asked Nancy if there were blisters on my face. Finally we reached the swamp we had to cross to see the Victoria Regia water lily that is so large a small child can sit on one without it sinking. It was only one misstep that ultimately was the fall of my afternoon in the jungle. One wrong step inches away from solid ground, one tiny mistake in a small swamp with a large margin of error that led me to put too much weight on a foot that had no solid ground underneath it. My foot disappeared into the thick, rancid smelling mud. Next my boot disappeared, then the sludge slipped into my boot, my knee began disappearing when Miguel turned to Nancy and said simply, “yea. She’s not gonna make it.” Not going to MAKE it?! Really?! After 4 fucking days out here, this smelly patch of shitty mud isn’t going to suck me into the jungle abyss. I yanked my leg out, almost lost my boot in the process. I stood up on a tree branch, VAMOS. ‘Not gonna make it..’ Let me tell you, I SAW those damn water lilies, took a terrible picture of them too! Also, fyi I have no blisters on my face and I’m not dead, so that’s a bonus too. Another bonus is that I’m out of the jungle, thank you God.
On the boat ride back to civilization we stopped at a beach where we were told we could bath, but not in water deeper than our ankles because of the piranhas. Ok.. getting ready to take my “bath” I turn to ask Nancy something when I see it: Jose has stripped down to nothing but his tighty whiteys (which are actually neon green and blue) and is hauling ass down the beach flailing his arms around frantically screaming something none of us can understand. I think for a second to ask him if everything is ok, that feeling instantly passes and all I can do is die laughing with Nancy on the bank of the amazon river as flocks of birds frantically take flight to avoid Jose’s bizarre afternoon “jog”.
If I told you I would do it all over again, would you believe me?
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Miguel telling amazing jungle stories
MONKEY MONTAGE (and one butterfly):