Welcome to the Jungle


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 09, 2003 was originally posted on December 15, 2003.

DAY 52:  I bid farewell to the hostel desk attendant — who, hearing that I was from New York, assumed I was Puerto Rican — and rode with Andres to the docks.  He put me in a motorboat taxi for the three hour ride upstream on the Amazon.

We traveled into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the second largest protected area in the Amazon Basin — the largest in Peru.  The driver took me to a fisherman’s house near where the Amazon met the Rio Yanayacu, a small tributary.  There I was picked up in a motorized canoe by my guide Juan Carlos, three tourists — and a suicidal barracuda that had jumped into the boat.  I rode the extra forty minutes up the Yanayacu as two more suicidal fish jumped into the boat — including a catfish with stinger fins.  Along the way, we were surrounded by the sounds of croaks, ribbits, whoops, honks and various bird calls coming from every direction.  Butterflies, macaws and vultures flew above our heads as we made our way upstream, and they all obviously had something to live for because they never landed up dead in our boat.

EMERALD FOREST BASE CAMP (picture above), a group of three hunts on stilts connected by footbridges was where I formally made introduction to my new compadres:  Sue from Wales, Simion from south of London and his traveling French friend Axel.  Simion and Axel had met on the road and had been traveling together for a while, constantly making jokes about each other’s country, and each other’s stench.  Despite Axel sharing his name with the lead singer to Guns N Roses, it was Sue who actually said to me, “Welcome to the jungle!”

Also welcoming me to the jungle were monkeys who were lounging around the two rumored-to-be-lesbian German tourists.  Curious creatures, one of them followed me to the toilet when I took a dump and watched me.

JUAN CARLOS LED Simion, Axel and I on a hike through the jungle, clearing a path with his big machete.  Right away it was clear that I didn’t have enough mosquito repellent on — mosquitoes swarmed me like I was the new keg of beer at a frat party.  I mean, I’ve seen groups of mosquitoes before, but this group was so big and so mean that if I had asked for directions — and we were living in a cartoon — the swarm would candidly form an arrow, which would point me up, down and sideways so fast that my head would spin around dizzily like a Three Stooges routine, causing me to fall down, after of which the swarm would then form a hand giving me the middle finger and then disband and continue to bite me.  I tightly closed myself in my rain poncho, which only helped a little; those bastards can bite through anything.

The 27-year-old son of a village shaman (and someday an official shaman himself), Juan Carlos explained to us the different plants that could be used to treat various ailments.  A great guide, he pointed out the poisonous plants and trees to avoid contact with — some of which had symbiotic relationships with fire ants that could swell up your entire arm in minutes with a mere touch.  With his big machete, he chopped down roots, leaves and tree bark to get samples of natural medicine for us — always tasting a piece of a tree that had not yet been tampered with. 

“I have a belief that all things on earth have a purpose.  Without purpose they have no reason of existing,” he said.  I thought he was quoting lines from The Matrix until he continued, “I believe trees were meant to serve Man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to respect them.” 

He tasted the bark of a hug palm tree as a form of respect and after shaving some wood into our hands, he patched up the tree’s wound with clay and dirt to camouflage it so that monkeys wouldn’t abuse it.

With the knowledge of the son of a shaman, we sampled the sweet water out of the root of a yellow cat’s claw tree, the blood red liquid out of a hug palm (used for diarrhea as it dries you right out the second it hits your tongue), and the sap of a medicinal fig tree, which tasted like aspirin.  (It is actually imported by Japanese pharmaceutical companies to make pain relief tablets.)  Juan Carlos told us about the “doctor tree” with sap that could be used for many medicinal purposes, including a vaginal douche.

“So, there are a lot of plants out there,” I said.  “How did they know to stick this particular one up their vagina?”

“Knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, shaman to shaman over many years,” he said in all seriousness.  “Over these many years, many people died trying to find out the purposes of the plants.” With 60% of the plants in the Amazon rainforest still unknown, Simion said, “That’s a whole lot of vaginas still needed to experiment with.”

THE MOSQUITOES GOT WORSE AND WORSE, biting me all over my face — the only exposed area of skin I had other than my hands — but what was worse was when we walked over a log with a colony of black ants on it.  I stopped a while to shoot some video of it with no problem, but about a minute after, I suddenly felt sharp stings on my stomach — a couple of ants had gotten under my shirt.  Juan Carlos and the others started laughing at me until, during their laughter, they suddenly had the pains under their shirts too — Juan Carlos even took his shirt off to shake any ants off.  Out in the Amazon, even the son of a shaman was vulnerable.

UNDER THE FULL MOONLIGHT, we took a canoe out after dinner to look for caimans, a cousin to the alligator.  Up and down the creek, we searched with flashlight as the mosquitoes continued to get a hold of me — one even bit me on my upper lip and it started swelling up to Mick Jaggar size.  Bats flew around us from above as firefly larvae sparkled below on the lilypads on the river.  We witnessed the rare sighting of a fist-sized snail laying eggs, and a poisonous toad.  After canoeing an hour, we finally found a big ten-foot caiman just under the water, which submerged as we got closer.  Needless to say, we paddled really quietly passed.

Back in camp, my lip was super-sizing itself.  Juan Carlos took a look and told me that, under the cover of darkness, I had actually been stung by a wasp.  There wasn’t any real pain; my lips just went numb — which still wasn’t a good thing — but Juan Carlos said I’d be fine by morning.

I sat in my bed with a mosquito net around me, listening to the relaxing sounds of the jungle, wondering if the mosquito net also prevented ants and wasps from getting in too.  If this was my welcome to the jungle, I didn’t know what to expect the next day.

Next entry: Monkey Business

Previous entry: Urban Jungle

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Welcome to the Jungle”

  • first!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  03:22 AM

  • Holy swelling!

    Udz could have used that blood red liquid in the Philippines =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:02 PM

  • wow, i didn’t know smails laid eggs. that is pretty cool. and i am not jealous of you going into the amazon. i hate bugs. good thing you are not allergic to wasp stings.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:20 PM

  • Glad you’re posting on your BLOG again! Sorry about your lip, dude. 

    I’ll have to read more when I get a chance.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:25 PM

  • No tree sap insect repellant?

    I think I’d do the amazon.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:31 PM

  • Rina:  Actually, the natives crush a certain type of termite and spread it on their skin…that works as mosquito repellent….but with my luck, I’d probably go crushing the wrong termite and get another rash on my hands!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  09:58 PM

  • woah…

    Matrix quotes and Angelina Jolie lips in the same blog!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:20 AM

  • Holy crap@!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  03:22 AM

  • Wow.

    What do they eat when they can’t get Hobbit?

    And I’m with Alice on this one… I hate bugs?no way I’d make it in the Amazon. Glad the BLOG is back, I’ve got some catching up to do.

    Hey, what are you thinking! Going out at NIGHT looking for CAIMAN? Don’t they pose a bigger health threat than skeeters?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  02:41 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Monkey Business

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Urban Jungle


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