Yuval Caspi recounts the tale of his adventure in the Brazilian Amazon.
There are few words to describe my six-month stay in South America, and even fewer to answer the inevitable, ‘So how was it?’ However, the mother of all post-voyage questions is ‘which place did you like the most?’ In order to understand how difficult this question is, one must consider the immense size of the continent: each country (even places within the same country) is so different from the other, so deciding on a preference is a miserable task. Yet, in order to keep those who ask content, and to avoid the awkward silence in the ride back home from the airport, my girlfriend and I agreed on a mutual answer – the Brazilian Amazon.
Regardless of whether the image in your mind of the largest jungle in the world is from documentaries or from ‘The Jungle Book’, it is still nothing compared to what it really is. It is 2,100,000 square miles of the greenest, most mysterious rainforest in the world, more than twenty times bigger than the entire UK. It is a kingdom of plantation and wildlife that makes any other forest look like Gordon Square. It spreads over nine countries including Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, but sixty percent of it is found in Brazil.
The first stop was Manaus, the capital city of the Amazonas state and the gateway to the jungle, so metropolitan that it doesn’t seem to be in the Amazon at all. The journey to the city is dangerous: the only way to get there is by flight or by a six-day boat ride, so needless to say we chose the former. I shall skip recounting the tale of how we missed our flight and had to pay for another, as it is not flattering to the writer of this article.
The expedition from Manaus to the heart of the jungle took half a day. We took a boat, then an old vehicle, then an older vehicle, then a canoe. Most of the Amazon is uninhabited, but the population that does exist is divided into two groups of indigenous people. The tribes live in specific parts of the jungle and are disconnected from any ‘white-man’ civilisation: protected by the government, one cannot reach them. The other group lives in small wooden houses over the rivers (the Amazon has much more than one river) and works in agriculture. Most of the houses have electricity, relying on improvised infrastructure, a new project by the Brazilian government to provide power to all houses in the Amazon. Some of the people work in the city and return to their homes when they can, the canoe their only way to navigate the forest.
We stayed in a small place owned by a local family. Although well equipped with mosquito nets, it took some time to get used to the unbelievable amount of insects that live there: most of them so big that they floated in a puddle of slime on the floor after being squashed. At night, despite the wildlife hiding, there is not a moment of silence, due to the sound of an orchestra of a hundred percussionists. It is during this time that one realises how many different species surround: the millions of species of insects, fish and mammals, a new one discovered every four days.
Some nights we slept in cabins and others in hammocks outside. Each day we went by foot or by canoe to explore a different part of the jungle with two local guides. We searched for wildlife in the river and in the trees, finding boa constrictors, sloths, parrots, monkeys, spiders, pink dolphins (yes, pink. Google it), and spiders with the deadly venom that children talk about in school. When we went fishing in the river by attaching pieces of chicken to strings on sticks, we discovered that piranhas are in fact the easiest to catch: a beautifully weird creature, a group of piranhas eating a man whole is a myth, but that is not to say that they do not bite hard enough to leave a scar.
One night we went to observe baby caimans in the river. The babies are roughly two feet long, but the mothers can reach twenty feet, the biggest predators in the Amazon. After spotting a few in the area we stayed, we could not suppress the thought that the mother might be close by. We were “reassured” when we visited a family the following day that lived on the other side of the river. Apparently, the mother caiman would hang out around the house and was a danger to the young children: they decided to kill her with a spear and a shotgun. It may be unfair to the poor animal, but the picture of two little indigenous children riding the corpse of a twenty-foot caiman is priceless.
Each day ends with dozens of mosquito bites. Prior to our arrival we were told to take anti-malaria pills, but the locals told us that they live there all their lives without taking any. Choose your guides wisely: try to travel with local agencies that know the area well. The choice is yours, but nothing should stop you from going on one of the greatest adventures of your life.