Jon’s Amazon Survival Blog
Due to Covid, the trip had been postponed twice in 2020 and 2021 but finally the time had come…. Armed with all the essential information, kit and belongings, not to mention three years of hard training in the Gym, I was ready for the 10-day challenge.
Making my way to the airport I was excited but also a little apprehensive, how tough were the conditions going to be, how arduous would the daily treks and canoeing be in the heat and humidity of the jungle, and what about all those scary creatures we could encounter that could potentially kill you with just one bite!
Arriving at departures dissipated my concerns, I was amongst friends, some old and some new, we had a medic, we had a plan, what could possibly go wrong.
Departing the transport on the roadside we stepped gingerly into the jungle, machete in hand (yes, a machete which we were all given on arrival to cut our way through the jungle and oh yes if you see anything nasty for protection!)
Sixty minutes in and I am already saturated and knackered from the 95% humidity and carrying my 30kg rucksack, I’m convinced I’ve overpacked. Trekking through a dense jungle where nobody has previously trod though is exhilarating, like nothing else I had previously experienced. Trees, dense trees, and nothing but trees. Spiky trees which seriously hurt if you grabbed one when losing your footing – naturally, they quickly took on a different name but not one appropriate for printing.
Four to five hours in and we reach a small clearing, a pit stop, but the guide looks concerned. Apparently, we are lost, no mobile phone signal so no means of contact, well they did say it would be an adventure!
Fortunately, one of the team had a satellite device and had been tracking our route so he and the guide went off in search of the supply boat which due to the level of river water having receded was unable to get to the initial meeting point. The rest of us sit tight, pull up a few logs and have a game of cards.
Having found the boat and returned to fetch the rest of us, we follow the trail of banana leaves like in hansel and Gretel, although this was no fairy tale.
We arrive at the river-bank and establish an area that we can convert into an overnight camp and for the uninitiated of which I was one, that meant cutting down and clearing small trees, hanging a hammock and endeavouring to make water proof, build a fire and dig a hole for you know what!
With dinner cooked and consumed (Fish & Rice) it was time to hit the hammock or get eaten alive by the mosquitos. Lying there, a crescendo of noise starts up all around as the jungle inhabitants all come out for their nocturnal adventures. However, the animal noise is very quickly replaced by huge claps of thunder and what sky you can see through the dense tree canopy is ablaze with lightning strikes. You hear a tree fall, it seemed close, rain is running down the lining of the hammock, this was the adventure they promised. There was to be little sleep this night.
Alive and kicking, the sun is shining, the remnants of the storm gone and after a hearty breakfast of fruit (apparently, they were all out of sausage McMuffins) and mugs of coffee we are up and off after restoring the overnight site to its former natural glory.
Compared to the first day, today is a breeze having got used to being constantly wet and fatigued from the heavy going caused by the dense trees and foliage. The highlight of the day is learning how to identify a water vine and drinking the water it captures, natural and pure.
The day starts to find a rather large spider having made a temporary home in my hat which I had inadvertently left outside the hammock. There is a rumour that I shrieked like a little girl, but I stand by the fact this was the spider as I manfully fought him off.
We now transfer to canoes to travel deeper into the Amazon. We split into groups of 3 and select our boat of choice from the array of rickety old floating relics that leak, weigh a tonne and have paddles created out of old oak trees so extremely light!
My upper body is on fire after an hour of rowing and trying to keep up with two ex-professional 6’6” rugby players who managed to end up in the same boat. What is it with men, boats and water, if we weren’t wet enough already from the humidity and toil, it’s a case of how bigger splash and how much water we can propel into other boats, simple but fun.
That night we elect to take a sunset paddle which is just wonderful as the frog chorus picks up, the last of the exotic birds takes to their nest and the beady eyes begin to appear from the Caiman alligators who line the riverbank, a reminder if needed that this place is dangerous.
Today was going to be a fun day as we were embarking in our trusty canoes to meet the pink dolphins of the Amazon. On route an Eagle swoops over the boats, fresh prey or just being inquisitive.
The dolphins were amazing, whilst living in the wild they are friendly and approach close enough to be able to touch and feed.
It’s also match day, yes you read that right, its Brazil Versus England as following a wonderful lunch provided by some very hospitable local villagers, we are taking on a team of skilful and youthful locals at football. It was not quite the Maracana stadium but in the deepest depths of the amazon jungle it was an amazing and humbling experience. Goalposts carved out of tree trunks and a dusty pitch cut out of the foliage. We will not mention the score, but needless to say it’s not coming home!
When I thought the day couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a bottle of beer after the match from the local store. Think treehouse and local brew.
Our last day.
A long paddle to finish on a deserted beach that used to be part of the once luxurious Ariau Towers where the rich and famous would visit to experience the Amazon region. What I would have given for cocktails on the beach.
However, we did have a fabulous BBQ on the beach, after washing for the first time in a week in the river tributary and being visited by more dolphins, a truly memorable experience to bring our Amazon trek to an end.
The whole Amazon adventure was an experience that will live in the memory for a very long time. I’m not ashamed to admit that it was tough, in an environment completely alien to me. Meeting the Amazon people was truly humbling, and I now possess life skills that hopefully I won’t need in my normal life but if I do find myself off grid I now know I can survive.
Finally I would like to thank everybody who supported me with sponsorship, I raised over £10,000 for the Lewis Moody Foundation and collectively as a group we raised in excess of £38,000. It never fails to amaze me how generous and supportive you all are.