Our rickety 17 seater plane lands in the matchbox town of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, on the outskirts of the Amazon and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped out of real life and onto the set of Jurassic Park. Our muddy runway is home to a lone pig and a myriad of chickens pecking about and behind the blanket of humidity lies the beautiful Amazon rainforest. After shopping about to find a good company to tour with (It’s important to find one that respects both the Jungle and its animal inhabitants) we find a lovely Czech woman who implores us to open our eyes and open our hearts to the Jungle… and boy did we…
Our guide Mario (We’ll call him Mowlgi, because he is the Jungle Book personified) spent his first 15 years living in the Jungle, and the last 12 taking tourists into the Amazon, so if anyone is equipped to lead us deep into the Rainforest armed only with a Machete, It’s Mowlgi. So with my Catniss Everdeen inspired braid, we arm ourselves with Mossie repellent, toilet paper and zero expectations and head off into the deep.
Our guide throws us on a little boat and cruises 2 hours down the Amazon, which in itself is phenomenal. Then it’s time to actually hike. We grab our packs-which carry everything we’ll need for the next three days-all our own food, water and bedding (If you can call a tarp on the ground ‘bedding’ . Adventure, right?) and leave the river to head into the rainforest. Two hours later and I’m starting to feel like a legitimate explorer. Sweat is pouring off us, the dense canopy above us is smothering us in heat and the bugs are starting to eat us alive-and It’s gloroius! Halfway into our trek, Mowgli stops and picks us some fresh fruit form a nearby tree, which is kind of a cross between a mango and a peach, and it’s our first experience with the notion that the Jungle can provide you with everything you require, if you only have the tools. We also come across some fresh Jaguar track in the mud (but didn’t find the actual Jaguar. sigh.) Another hour on we stop at a swamp and Mowlgi collects bunch of seed that look like mini coconuts. He cracks them open and we find live grubs. Actual, squirming grubs. So, what do we do? Yeah, we eat them. There’s nothing that says “Amazon Explorer” like squishing a white, crunchy, live worm between your front teeth and swallowing down the protein goodness. Yummy. We also carried on like typical Gringo’s eating a live grub and here is the footage to prove it…
We finally reach “camp” which consists of nothing but a tarp below us and a mossie net above us. We chop and carry all our own wood for shelter and fire, set up our beds and get to making fire for dinner. Mowgli then sits us down to perform a very cool ceremony to Pachamama (mother earth) to say thank you for letting us into her backyard, to ask permission to head deeper into the jungle and to ask her to keep us safe during our adventure. It involved our guide putting a lit cigarette backwards into his mouth, laying out his jaguar and Alligator teeth (theres a story here) lighting and melting candles and us all drinking 97 percent alcohol and chanting to mother earth. Very cool. And kind of fitting after we set up camp on the bank of an Alligator infested river, then proceed to go searching for the mama and her babies at night, ten feet form our campsite. I kinda wanted Pachamama on my side after that…Considering we slept on the hard rainforest floor, we sleep surprisingly well, lulled to sleep by the eclectic noises of the Amazon.
Day 2 sees us up early and into the Jungle. Mowli fashions us a woven water bottle holder out of palm fronds for our long 6 hour hike into the Rainforest where we learn about the many medicinal uses of all the plant life. We find Natural glue, which he makes into plant jewellery for the girls, we scrape garlic off the trunk of a tree, which we use that night to season our dinner and we lick termites off their nest. Crunchy. Tastes like raw carrots. When eating en mass will ward off mosquitoes. I’m not that game. Suffer the onslaught of bites. Mowlgi then picks a green plant that he assures us he can turn into purple war paint. After 5 minutes of grinding it in his palm, lo and behold, my blonde hair is now streaked with purple and the girls have been painted into Amazon princesses. We head back to camp and into the muddy river to cool off. I can assure you there is no relaxed swimming when you know you’re sharing the murky water with alligators and Piranhas. (Keep reminding self: do not wee in Amazon) We then spend sunset fishing on the bank of the Amazon, one eye carefully looking over our shoulder for any Alligators lurking in the marshland. There’s something pretty special about being dripping wet, (oh yeah, in the rainforest-it RAINS) on the muddy embankment of the Amazon River, as the sun slowly sets on the Jungle, with a piece of fishing line in your and and purple stained hair plastered to your face as you catch Piranhas for your dinner. Pure happiness.
Our third and final day of the Jungle part of our tour is Jewellery making, because what CAN’T Mowgli do? So back to the story about the teeth. Mowgli was born and lived in the Jungle. When a child is between 12 and 14, the head of a monkey is places on a stick 125meters away, and the boy must shoot it with a bow and arrow. So Mowgli is also a super archer. (I knew I kept my hair Catniss-braided for a reason..) If the child successfully hits the monkeys head, he is considered a Man and allowed to walk the Jungle alone, drink, smoke and do general Man stuff. His Mother and Father present him with a necklace each holding a giant Caiman and Jaguar tooth that the father has hunted, and the child will wear these necklaces into adulthood. Now it’s time for us to make said necklaces. Without the monkey head-arrow shooting, or the teeth, because my Father didn’t hunt and kill a Jaguar for me, well, maybe he could if he were Liam Neeson..but he’s not… so essentially we’re making beaded necklaces.
Regardless, the four of us now have matching necklaces and rings made entirely from natural products we found ourselves in the Amazon, including the seed we ate the crunchy white worm out of. Talk about utilising all our resources! So after 3 days pretending we’re Bear Grylls (but more badass) not showering, eating on the ground, sleeping on the Rainforest floor, getting attacked by mosquitoes, sharing breakfast with Alligators and hunting for Tarantulas, It’s time to leave the stifling blanket of heat the Canopy inflicts and head back to the river to go back to the Matchox Rurrenabaque. We’re ready to embark on Jurassic Park Part Two: La Pampas, which is basically the more popular, touristy version of the Amazon, where you visit the Anaconda inhabited wetlands, stay in actual beds with actual toilets and go on delightful boat rides looking for animals, and the rest of the time you sleep in hammocks. It’s a hard life.
I think after all that, my heart is well and truly open.