AMAZON - IN THE RAINFOREST
Trip Start Feb 20, 2001
27Trip End Jul 30, 2001
On my canoe trip with Mihai, the indian, we´d spotted a blue-winged, red-bellied bird. Another bird, with orange wings, a black back, and a yellow belly, glided in front of us.
Later, using long sticks, the indians pried a basketball-sized sloth from its tree so I could hold him. His black face had a tiny snout, a button nose, and a white beard. His white body felt like a place-mat, and he swung his long, single-clawed arms about slowly and mechanically. He was cute in an R2-D2 way.
On the ground, he didn´t have the strength to sit upright. He oozed around, stabbing the dirt with his claws and pulling himself behind. When I took him again, he slowly turned his grayish, gentle eyes as if to say, "Put me back, mister. I live in trees. Say, am I pathetic or what?" I obeyed, laughing about the pathetic part.
My next excursion was to Presidente Figuereiro, an hour north of Manaus.
I ran into Steve and Amanda on the town´s streets, so we hiked the rainforest trail together. Four kilometers later, we saw a thirty-foot waterfall so jumpy with foam that it resembled merengue pie.
Nearby, a cave stretched amid the scattered, thin, lush green trees. Steve did an "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" pose, kneeling in light that seaped into the cave. Meanwhile, I pulled a green python off the rock wall. With smiles, we watched the flourescent, four-foot serpent twirling from its tail. Once the snake figured how to lift its teeth to my hand, my smile became an "Oh, shit!" look, and I threw him on the ground.
Steve pulled out a neat flashlight-on-the-head device, and we climbed into some tight, dark chambers to explore. Big potato-bugs scurried under foot, and bats hung above. There was a two-inch fly colored like squashed bugs - evidently an evolutionary camouflage used to trick would-be squashers into thinking they´d already squashed him. The coolest thing we came across was a mammoth, whoopee cushion-shaped spider big enough to possibly eat bats.
My next find was a desert-colored, spiky-tailed, sharp-toed, round-headed lizard. I lifted him by the tail, too. He responded by opening his white mouth and looking in my eyes, creating a face that even a fly would´ve found more cute than threatening. I stood him on my hand, and he maintained this pose - evidently an evolutionary defense mechanism used to convince predators that he´s too cute to eat. Isn´t nature fascinating?
By this time, Steve and Amanda had left me and the rainforest. They´d went into town to sleep safely indoors (the pansies!). So, I set to the task of finding a place to hang my hammock for the night. I figured I´d try to find a path to the top of the cave. For the first time on the day, I left the trail and entered the friend-less, mammoth-spidered, enveloping jungle on my own.
Thirty minutes later, I was rationing my water supplies for a possible eight-day journey in search of civilization. I hadn´t found the top of the cave. The trail I´d been on wasn´t in sight. Everywhere I looked - left, right, up, down, in my shoes - I saw the same thing: thin trees, about eight feet high.
I assessed the situation: I had no map, no compass, and no flashlight. My only foods were chocolate powder and jellybeans, and my $1.18 machete was already becoming dull from the trees I´d whacked it against.
My first attempt at salvation was to simply walk in the direction that appealed to me. I proceeded at a 2 o´clock angle for a bit. From this angle, though, 1 o´clock looked good. So, I hacked trees and went in this direction. Soon, 10 o´clock seemed the way to go. Then, 3 o´clock. Next, 8 o´clock. After a while, the only "o´clock" I wanted to hear was ten o´clock, the next time I was allowed to drink water.
It became quite evident that I was walking a dizzying path no straighter than the one the zigzagging green python slithered. I was getting nowhere but more lost, and the trees were larger and more jungly.
My resourcefulness threw up more plans. Hearing a faint shuffling, I figured the trail-side river (where the waterfall had been) must´ve been close, so I walked in the shuffling´s direction. The shuffling got louder and louder. Alright! I was almost there.
... or not. The shuffling hadn´t come from the river; it´d come from the forest´s approaching blanket of rain. The dark clouds passed in minutes, but they left their bad news behind - I was soaked. The loneliness and confusion of the forest took its root in me. I wandered aimlessly.
I came to a small clearing. In the heights of the forest, branches from a sixty-foot tree provided perches for a gang of vultures. The vultures looked down and showed off pink, eight-foot wingspans.
I ignored the vultures and noticed how perfect the clearing´s lone, stubby tree would be for hanging my hammock. Man, I´d walked a long ways, I thought, imagining how comfortable my hammock would be until the talons scratched into me from above.
Believe my laziness or not, I nearly called it a night at 4 p.m. and decided not to concern myself with getting un-lost until morning.
Instead, I ate some jellybeans ... and "pressed on!" Modern Oddyseus wasn´t vulture food just yet!
The river, I remembered, was to the west. The sun, as I and all your great outdoor survivalists have learned, sets in the west. Searching through the forest´s thick canopy and the cloudy sky, I spotted a fluff of shiny white that represented the setting sun. The west!
I chopped my way to the setting sun. At one place, the plants grew so close I had to swim through them. After fifteen minutes, the sound of falling water shuffled in front of me. Oh no, more rain.
Or was it the river!? Excited, I ran. Seven minutes later, I stood again on my beloved river-side trail.
Celebrating, I found the cave´s top and hung my hammock near the edge, perfect to see wandering monkeys, hunting leopards, and seriously lost elephants. It didn´t matter by night, though, when I couldn´t even see the tree in front of me.
And if all THIS doesn´t convince you to enter the forest with me, you´re as big a wuss as my pal, Steve. Next time in Manaus, check out my ad: "Go with the Guide who Did More in his First Forty Minutes in the Forest than Most ´Experienced´ Guides do in Their Whole Lives, Like Getting Bit by a Horrible Ant and Getting Lost ... Join Justin´s Jellybean Jungle Journeys!"
I´ll see you next trek, Modern Oddyseus