Exploring the Amazon by boat is an incredible experience. The river is so vast and powerful that it can boggle the mind. For instance, during the high water season, it can reach 25 miles in width and more than 100 feet in depth. But there are certain aspects of the Amazon that you can only see if you leave the boat behind, and strike out into the jungle, which is as unique as the river it surrounds.
On my third day in the Amazon, we set out in the skiff like we had any other day, but this time the plan was different. Rather than piloting the boat far into the backwaters in search of wildlife and other unusual sights, we were looking for high ground, a place where we could go ashore and explore the Amazon on foot. Our guides knew where a small, permanent village was located not far from where we had set out that morning, and before long we were pulling into the shore, and hopping off the front of the skiff.
Wandering up the muddy banks and into a large clearing, we entered the village where a number of wide eyed children and mangy dogs looked on in curiosity. Scrawny chickens scrambled about as we passed, ducking under the primitive huts that were suspended above the damp ground on stilts. A half-dozen soccer jerseys hung from a laundry line, a testament to the popularity of the “beautiful game” even in this remote place.
We soon walked through the village and approached a green wall of jungle that had one small opening onto a muddy path that wound off into the forest. A man from the village approached, spoke a few words in Spanish to our guide, and then led us down the path.
Within moments we were surrounded by jungle. The slight breeze that blew while near the river was gone, blocked by the impassable foliage, and the temperature increased noticeably just a few yards in. It had rained that morning, as it did 270 days a year in the Amazon Basin, which meant that the humidity was off the scale, and ground was saturated, turning what little trail we did have into a sea of mud.
The one thing you notice upon entering the jungle is the amount of noise that surrounds you. It isn’t overwhelmingly loud by any means, but there is just so much of it coming at you from all directions. Birds, bugs, monkeys, tree frogs, and more, all compete to be heard, squawking, chirping, and croaking as you pass. Occasionally we’d catch a glimpse of those animals in the branches overhead, but often they remained out of sight thanks to the thick jungle canopy. One thing was clear, the forest was alive all around us, and it was watching us as we were it.
The further we progressed into the jungle the narrower the trail became, and at times we were forced to break out a machete to continue to continue along our way. The fact that our boots were caked in mud didn’t help matters much, and neither did the very thick gaiters that we wore around our ankles. For those who don’t know, gaiters are a piece of gear that you generally slip over your boots on longer treks that help to keep rocks, dirt, and various other things from getting inside your boots and irritating your fee. Most of the time they are fairly light so that you barely even know they are there, but these particular gaiters, provided by the guides, were extremely thick and cumbersome, and it was difficult to not notice them as we hiked. As usual, there was a reason for this however. Typical gaiters would suffice to keep all the usual junk out of our boots, no doubt, but they don’t prevent snake bites the way these thicker versions do. When cutting through the dense jungle, you never know when you might come across one of the many snakes that inhabit the Amazon, some of which are deadly poisonous, and are apt to strike you on your ankles or calves.
Over the course of the next few hours, we wandered about the jungle, coming across wild banana trees, pineapples, papaya and more. We also wandered through a somber graveyard, built on the highest, driest, land the villagers could find, in order to protect those that were buried there. Our path even came across an incredibly dark, deep pond, which I dubbed a “Malaria Pool”, which seemed to have no way of navigating around. Instead, we had to make a perilous crossing on a 30 foot tree that had fallen between the banks. The trunk was thick and solid, but wet from the continuous moisture, and our muddy boots didn’t make the walk any easier. I grasped some low hanging vines to help steady me as I shuffled from one end to the other, and looking down along the way, I peered into the darkest pool of water I had ever seen. I imagined a jungle croc waiting beneath the surface or worse yet a large anaconda. Fortunately, I wouldn’t become acquainted with either that day, as I soon was standing on firm ground and continuing my trek.
Not long after the crossing of the “malaria pool” we found ourselves back at the banks of the river, where our taxi back to La Turmalina awaited. This wouldn’t be the last time we hiked in the jungle, but it left a lasting impression none the less. I couldn’t wait to see what other secrets the jungle had in store for us.
Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE.