Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bear Grylls-esque 3 Day Survival Tour in the Amazon

After traveling along the peaks of the Andes for almost two months, with the ever-present low-lying Amazon only several hours away, I finally decided to pay a visit to the largest jungle in the world. Departing from La Paz by a 45-minute, 20-person flight to the small jungle town of Rurrenabaque (as the 20-hour ¨bus journey from hell¨ seemed like a horrible precursor to roughing it for 3 consecutive days), I was provided with 3 options for experiencing the jungle:

Option #1 - Jungle Tour - 3-5 Days in the depths of the Amazon, learning about the jungle, plants and animals, while staying in lodges along the river. Meals provided. Interest Rating = 7/10.

Option #2 - Pampas Tour - 3-5 Days in the outskirts of the jungle, fishing for piranhas, searching for anacondas, swimming with pink river dolphins, and seeing an array of birds, monkeys and other wildlife. Meals provided. Interest Rating = 9/10 (biggest negative = not actually IN the jungle).

Option #3 - Survival Tour - 3 Days in the depths of the Amazon, provided only with a mosquito net, a machete, and ¨the will to survive.¨ Meals... self-provided. Interest Rating = 10/10.

With the 3rd option only offered by one company among almost 20 throughout Rurrenabaque, and only partaken in several times per year, I figured what better way to experience the Amazon than having to survive off it´s ¨output.¨ As a frequent watcher of Bear Grylls ¨Man vs Wild,¨ I figured as long as I didn´t have to squeeze water out of cow shit, it would be a doable experience. I leave you with the trip:

Day 1: Welcome to the Jungle (the non Guns N Roses one)

8:30AM - Meet my Indian guide Sandro after a hardy, unknowing it will be my last proper meal in 3 days, breakfast. Wait for over an hour as several ¨I have no idea how they are going to survive in the jungle¨ high-maintenance Israeli girls demand they need more time to eat and shower. Heavy sigh released by tour company owner, alongside several ¨buena suerte's¨ (good lucks) joked to the lead guide of their 5-day expedition.

12:30PM - Arrive into the jungle after a 3 hour scenic boat ride, encountering several flying fish caught as bait for dinner (or if unable to allure any more sizeable dinner, would be dinner themselves).

1:00PM - Commence to build campsite, which essentially entails me cutting down one tree with a machete in the time it takes Sandro to annihilate half the forest around us.

2:00PM - Set off on a machete-swinging journey back to the river as to find dinner.

5:00PM - After several unsuccessful hours of holding our makeshift fishing rod aimlessly in the water (a couple hundred feet of fishing line tied around a wooden stick), as well as going through whatever subjects we could manage given Sandro's lack of conversational English (more Spanish practice!), we finally catch two sizeable fish - A Belea and a Pacu (cousin of the piranha). Hola comida! (Translation = Hello food!).

6:00PM - Return to camp to find that our sturdy shelter had been conveniently built right along a highway connecting two fireant colonies. Several ¨mierde's¨ (Translation = shit) released by Sandro as both our bags are swarming with these little bastardo's.

7:00PM - ¨Survival Fire¨ started using trustworthy lighter (what do you expect -- Bear Grylls has his "trustyworthy piece of flint"). Half of the fire deposited in our shelter to smoke out the ants. Delicious Belea devoured with the remaining 1/2 Pacu left for ¨breakfast.¨ Last Meal Counter = 12 hours --> 0 hours.

8:00PM - 8:00AM - Attempt to sleep while ignoring the constant ant bites at my ankles, buzzing of mosquito's that have somehow managed to sneak into my protective net, throbbing pain from whatever root or stick is jabbing into my back and finally, what seemed to be a jaguar roaming around our campsite (either an extremely vivid dream or a ridiculous experience I assume could only have been...a dream). Actual sleep obtained = 1-2 hours?

Day 2: Lot's of Stuff, Not Much to Eat

8:00AM - "Wakeup" as to find breakfast of 1/2 leftover fish overrun by flies and other mysterious insects. Sandro encourages me to eat, as "no vamos a comer hoy" (Translation = We are not going to eat today). Last drop of preciously-saved bottled water finished.

9:00AM - 11:00AM - Failed attempt at fishing (despite Sandro's ability to "create" bait by dropping termites into the water and swashing his machete at the approaching minnows - It was amazing). Various different Spanish words for the color brown are learned as I refill my water bottle with the overly-murky river water. Promises of future stomach ailments almost guaranteed based on Sandro's smirk as I gulp down the "survivor water."

11:00AM - 7:00PM - Failed food search/jungle exploration. As to avoid what will soon be an almost 30 hour "fast," the following "scrap" items are located and consumed:

- A bean-shaped item located within a machete-split nut, that appears to squirm when pulled from it's shell. Bean-shaped item = Actual living larva (Tuyutuyu in Quecha - the indigineous language of the Indians). Mmmmm, wriggly...

- A random pile of nuts that when placed in a shallow fire, taste like roasted nuts. Mmmmm, non-wriggly...

- Water from hanging vines as no water source could be located after our AM visit to the river.

Monkeys, pigs and various tropical birds seen throughout the day, although uncaught for consumption. Frustration and exhaustion from unsuccessful food search, as well as almost 8 hours of mosquito-shooing leads to 8PM bed time and a hope for food in the morning. Last "Real" Meal Counter = 11 Hours.

Day 3: Jungle 1, Humans 0. Winner = Jungle

7:00AM - Wakeup to discover Sandro had succumb to his hunger, and stolen some of our "survival Oreos" (intended for the celebratory boat ride back to Rurrenabaque). A pile of vomit to the side of his bed the aftermath of his cheating.

8:00AM - 10:00AM - Begin our journey back to the river, in hopes of finding food. Several hundred ants that had occupied my shoes during the night are disposed of into a foodless-fire.

10:00AM - Encounter more nut-flavored nuts as well as a fruit that can only be gnawed at, as 99% of it is the seed. Breakfast?

12:00PM - Arrive back to the river, managing to catch an inedible protected turtle, and a large unidentified fish that will be our first form of real nourishment in over 28 hours. Just a wee bit hungry...

1:00PM - Attempt to eat freshly-caught fish, although can only manage several bites as stomach has decided to cease working due to starvation. Last "Real" Food Counter = 29 hours --> 0 hours (although starvation pains put it closer to 23 hours).

2:00PM - Manage a few more bites before heading back by boat, making a short detour to visit the home to several species of tropical birds.

5:00PM - Arrive back in Rurrenabaque, down a 2-liter bottle of water in about 45 seconds, say farewell to Sandro and provide him with a generous tip for "keeping me alive."

7:00PM - Eat my first substantial meal in almost 3 days (I have never been so happy to consume the various flavorless potatoes offered throughout Bolivia).

Overall, my 3 day "survival" tour in the jungle was quite the experience. Never before in my life have I had to rely on finding my own food and water in order to exist (Meijers and HEB's make this task relatively easy). Sandro ended up being not only an amazing guide, but also an eye-opening view at life of the native Indian's, who seem to have a 6th sense for surviving off the Jungle (he somehow managed to hear a river that was almost a 2-hr/3-nile hike away). Despite the constant buzzing of mosquito's in my ear, starvation in my stomach, and whatever odd scent was taking over my shower-less body, I consider the experience one of my best during the trip!

Onto the pics:

Next week: More Bolivia - I'll think of a wittier title at a later date.

The 20-passenger "cozy" plane from La Paz to Rurrenabaque - Entrance to the Amazon Jungle

I imagine Homeland Security would have a bit of an issue with the cockpit access on our plane

Attempting to recreate the scene from "Alive" by passing within several hundred feet of towering mountains

Rurrenabaque - Overrun by stray dogs (alike to almost every other South American city visited thus far)

Bait (aka midnight snack if they failed at their originally-designated function)

Shelter Building Phase 1 - The Base (I contributed to about 1/8 of this aspect)

Shelter Building Phase 2 = Support Leaves

Shelter Building Phase 3 = Additional Protection Leaves

Shelter Building Phase 4 = "Bed"

For comparison purposes, the lodge at which the Option #1 jungle-goers stayed

Attempting to find our first bit of food for the day...at night

After 12 food-less hours on Day 1, quite the relief to finally have some semblance of guaranteed nourishment

And one more for good measure (As a note, my biggest fish caught to day - definitely trading in the rod for a fishline-wrapped piece of wood in the future)

The "Grill" (of which 1/2 was placed in our tent to ward off the fire ant invasion)

Day 2 Morning - Definitely forgot to bring the "wet wipes" as to consume a breakfast of fly-covered fish

Squirrel Monkey leaping between trees several hundred feet above

El Hombre de la Selva (I'll let you all translate that one on your own)

"Lunch" = Wriggly nut that most definitely was not a nut

"Second Lunch" = More nut-like nuts

If you ask, the jungle will provide (at least water from hanging vines that is)

Apparently my shoes were the perfect midnight snack for a colony of nearby ants

"Survivor Skone"

Day 3 - Attempting to nap away the 29-hour period of starvation that has overtaken my adventure

Luck would have it I catch a protected-species (i.e. turtle) in the pursuit of breaking my involuntary fast

Cooking our finally-caught fish in style

Visiting a cliff-face of Macaus and other tropical parrots

More Macaus

Some other green-colored birds enjoying the view from their mini caves

Back in civilization (which apparently you can walk through unnoticed while yielding a machete...)

The aftermath of 3 days spent in the Jungle. Laundromat takes second priority to food

1 comment:

  1. So are there any jungle rules pertaining to going to the bathroom? Watch out for ants and wipe with leaves, I suppose?