Rurrenabaque: Termites Taste Like Mint – Surviving the Amazon
Rurrenabaque: Termites Taste Like Mint – Surviving the Amazon.
As I met Maar-sneeze in the morning she told me, “I read your blog last night. You’re such an asshole.”
I would learn to get used to being called an asshole in an unmistakable Dutch accent over the next three days. This would happen often…
The Survival tour. Okay. We will see… Maar-sneeeze and I met with our guide, loaded into a long boat with a new friend, who was also interesting in surviving the Amazon..
The first thing that I noticed when we were in the office getting ready, leaving our bags and anything else that might be useful to survive was that all of the guides arriving were wearing rubber boots. I wore worn Vans shoes in hopes of surviving the Amazon. I noticed the difference in the footwear between guides and hopeful survivors right away. We were told to bring nothing but a camera and we would make the rest our necessities work. Suddenly a pair of rubber boots looked like a necessity, according to our mentor’s choice of foot covering. So, I asked the lady running the tour if we might need rubber boots too for surviving the Amazon. She told me she would get back to me. She failed to. We set off.
Back to the boat. The second thing that I noticed was how the blood-shot-eyed very hung over guide, who belonged to new friend Jeremy, would not shut up. I was sitting beside Maar-sneeze and Jeremy was sitting behind us on an open long boat that was navigating very quickly on the three hour drive upstream. Now, I really hate it how much my Spanish sucks and I hate it how I can not open doors here like I wish I could had the populous spoken English, but in some cases it is great that my Spanish sucks. Blood-Shot-Eyes would not stop talking to blond Maar-sneeze and he seemed to think it necessary that Jeremy behind us hear him as well on the open boat with the wind blowing and a motor roaring. So, my face was basically yelled at for about two hours straight as he sat turned around in the seat in front of me and wasted sounds on me that Maar-sneeze and Jeremy were able to turn into concepts in their minds. I fought off a headache from Blood-Shot-Eye’s yelling as I looked at the scenery of the Rio Beni around me and felt no obligation to pay attention in my unilingual moron-ness.
The third thing I noticed as we arrived at an area of the river where they boat usually docked was how there were about 8 indigenous guides around who seemed to have very low maturity levels and they all seemed to have squealing high-pitched hyena laughs. I have never had a hyena laugh, but I could see that I was much more mature than this crew even though they were all mostly ball-parking my age. It cost us 1450 Bolivianos and 125 extra for a park entrance for this trip. That is nearly $300 U.S. to show up in the jungle with nothing to see how we do for three days, which would technically be only be a little over 48 hours from when we arrived at the river spot. (It is easier to gouge gringos if it is sold as 3 days rather than 48 hours of surviving the Amazon. Marketing is good and gringos are not always clever.)
The fourth thing I noticed was how we were about to be fed a meal, even though we had just paid a shit load of money in Bolivian thinking to not eat, but rather surviving the Amazon in the Selva Jungle off of what the jungle offered. It turned out that initially the jungle would offer chicken doused in mayonnaise with rice, carrots, and beans. I had been expecting worms.
After lunch a guide approached me and said “Survival?” I confirmed and he offered me a handful of pancakes. They smelled good and had (jungle provided?) oranges in them but Maar-sneeze scoffed at the idea of bringing pancakes. So, I had to man up and put the delicious fragmented cakes in a used plate where I disappointingly left them behind. Eventually our guides, who were having a great time hanging out and laughing, came to the realization that the gringos wanted to get the expedition started. So, we set off.
The fifth thing that I noticed was that our guide was asking us where our mosquito nets were at. We had no knowledge of the mosquito nets. We had some kind of blanket looking thing that felt like cork, but nothing to keep blood sucking bastards off of us at night. He had to catch up with a group leaving the area and take their mosquito nets from them. He asked us if we had flashlights. Nope. A knife? Nope. We were survivors!
Howler monkeys deep in the jungle make quite a sound. It is a deep roar of depth that is worthy of any jungle movie mounting fear. If our guide had not explained that the sound was from the howler monkeys, I would have assumed that the noise belonged to gigantic long-haired monster that ate souls of any who ventured into his territory without his permission. That deep in the jungle deep sound is frightening.
The sixth thing that I notice was how our guide, Marco, took out some bait and some fishing tackle. Fishing tackle for Bolivian’s surviving the Amazon is basically a stick with some line wrapped around it. The bait looked a lot like beef to me. When Maar-sneeze asked him what kind of meat the bait was Marco told her it was frog. Now I do not know a lot about frog meat, or rather nothing at all, but I would assume that frog meat was less beef looking and likely green. Even cooked it would be less than beef colored and the texture would be less like roast beef and more like, well, frog. There were no French people around to ask… We used the cow-frog to catch a small catfish in a river. With that small catfish we baited our lines to catch more fish. Well, Maar-sneeze caught a catfish and the guide caught two more. I am still just as good of a fisher as I am a goodwill volunteer.
The seventh thing that I noticed was that after the surviving the Amazon adventure had been about an hour long was that the guide stopped. He put his nose in the air and sniffed. The he said, “Turtle!” He sniffed the air again and looked around. Then he looked down and there happened to be a turtle by his foot. Now, I am not the Saskatchewan farm boy I used to be, but I certainly did not grow up in the center of Chicago. It was at that point that I knew that I had wasted my money Surviving. Our guide could smell out a turtle in jungle. That was early-ly enough for me. Seven was enough.
We walked until we found small fruit that had fallen from a tree. Whatever it was tasted like a mango, but was mostly pit, and most of it stayed in my teeth for a later time. A survivor brings no dental floss. McGyver would. But I am only slightly-handy former farm-boy Beaver, not McGyver.
As day darkened, we approached an area where a shelter/palm leaf hut had already been constructed for survival benefit. I was disappointed to see it, but happy I we would not have to build it. We set up camp and Turtle-Sniffer suggested we fish for a couple of hours in the river to feed our worms. I gave it my best shot for a couple of honest hours, and when boredom crept in I decided to strip down and play in the mud instead. It seems I have never been hungry enough to really enjoy fishing.
Blackness came and us non-flashlighters joined Marco for a ceremony to praise Pachemama (Mother Nature) and to ask for blessings. We did this by candle light, which made Maar-sneeze and I feel more at ease, where we offered cigarettes, cocoa leaves that we were not chewing ourselves, and whiskey. We asked for things in three different languages, which probably should have covered most of the bases. By now I was wondering if I might be a better guide than our guide. I played the game anyhow and took on the role of fire maintainer. Turtle-sniffer suggested that we fish at night for a couple of more hours. Sure. But now it was late into the night and he wanted to go back to the area where we had fished before that I had not the proper footed to venture into without removing my shoes, socks and pants. I considered it peculiar and was left behind as the mud got thicker. Maar-sneeze and Turtle-sniffer were alone fishing in the dark. I hung out on the bank until the idea was exhausted. Finally, Maar-sneeze went and I went to our respected mosquito-net beds to turn in for the night of surviving the Amazon.
I awoke in the morning to old country music in my head. Where did George Strait’s ‘Does Ft. Worth Every Cross Your Mind’ come from. I have not heard that song in about 7 years… Weird…
It rained all night and by the state of my bitten arms, when it was not raining to mosquitoes had found a trap door into my non-sealed coffin-net-casket bed on a weird cork-like blanket on the ground. A twenty-two bite tattoo glowed an itchy red on my massive right bicep. It had a bed-bug pattern, but the night was not very bed-worthy. Whoever built the palm-leaf shelter should have also considered the importance of flatness and less stone-ness as well as their thoughtful palm-leaf dry-maintain-ness. They were too one track minded. Everything was wet including my blanket which made me damp. Keeping my spirits up for surviving the Amazon would be a difficult priority.
Our guide found much pleasure in trying to quietly sneak up on us gringos and suddenly be standing right behind us to show us how stealthy he was. I was unmoved. Show me how stealthy you are at finding a supply of food buddy. Show me how stealthily you can build a raft. Maybe you could stealthily take us off of the well worn ‘Survival’ paths! None of it was meant to be…
Then our fucking guide asked me if he could use ‘a little’ of my water. I had a 2 litre bottle that I had barely drunk the neck from in my conservative ways. Guide-man took some potato starch powder flavouring something or other that he dumped a lot of into Maar-sneeze’s empty bottle. Then he took my bottle to use a little and dumped all of my precious survival water except for a large mouthful that he left for me. That was a little in his mind. I was pissed off. I wanted water not potato water flavored shit. Now my water for the day with the exception of the mouthful that was left over from my borrowed ‘little’ was also flovored potato water shit. For the next hour Maar-sneeze would laugh when she would look at me what she described as my ‘Grumpy Face.’ I now hated Mr. Rubber Boots Guide, who did not mind crossing streams and mud holes that worn Vans made my feet anticipatingly hate.
The guide introduced us to some spicy mushrooms, taught us to make glue out of some tree bleedings, and had us sniff a weed that would clear our sinuses. Then when we were supposed to be high from sniffing the plan the guide yelled ‘Jaguar!’ at us, like we were supposed to fucking scream at the top of our lungs or something. I had heard the word ‘Jaguar at least 70 times in the past 11 hours, from a guy who had probably never ever seen a jaguar before. For the amount of jaguar bullshit I had been dealing with, anything less than a jaguar coming in the dark of night to steal the last mouthful of water our guide had left in my water bottle would bitterly disappoint me.
Maar-sneeze asked me about my wish from the previous night as we were surviving the Amazon. I told her it was about financial stability to keep me from having to work a shitty job again. She told me that hers was about us finding food on the trip, have a safe journey and live a long life. She told me that the guide’s asking from pachemama was also about how we would catch fish and live healthy lives. Apparently I am a selfish bastard. I would happily starve for three days to never have to work a shitty job again… It is likely that I also got called an asshole again.
I noticed that my mood noticeably lightened after our guide made me a backpack out of palm leaves to carry around my mosquito next and wet cork-blanket thing. Suddenly he seemed a little handier at surviving the Amazon than me and I felt a little bit of pride in having him. It could not possibly last though. Not with his track record so far, even though he took us to a Trazan tree swing that I had a whale of a time on. For an hour or two I was loose!
But, we seemed to walk back and forth down the same worn survivor paths. What were we looking for at this point, or were we just killing time. In my mind, being a survivor would mean that we would show up somewhere with nothing in a place where no one knew where we were but our guide would be able to navigate the ground. We would not be in a shitty place that had been trampled down in places. I was expecting to be pulling spider webs off of my face and concerned that a tarantula had just run across my jeans. I was not expecting to find a place where I could possibly have a nap on the side of a path to be found by another who was surviving the Amazon.
Which was pretty much what happened when we found another ‘Survivor’ who crossed our path… I tried to hide behind a tree so that he would not see me even after we had be discovered. Maar-sneeze was nice to him but I gave him the cold shoulder. I was not interested in talking prices of the adventure with the cocksucker Israeli and how great of a deal he got that we did not. I was in character. F off.
So, we went to ‘find’ a small supply of bananas by an old hut and some sugar cane. It just ‘happened’ to be there and we hungry. It seems that I was grumpy as well. Then Mr. Guide thought that we should open some coconut shells, which often contained a very full worm who also enjoyed coconut. When guide, Maar-sneeze and I all had worms the guide ate his. I thought of tequila times and realized I had been in this position before, also in a survivor state of mind. Maar was thinking it over. I decided to go first, and with a crunch, that fat white worm exploded in my teeth for share coconut delight with my tastebuds. I hardly flinched. But, the real treat would be watching Maar-sneeze put the worm in her mount, bite down and squirm her entire body, with fisted flailing arms in front of her and a very scrunchy face as she consumed her worm. It was highlight of surviving the Amazon! Wow, I enjoyed that…
The second best part of surviving the Amazon was the ants we found. There was a highway of ants that were carrying torn leaves. There were so many of them that it was hard to not be curious. Thousands of ants were making a path carrying what looked like green flags above their heads. I needed to see where the source was from and followed it in from the path. They ants had a particular tree where just-right leaves apparently grew. They had a path up that one tree, and when I followed their route, it was 160 of my paces, which must have been at least 100 meters to where they had a hold dug under another tree where they were taking the leaves under. It was amazing. The ants actually had a groomed trail from so much traffic. Their path was actually flattened like a well worn human path, from billion of ant steps for at least 100 meters over fallen logs, back to the ground and over congested twigs in places. It was a very well planned highway. I can not describe the amazement of the work of those fire-ants with words. But, I have not appreciated any effort quite like that in a very long time. I was just amazing.
Mr. Nature Guide found a place for us and where we would sleep for the night. It was in the center of our allotter survival jungle area and next to a stagnant body of water. We were just passing though and the mosquitoes were thick. Now he wanted to sleep there. I immediately said no. Mosquitoes do not like Maar-sneeze and they do not bother indigenous. That made me prime rib. No way. I said we should go to the river. I felt like a jerk, but I had itching to think about. People who know nothing about anything know that an open body of stagnant water is bad news. What in the f was I making decisions like this for…. F. So we walked to the river and found a pre-made camp where we cooked our ‘found’ bananas on the fire that we were able to make because the wood was not soaked like it was in the jungle. I am not sure how the guide had planned on doing that in the dank jungle center, because I am doubtful that his intentions were to make smoke to keep the mosquitoes away from me, which is about all he would have done. And now since we were out of water except for my leftover mouthful, which I had a small sip of and gave the rest to a now grumpy Maar-sneeze, guide-man drank from the brown river water and told Maar that she could as well. She insisted that the water they drank was boiled on the fire, so he found a large bamboo shoot to use to take care of her wishes. Should we be making these choices? F.
So, to starve off the day’s hunger I had eaten a banana and a half, one worm, ½ of a spicy mushroom we had found, juice from a stringy fruit and some termites which are surprisingly minty. Really. Termites are minty. I can not wrap my mind around that.
I drank none of the brown water even though I have very yellow pee. My pee was not orange which is about where I might have considered brown river water. And I do not mean iron colored water like on the farm. I am talking river mud water with whatever parasites that Bolivia had to offer. And then the guide wanted to fish though the night. I was put into an area by myself and the guide situated himself beyond a bog-hole that was dryly unpassable my by worn Vans in the darkness where he would be beside Maar-sneeze. A couple of hours took place. I was to fish with the same line, hook and bait that I had used in three different fish holes through the day with the same smelly piece of bait that caught nothing the previous day. I am a lousy fisher but it seems like I have the mental sense to have a leg up on our all knowing guide if we are in a fish off because he was catching nothing either. When I got bored I studied the sky to figure out what direction we were facing by what I could recognize in the sky, just incase I needed to get our guide home.
Maar asked me if I wanted to come and join them. I told her that it was not worth if for the mud I would have to cross. She called me an asshole.
The mosquitoes bites from last night’s feast on my arms was driving me crazy and I needed a solution for surviving the Amazon. Maar was worried I was going to bed and told me that I must tell her before I went to bed. I promised her I would, so when we decided to get set up for the night, Guide Suave came in a huff to help us to set up our mosquito net pole and then left with his flashlight to head back to the river. He was in a pout. And believe me, I know a ‘Not Getting Laid’ pout when I see one. I have mastered that pout, practicing it well over the past decade or two myself, so I certainly know it when I see it. And he had it on thick and heavy as he ditched us gringos to fend for ourselves. It was incredible. Then Maar-sneeze told me about the things he had told her about how he was, “looking for a girl like her. Could she see herself living in the Selva Jungle?”
I made dark-humour jokes as we climbed into our mosquito next coffins. I told her that I was concerned about how much she had pissed off a Bolivian indigenous man with a machete in the jungle. I told her I was upset that I was probably going to get killed because of her and how she is bad news. I wished her goodnight and told her that I hoped I would get to wake up in the morning…
But, I woke in the morning to Hank Williams Jr. songs in my head: Goin’ Huntin Tonight and Family Tradition. I had a banana and a half from breakfast and our guide did not say hello to me until I made an effort to talk to him. Hey man, it is not me! But, he packed my bag for me as I made short scripts in my notepad about the previous night surviving the Amazon. We hiked a bit through some untouched jungle and arrived at the camp where we waited for a boat to take us back to salvation of humanity and un-staged survival living. Our friend Jeremy came out of the jungle as well, about as disappointed as me. I told him that I felt like we just had a regular jungle-tour that we paid a lot more money for where they did not have to feed us. His guide was busy making a monkey i-tooth necklace for him from a skull he had ‘found’ but amazingly the other three i-teeth were already gone from. I just wanted to get away on the boat back to Rurrenabaque as soon as possible. I did not feel like surviving the Amazon bullshit anymore.
And no tigers ate Maar-sneeze or I during her ‘time’! We really are survivors!
Highlights – Here are four more besides Maar-sneeze eating a worm and amazing ants.
– Drinking water from a tree/vine called una de gato, where you slice the vine and water comes out. Really cool. Our guide told us that it would clear kidney cancer in 30 days of drinking only it, but Jeremy’s guide said it would cure cancer of the uterus. In any case, it was amazing.
– Trees on crazy roots that mover 30-40 cms/year in search of more sunlight.
– How the indigenous do not measure water in terms of how much fell from the sky. When I asked the guide told me ‘Una Metro.’ I was disappointed in the bullshit and told him I am not an idiot. Then I realized he was talking about the river. The river had risen one meter during the rainfall and that was the measuring device. Cool.
– How there was no sense of time in the jungle. We woke when it was light and went to bed after it was dark. In regular life, all you know and all everyone talks about is time. Form the time you are born your life is based on the time you are born, to the time you are fed, to the time you are forced to bed, to the time you much catch the bus, to the time you work, until the time you die. There is freedom from this in the jungle and that is a pleasure to experience.