Hi all. Not sure what has happened to my blogging but I thought I already wrote this one. Seemingly not (or else Kim accidentally deleted it, hmmmm).
Anyway, here we go, again. For all you folk reading this straight after the previous one (aka the dossers and Civil Servants, and I hope I don't include any of the Sky Answers team in that!), welcome back. For those of you just dipping in, this story started a wee bit back and will be in three installments (this is no 2). Primarily because the latest escapade was so eventful, secondly because we are takin some time out to recharge after a hectic 3 weeks.
We were picked up by our guide at the hotel at 7.30 prompt, 10mins late. To say he was at the back of the line when personality was handed out is being generous. One-word answers and no briefing of what to expect left me an Kim entertaining ourselves. We got to the boat, a long wooden vessel typical of what you would imagine, laid on solely for us! We zig-zagged the shores picking up various supplies for the lodge before setting off on the 6hr boat journey up river.
It was exactly like you see on the TV, except the scale is immense. After two hrs or so we stopped at a cliff face to see the macaws. All sorts of dazzling colours, blue and green, red and blue, and what a noise! They did make me think if you Steve Calvert, so if you don't already you need to get another one as they live as couples for life apparently.
After our shaky start with the guide Richard (Rich) we were kinda starting to relax by the time we stopped for a snack. We collided with the bank where there was the narrowest of openings in the trees. In his usual bad communication (I should point out he spoke perfect English, it was just his style) we decided this was where we were stopping and should get out for our first dip in the jungle. And when we did - WOW!
Immediately you are hit with the noise - birds, insects, and everywhere you look something was moving. We were wondering how we ended up with a dull guide, in the middle of a jungle going to a lodge with apparently only 18 boys! Kim was the first to spot a big black and bright yellow centipede, there were all types of ants everywhere, and Grianne, when I say spiders I mean, they have STOPPED trying to count them there are that many types! Madidi is known as one of, if not the most ecological- and biologically diverse areas in the world. We could see why.
A short walk brought us to what can only be described as a 'Work In Progress'. The area was inhabited by an indigenous family who were making a new camp site. Our snack stop was a long table under a roof woven from leaves. After sharing our lunchbox with who knows how many crawling, buzzing, hopping things it was time to set off again. We went to the shore to find - NO BOAT! (here we go again!)
Luckily Rich spotted it just downstream coming back with another boat. It seemed another group were returning from the lodge when they had a transport malfunction. OK. But as they needed to make their flight the boatmen took it on themselves to decide they would leave us to wait while they picked the others up, dropped them back before coming for us. Aye right. Rich agreed when I calculated we would be waiting around for five hours before getting to camp after nine (we were due there at 2), well past sundown at 7.30 where the boat, if were lucky, would just about get to our stop before we had to hike in the dark. Not to mention one of our three days at the lodge lost! You may gather I was not too enamoured by the prospect and certainly peeved at the decision-making regime. After some deliberation we thought we had come this far and there were no guarantees we could do other trips before our flight back so we said we'd wait it out. But at least we were involved in that decision. It's the principle!
So back to our WIP where we were offered a shower but not much point in this heat. The bathrooms were brand new tho so the nicest toilet Kim had used since Belfast!
Rich then said we would go on a trek, tho the sight of the head of the family trying to draw him directions in the dirt with a stick didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Neither did it seem in Rich as he didn't know the area, so the head of the family had to lead. Yet another persons' Sat afternoon disturbed! Anyway, off we sat.
We were only a short time into the jungle when, while Rich was telling us how they used the new roots of the palm tree to treat women after labour the head guy suddenly stopped. Rich approached and beckoned us further. Silence.
We carefully stepped further along the trail when we were ordered to stop. In the distance you could ear a. Feint breathing. As a group we tentatively creeped along the trail when the lead threw his hand in the air signalling a stop! The breathing escalated now to a growl. You could hear movement, and not just in one direction. After a minute the noise moved from in front to all around, amplified tenfold.
As I turned to a worried-looking Kimbo the entire jungle was trembling. Then, a break in the trees and we were called forward 'Aye rite! Dead on!' was my thought but Rich pushed us forward. Then we seen what we were surrounded by - a heard, 150-200 strong, of wild pig!
We were watching with tentative fear when just up the trail one crossed our path. They already new we were there, but this clear sight startled it and once it bolted, chaos! Our hearts were pounding as the heard scattered in all directions. The squeals were deafening, the forest was moving and crackling as branches were broken and mud scattered. We just froze hoping not to get in the way!
Then, suddenly, back to thee relative tranquility of the birds and insects.
We continued on for a bit when that all-too-familiar 'STOP!' signal again. This time the leads' attention was drawn up.
More rustling! But at least no growling! We walked to a clearing and hearing the snapping of trees were more than concerned. Then we spotted them - a group of Red Howler monkeys. They were so stark against the green of the jungle. Then the alpha male just stopped and stared down, as interested in us as we of him. Two younger Howlers went about scrimmaging around him, but he never left our stare. Eventually he won and onward we went.
Slightly further and we hit a dead end as the trail was swamped with the morning rain. 'Oh good', I thought, 'enough excitement for one day. Let's get the flock outta here'!
Lead guy thought different. Instead, Rich said we would go off the trail, through the uncharted undergrowth and back on the trail on the other side. In for a penny in for a pound then....
The adventure was fun, for five minutes. Then the extra exertion of clambering through branches in this heat was starting to drain. It would have been OK if it wasnt 20mins later and still no sign of a clearing. At this point an episode of Bear Grylls is running thru my head, which was a pleasant distraction to the visions of all the proper wildlife I knew we were face with away from the sanctuary of the trail.
Then, proper panic! One time I wished I hadn't had such a mastery of the Spanish language since Maddy left! Rich asked the lead guy nervously 'Where is the trail?'!!!!!!!!
I looked back at Kim and her face told the story of my thoughts. That's it, we doomed. Never to be found until we are old and living in loin cloths.
But, just as that thought set, we were saved! We found the path and all was well. For about five minutes.
For just up the path that all-too-familiar growl. At least this time we knew what to expect. But unfortunately only a few were growling....you know that saying 'Let sleeping dogs lie'? They should extend that to boar also. Once one clicked they all woke. Panicked, there was more commotion than before and we were even closer. After they cleared we thought it was fine to move on. Then we found a mud hole they were gathered in and one was enjoying his siesta rather more than the rest. Unfortunately we had accidentally cornered this one, and I'd seen enough Richard Attenborough to know that's not good news...
When he woke his squeal would cut lead. First he jumped back into their pit and swam to the other side. Blocked by a 15ft wall of mud he turned to aim himself directly at the only escape point up a slope by a tree. A tree by which me and Kim were standing! Now, I know I'm not the biggest but this thing must have been well heavier as he was massive. And shifting at a right fair pace for a chunk.
So he bolted up the bank, bug just at reaching the crest at the last minute he turned left and passed just a few feet infront and disappeared into the jungle. Startled, with the same heart pound as before I turned to Kim in amazement. Apparently from the next thing she said she was not bothered at all standing behind me - 'They look just like Pumba from the Lion King!' To be fair, the girl was right.
Anywho, this mud pit seemed to be of great importance as Rich had never seen one but knew it was very valuable to the jungle. Apparently the mud contained salt that the mammals would come and eat off the walls. All me and Kim thought was that it stank.
After all this excitement we turned for home. On getting back to camp we were served the most amazing lunch cooked in the family kitchen - beef, rice and chips. Yep Maeve, the diet is carb-tastic!
After this I retired to the hammock for a kip, Kim read and the family went about building and weaving the roof for the extension (eat your heart out MrFraser - no planning permission or councilmen to hold you back here!) I should point out we offered to help but they laughed at us. I was annoyed.
After waking around 4 I could see the novelty had well and truly waned from Kimbo. We were both very bored now and even Rich was getting frustrated at the lack of response from HQ on the ham radio. A slow hour and a half passed when we heard a boat coming. We were marched to the bank and after saying our Adios', Ciaos (they say that here too-wierd) and Gracias' we were on our way, and the boatman certainly wasn't sparing the horses as we flew up the river. Until our next encounter....
He slowed while Rich pointed to some birds on a beach area. I could see the birds, but then Kim excitedly said 'LOOK!' I scoured the bank but seen nothing, but what she saw was nothing short of spectacular.
Through the reeds she was able to make out the silhouette of the most elusive and awe-inspiring inhabitants of the jungle - a Jaguar!!!
The excitement was palpable as Rich said the birds were picking off the fleas, but there was no time to waste. On with the full throttle and away, as a boat without lights cannot sail in the dark. That would mean we would
Have to ditch on a beach and sleep in the open. In that case the best we could hope for is we would be eaten quick by some thing big like Kim's Jag, at worse slowly by ants, mozzies or an Anaconda. Now Castaway was going through my head!
But no matter, we got to the shore of our lodge at 7.00, just before dark. By the time we took the shortcut (and hot-footed) to the lodge we made it just after 7.30. In time for dinner.
No shower, just straight in. And then we learned of Rich's classic sense of humour. Remember the 18 boys staying at the lodge? It was actually 18 American high school boys and girls on a school trip, so it was nowhere near what we were panicking about!
Dinner was served, and I cant say too much for the catfish, but when offered Piraña again I thought 'Well, in for a penny....'
So there it was, all whole and menacing-looking on my plate. They really are fierce! Kim let me keep it on my plate and 'sure we'll just share'. Stitched up like a kipper I thought. Anyway, although very boney and not a lot to it, what there was was really tasty!
After dinner we went on a short night hike. Everything was fine (tho we weren't hanging about to find out otherwise) until this big green/yellow spider just nonchalantly dropped down by my left shoulder. It just missed but was enough for the nerves to be spiked and I off I went in pursuit of Kim and Richard. A few tree frogs later and we headed back to camp, where after a couple of cold beers we turned in on another calamitous day.
In reflection on my first night under mosquito net it actually turned out to be pretty bloody brilliant. Yes there were a few boring stages but Rich and the family did all they could to make it a good thing, and it was. And Kim making the most exciting spot along the way really showed we made the right choice, with the principle that we were actually involved in that choice!
Stick around, for in the third and final chapter of the Amazon experience we get a lot closer (too close for Kim) to the wildlife. And then there's the return trip!!!