I know it has been a long time since my last blog post but after the last post I felt like a chapter had closed and I needed to wait a bit to find inspiration to write again. This post gives an insight of what it was like to be in the deep jungle and learn from the natives.
It is a long post but I hope it is an enjoyable read.
The past month has been quite solitary with a lot of introspection and time alone to think, write and read. I travelled from Buenos Aires up to Manaus in the Amazon via bus and boat and it was an incredibly long journey of over 5000 km.
During this journey I focused on practicing my Portuguese by reading, writing and speaking with people and really learned what it’s like to be alone and enjoy my own company. Before this trip I had always struggled with being alone, and I would feel agitated and like my experiences were pointless without someone to share them with. As I have a voice and thoughts in my head that never stop running, I used to get very lonely without someone to share them with, as well as debate and run ideas through.
Keeping A Diary
I have now found that when I have ideas or thoughts I can just write them down and it is the same as talking aloud. I never used to understand the concept of writing a diary or keeping notes of things and really found it strange that people did this. I started writing a journal for this trip as an experiment just to see what it was all about. At first I didn’t enjoy it so much and it felt unnatural because I was trying to write what I thought that a journal should have, instead of just writing a flow of consciousness and copying what is in my head.
I now understand that it is more than just writing what you have done, but writing about what you are feeling and experiencing. A couple of weeks ago I realised that I should back up my diary online in case I lose my bag or something and so I had to type up the whole thing. It is so funny to read back over what is written at different stages because you can really feel that moment and what your state of mind was when you wrote it. Although it has only been 3 months it is amazing to see how our perceptions and perspectives can change.
I would really recommend for anyone to experiment with writing and see if they gain anything from it. I really think it has na impact on your wellbeing and goes beyond just writing what you have done.
One of my main reasons for wanting to go to the Amazon and one of the most anticipated parts of my trip to Brasil was to try Ayahuasca in the Amazon with some Shamans. This is something I have been planning to do for the past about 10 years and so when I found out I wasn’t going to be able to do this I was very disillusioned for a while and felt like my trip wouldn’t be complete. I really felt deflated and I guess this was part of the reason why I had lost motivation and inspiration to write.
Ayuhuasca is an incredibly powerful psychoactive, “potion”, containing the hallucinogenic chemical DMT, which originates in the Amazon. DMT is a naturally occuring chemical within our body, and the bodies of many animals and plants. It causes incredibly powerful hallucinations and purging of the body, (vomiting, shitting etc.), and can lead to re-births and gaining a totally new perspective on life.
It is used to treat all sorts of issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, as well as to overcome problems and obstacles in your life, as you are able to objectively view your issues and, “leave them behind”. The ceremonies can last anything from a few hours to a few days and the experience is so intense that it is not necessarily pleasant for the entirety of the trip.
I knew before I came that you aren’t supposed to take Ayuhuasca if you are on any medication but I thought this was like the typical “you aren’t supposed to take drugs if you drink” or “you aren’t supposed to mix alcohol and red bull” warning – meaning its not recommended but really it’s fine. As I was on my way I researched it a bit more and found that it goes beyond this and Ayuhuasca uses herbs which act as an MAOI in your body.
This is what makes the DMT in the Ayuhuasca able to be properly absorbed and not broken down. Because of this the MAOI interacts with other medications and stops your body from breaking them down. This means that the interactions with certain types of medication can be lethal or cause serious problems. Luckily I found a list of medications with dangerous interactions listed on the pages of some Ayahuasca “retreats”. I then planned to stop taking my medication for ADHD for a period before the experience and then starting again after.
No Ayahuasca For Me
After speaking with a few doctors, (basically trying to find someone to tell me this would be a good idea – obviously no-one was going to tell me this… ), I decided that it wasnt worth risking the past year and a half of treatment to do this, (especially as the medication I take takes 1-2 months to take effect). I would risk ruining, or negatively impacting the final months of my trip. It is believed that Ayuhuasca finds those who need it, and that there is a right time for it, and so I took comfort in accepting that this wasn’t my time.
After a couple of weeks being hung up about this I decided that it wasn’t going to be my last opportunity to do this and so just to make the most of my time in the Amazon.
Arriving in Manaus
Manaus is a very unique place as it is a once booming city, (during the era of rubber exportation), which is right in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, where the Rio Negro ends and joins the Rio Amazonas (Amazon River). Because of this it has everything that a city has, (including a lot of violence)!, but it also has a lot of amazing nature and wildlife.
The river has a beach and a small area which is netted off which you can swim in, and is slightly protected from the wildlife of the river – however people can still be bitten by snakes and other animals whilst swimming. I was also told that it was the place where the terrible “horror” film “Anaconda”, was filmed.
I was really hoping to see an Anaconda during my trip as they can grow to up to 10m long! Unfortunately I found out that they are very hard to spot as they only eat 10 times a year and then spent about a month staying as still as possible in hiding to digest their food. This is why when they do attack they have evolved to be able to eat enormous prey whole, (including humans).
I arrived in Manaus in what is considered to be a fairly mild month yet it was still incredibly hot (high 34 low 27), and the humidity is unparalleled. When you are walking around you don’t notice at first that you are in the rainforest because of all the buildings but after a while you start to realise that there are trees everywhere, which is unusual for a city of course, and because of this the humidity is trapped and not a huge amount of wind passes through. When you see the view from above you actually get an idea of where you are.
Before I arrived in Manaus I was warned by someone from the language app Tandem, which I mentioned in a previous post, that I was arriving at a very turbulent time as there was a gang war going on and a lot of people were dying. At first I thought the person was being sensationalist, as a lot of cities have gang wars that don’t affect the general public too much. When I arrived at the port after a 3 day boat from Porto Velho I was warned by the taxi driver not to go out at night as in the previous 3 days 44 people had been killed.
This warning was repeated by most people I met and it seemed like everyone was taking this very seriously, so I needed their advice and just got taxis directly to the places I needed to go. After a little bit of investigation I found out that there was a war taking place in prison between 2 rival gangs and this had then spread out onto the streets and so everyone was in a state of paranoia as innocent people had been killed due to mistaken identity or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Nonetheless I managed to meet some cool people and went about searching for someone to take me to the deep jungle to so a survival course. There are a lot of agencies and sales people offering various different trips but none of the people I spoke to interested me, or were what I was looking for. I wanted something that was authentic, dangerous, and challenging.
Eventually I met a man called Eduardo who told me his story and what he was trying to create with the tour he was offering and I signed up straight away.
Eduardo had been born in Maraã which is a small fishing village about 900km (a 2 day boat trip), up river from Manaus. When he was a baby a Dutch missionary came to their village and fell in love with his mother. After a period of exchanging letters the missionary asked his mother to marry him and move to Holland. After initial scepticism and not wanting to leave behind her people and her life his mother agreed to move, so long as the man accepted Eduardo as his own son and raised him as such. She agreed to move – so that Eduardo would have a good upbringing and have the opportunities that we have in Europe.
Eduardo found out about his birthplace and family when he was 10 and wanted to go back and meet everyone. He was told he had to wait until he was 18 and then if he still had this desire he was free to follow his own path. When he turned 18 he had saved up enough money to go over for a holiday to discover his roots and meet his family.
Eduardo had never learned to speak Portuguese as his mother had spoken to him in Dutch from when he was able to learn. Whilst he was over there on holiday his mother was killed in a car crash and so his life was flipped upside down. He returned to Holland for the funeral and then decided that he wanted to leave behind his life of luxury in Holland (being part of a wealthy family), and return to his roots where he felt at home. His Dutch “father” told him he was throwing away his future and said that if he wanted to come back to Holland he would have to work and pay his own ticket. Eduardo left when he was 18 and never went back, (he is 28 now).
When he arrived back in Maraã he spoke no Portuguese and so couldn’t communicate with anyone. He spent 5 years living in the jungle learning from the people, how to fish, hunt, make shelter, survive etc. Everybody that I met in Maraã absolutely loved Eduardo and I could tell that they all had a lot of respect for him. Everyone said to me that he had suffered a great deal and had been totally emaciated whilst learning to fend for himself.
After this time Eduardo decided he was going to the city to try and find work and make some money so he could help out his family and his people. He started working as a tour guide in Manaus and learning how they operated and what they offered. After a while he decided he wanted to offer something more extreme, (as the tour companies only operate in the jungle a few hours away from the city).
He came up with the idea of creating a tour into the deep jungle and bringing some tourism to his hometown at the same time. He is the first person to do this, as he is the first person that has the knowledge and the connections to be able to do this – as the native people rarely leave the community.
When Eduardo explained all this to me I knew it was exactly what I was looking for – meeting the local community, being miles away from main civilisation, and going to explore virgin deep jungle. This experience that Eduardo was trying to create was a new experience he wanted to offer. It was for the person (me) to go along with him and 4 other locals on a fishing/hunting trip – to virgin, unexplored, unmapped jungle which was another 10 hours boat from Maraã. We really were in the middle of nowhere.
After many hours travelling upriver in our boat we turned off into a little estuary and entered into the flooded forest – we were now searching for dry land. It took us about 5 hours to find dry land as it seemed like the forest was infinite. Canoeing through flooded forest was probably my favourite part of the whole experience. It was very hard, (for me at least), to picture what the flooded forest would be like, but it is absolutely magical.
We were at the end of the rainy season so the water was at about 80% of its maximum, (reaching 8m). Because of this you feel much closer to the trees and wildlife and nature as you are already half way up the tree! This also means of course it is difficult to find land as it has to be Highland.
Jaguar – The Ultimate Predator
I was desperate to see a Jaguar as I had been learning about them and become fascinated with them as the ultimate predator, and as myself and Eduardo were approaching the land in our canoe he yelled “Onça!”, (Jaguar), and I spotted a glimpse of a black baby jaguar climbing up a tree and hopping to another one. We tried to get closer but it disappeared as quickly as it came.
Adult jaguars can weigh over 100kg and are the undefeatable, lightning speed, master of the jungle. They are big cats and so they can climb trees, jump from tree to tree, swim, and annihilate any land animals. There is nothing that is safe from them – if the jaguar wants you he will get you.
Luckily for us the locals told me that Jaguars almost never attack groups of humanoids as they won’t attack things unless they know they will win. One lone wandering human would be torn to pieces but the jaguar won’t risk attacking a group. He prefers to hide and watch and sometimes in the morning in the camps the locals said that they see Jaguar footprints, which means the jaguar has walked into their camp silently at night, scouting out his prey, almost mocking them, and decided then not to take his chances.
Although I don’t like the concept of zoos I decided to go into the zoo in Manaus before I went to the amazon so I could see a jaguar up close. They absolutely stink of wet cat, and although they look very cuddly they are also fierce and menacing.
Preparing the Campsite
When we arrived we quickly had to clear the the land by chopping down trees and bushes – this is to provide a safe(ish) place to camp as animals cant hide and sneak up so easily. The guys had clearly done this millions of times before so I watched as they mounted a big crossbeam and told me which areas to clear with my new machete, (I had waited all my life for an excuse to buy a machete!).
After the campsite was prepared, hammocks hoisted and fire lit, it was time to head off to fish some piranhas. I always thought that fishing would be dull and not for me but fishing piranhas in the Amazon is not dull… Once you find a good area you have to be constantly alert as they are insanely quick and can demolish the bait in a heartbeat. The guys told me that Piranhas hunt from sound and smell and so you need to splash the bait around and make as much noise as possible to attract them. He told me that in theory if you fall in the water and keep as still as possible then the Piranhas wont attack you, however I didn’t feel like taking a dip.
Once you catch a Piranha and bring it into the boat you have to kill it quickly and skillfully as its bite can take chunks out of your fingers. Sometimes they come off the hooks and are flapping around in the boat trying to eat your toes. I am not a huge fish fan as picking out the bones drives me crazy but as far as fish goes piranha is a tasty, fleshy fish with a lot of flavour. Fun fact – Piranhas have the strongest bite, (comparative to size), of any animal – delivering a bite with a force of 30x its bodyweight.
On a night-time hunting trip in canoe one of the guys caught a baby Cayman with his hand – by grabbing it by the top of its neck so it can´t bite. It was a baby stone Cayman and the guys told me that they were quite rare. The scales are solid, (like stone…), and although they are cute, they have a sneering smile as if to say – I dare you… As it was only small it was released back into the wild and we settled for fish for dinner again.
Uses of the Flora in The Amazon
What I found most fascinating was day time hiking/hunting as the guys were stopping and explaining what the different trees, plants, fruits and bark were used for. There was bark used for anti-malarial tea, (which one of the guys said he had been drinking once a week for 7 years and had been in many high risk areas and never caught malaria), anti-inflammatory oils which came from the sap of trees, anti poison oils, blood clotting pulp from a tree, (which I was told was perfect for piranha bites, (as they are deep and usually at the extremities and so don’t stop bleeding), there was even a bark which was used for abortions.
The explanations of these different trees I have on GoPro footage and so when I come to make the documentary I will be able to explain them better, for now I am just doing it from memory as I havent had a chance to back up the GoPro footage online yet and look through it all.
Another thing I loved was that Samir, (a friend of Eduardo and super-knowledgable guide), had brought with him a Jungle pharmacy. He explained that they have different “medicines” for different parts of the hunting trips.
The first I tried was called Rapé, (hap-ay). This is basically snuff, (sniffing tobacco), mixed with some other herbs found in the Amazon.
It is used for a quick nicotine hit and to give you energy, stave off hunger, and heighten your senses. The herbs it is mixed with also help to clear your sinuses and open your airways. It is unpleasant to sniff but very effective – I liked it a lot! It is taken by dosing it into a little V shaped tube and then having someone else, (or doing it yourself), fire it up your nose.
The next “medicine” that Samir had was Maté. Maté is a very popular drink in the South of Brasil and even more so in Argentina and Uruguay. It is a tea made of caffeine containing herbs. This is also used to give energy for the hunts and stave off hunger. It is bitter and I don’t particularly like it but it is also very effective.
In Argentina people are literally OBSESSED with Maté and people drink it constantly all day long. A lot of people carry with them flasks of hot water and the herbs so that they can make it on the go. I found it bizarre that everyone was so obsessed and addicted to it but not one single person that I spoke to realised it was filled with caffeine.
The locals also had several bottles of campari and they would drink this straight before hunting as “Dutch Courage” and also for energy. They guzzled a cup of the bitter red liquid before each hunt.
Samir had some Changa which he had been given by an indigenous tribe near Manaus. Changa is a mixture of DMT containing herbs which when smoked produce strong hallucinations and feelings of relaxation and being, “at one with the nature”. I have smoked this many times throughout the years and it is absolutely mind blowing.
If anyone ever gets the chance to smoke it, my cat recommends that you take up the offer. Changa has been used throughout the ages to treat depression, addiction, anxiety and a whole host of different issues. Every time you smoke it it teaches you something. Changa only lasts for a few minutes as the body breaks down the DMT very quickly. The difference between this and Ayuhuasca is that Ayuhuasca isn’t broken down so quickly and so the trip is much longer and you can delve much deeper into your soul.
The mixture that Samir had was relatively weak and so it was mainly just relaxing and thought altering. This we smoked at the end of the day’s after dinner to relax as night fell.
As well as all of these “performance enhancers”, Samir also had curative medicines made from the various different trees and plants that he taught me about. I had had earache for about a week and he poured some sort of oil into my ear and the next day my earache was gone. Coincidence maybe, but I still liked the idea of jungle juice curing me!
Hunting an animal was something that I had always wanted to do as the thought of personally killing an animal makes me feel uncomfortable – and I feel like it is wrong to eat meat and to be okay with other people killing animals for you to eat if you cant do it yourself.
Because of this I had always wanted to experience what it was like to hunt, kill, skin, gut and prepare an animal. I wanted to gain some new perspective and see what I would feel whilst doing this. Who knows, had it been traumatic or too much then maybe my opinion on eating meat would be different – although I doubt this. I imagine that I would be a little bit squeamish the first time but that it would soon become second nature.
Unfortunately on our hunts we didnt manage to get any animals, neither at night, nor during the day time. In my/your head you think jungle – full of animals – EASY. This was what I was thinking the whole time. It is true that the jungle is full of animals – and you can constantly hear them – however, it is so incredibly dense, the trees are so incredibly tall, and the animals so well adapted and fast, that it really is difficult to successfully hunt something. This was the only disappointment of my trip, however it is something I will be doing as soon as possible on a future camping trip. I did however kill a fish, but for some reason this doesnt have the same sentiment.
Feeding Yourself in the Jungle
When the locals go hunting they always bring supplies with them to provide them with carbohydrates – as of course this is difficult to find in the jungle. They mainly use Tapioca and Farofa, which are both made from dried Yuca (Cassava), which is a very starchy root – very filling. This is eaten with everything and is the stable carbohydrate of the diet. It is even mixed with hot drinks for added calories. Along with this we ate fish, and any fruit that we could find. Needless to say I came back with a few inches less around the belly!
Eduardos Conservation Project
Eduardo really loves his birthplace and he really wants to do everything he can to help to improve the lives of his people. Having seen what life is like in Europe and the difference in terms of quality of eduaction, healthcare etc. he wants to try and bring some of that over to Maraã.
As well as this he wants to try and protect the ecology and the environment of Maraã. Unfortunately, and quite shockingly, these beautiful paradises in the villages in the Amazon, (and all over Brasil), and along the banks of the river are absolutely covered in litter. This stems from lack of education of how to deal with litter. I was thinking about why this is, and I realised that it is because the natives were used to everything being natural and biodegradable. They would eat a piece of fruit, and throw the core in the bushes, make bags/ baskets for carrying things and use all natural goods. Then along came plastic and non biodegradable products and this mentality continued.
Eduardo wants to start a project to make Maraã the cleanest province of the Amazon through education, investment in infrastructure, (bins, collection, recycling etc), so that the paradise isnt ruined. I will talk a bit more about this in the documtary.
Making the Documentary
I am sorry for such a long post and some things I have purposely left out/ not explained properly as they will be part of the documentary I want to make. I have written this post just to give an insight of what is hopefully to come in the documentary.
I always thought that making documentaries would be such an interesting thing to do, so while I was over here I decided to give it a go, (just as a little creative task for myself, and so that I have something to look back on in the future). I have a lot of cool footage and 0 editing experience so we shall see how it ends up!
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