Tales of Adventure
Read stories of adventure from land-locked water lovers like you and me, sharing their SCUBA diving, surface interval experiences and more! No celebrities...just regular people living life; not waiting for an adventure to happen but creating one every chance they get! Become inspired, get off the couch, and quit talking about it...make your adventure happen. These people do it and so can you!
We spent the next two days slogging through a river with clarity ranging from crystal clear to opaque brown. After a short period of being hopelessly lost, we graduated to hacking through the dense tropical rain forest up a hill so steep that the heels of the lead hiker were at eye level of the person following. The ascent required gentle steps so as not to slip on the dense ground cover and quick hand to grab the nearest vine for support. With only a few dozen feet of visibility through the dense jungle, one cannot grasp any perspective of distance or orientation. We were at the mercy of our guides, who were diligently clearing a barely discernable path with their machetes to our next campsite.
The most fascinating part of the jungle was its persistent symphony of noises. In fact, one could compare the frequency and volume of the noises heard to that of New York City. Birds squawking, frogs croaking, monkeys howling, trees shaking, creaking and falling. With not a human in sight and only the piercing noises of the jungle, there was little doubt we were miles from nowhere.
After three days, we reached the resplendent waters of the Isiroé River. The next step was to create our transportation to carry us farther into the jungle abyss.
As we collapsed on the rocky shores of the river for a rest, the guides sprung to life. We curiously watched Rolando, Walter and Pablo feverishly search for the perfect Balsa tree, hack it down with their machetes and then scurry off to find another one. The three little Bob Villas then began their artfully choreographed boat building; a skillused by their ancestors and passed down through generations.
After about three hours a balsa raft emerged consisting of five large logs bound together with small spikes and bark rope. Two other rafts rolled off the primitive production line soon after. No part of the tree was ever wasted; the trunk was used for the hull, the branches as nails and luggage racks, the bark for rope, and finally, the leaves for wrapping food and for sitting mats. It was two people per raft, plus gear in the middle. We steered and propelled these little rafts with a bamboo-like pole, which proved to be easier said than done. This was our transportation for the next several days.
The welcoming committee of wildlife was diverse, often a bit testy and somewhat unnerving at times. For example, river obstructions were not uncommon. Periodically, we would be required to push and pull the rafts over logjams and fallen trees. After inadvertently agitating a very large and disgruntled freshwater electric eel, we came to one such obstruction. As per tradition, we were waist-deep in the river tugging our Huck Finn raft over a logjam, this time with an irate eel lurking around our legs.
The ever-present Piranhas searching for meal were always prodding at our consciousness. Soon after the eel, several Caymans made their presence known as they would hauntingly break the water’s surface with only their eyes and nostrils. As we floated by one of these wading predators, it leapt out of the water and began thrashing for the shore. Upon reaching the shore, the frightened crocodile sprang to life and sprinted along a section of dry shoreline before disappearing into the jungle.
Our cache of luxury food, including crackers, salami and cheese, ran out after a few days, which shifted the diversity of our meals to rice or noodles with fish and ketchup for a garnish. Each day floating on the rafts, we would fish for our breakfast, lunch and dinner. A crudely fashioned fishing hook on a line wrapped around a small piece of wood was our tool of the trade. Piranhas were the easiest to catch. A small piece of baitfish on the hook would almost always yield a hungry Piranha in seconds. We would use the Piranha as bait to catch the Sabalo fish, prized for its large size and Trout like flavor. When the Sabalo were not biting, we were relegated the stringy, boney Piranha meat as a protein filled supplement to our starchy rations.
The jungle would often relinquish elusive culinary opportunities to keep us on our toes. A watchful eye, a quick hand and a sharp machete would sometimes yield a fresh water stingray. Although difficult to clean, the noodley meat was always a welcome change to the usual monotony of fish and rice, with a splash of ketchup. Boiled plantains and the occasional rare find of soft-shell turtle eggs would also affix some variety to our menu.
A SUMMER SHOWER
In the planning stages of this adventure, the Great Dane assured us that it was the dry season, and rain would not be an issue. That hypothesis of was the subject of many of our conversation as we huddled in our tent for the fifth day in a row of torrential afternoon rainstorms. It was unanimously agreed upon that the Dane had a particular talent for understatement.
On one particular evening, however, a normally distracting monsoon evolved into a menacing storm. Camped at a 90-degree bend of the river on a small beach, we watched the river slowly rise while the sun fell behind the horizon. Our spacious camp began to methodically decrease in size with the rising water.
Sheets of rain churned up the calm river and activated countless flash run-offs from the jungle into the river. As the rain poured down, the jungle began to release its loose soil into the river with such ferocity that the crystal clear water turned an opaque muddy brown in a matter of hours.
As the darkness of the evening enveloped our surroundings, we took to peering out our tent door to watch this remarkable storm unfold. Not long after nightfall, the three of us were fixated on the glowing eyes of the Cayman crocodile patiently waiting out the storm only a few yards away. We all eventually fell asleep, but nobody slept more than a few hours. Our concern about the rising water was exacerbated by our fear that water would deposit the Cayman on our doorstep. We awoke the next morning groggy and wet, but not eaten.
The next few days were difficult because the now brown river was not potable for our consumption. It would be like drinking a mud milkshake. Therefore, every time we needed water, we would dock our rafts and hike into the jungle to look for a small waterfall or spring to retrieve drinkable water. Fortunately, the local fauna kept our minds off our seemingly never-ending quest for water.
The looming presence of the many non-human jungle residents always occupied our minds. The mocking screams of the Howler monkeys perched high in the trees abusively reminded us they would never relent from surveying our every move as we carefully shuffled through the water in an attempt to avoid disturbing one of the many fresh water stingrays skimming the river bottom. It was the night, however, that brought about the most intriguing creatures, such as the most enigmatic of them all, the Jaguar.
Late into the evening, Pablo began frantically gesticulating to get our attention. With eyes as wide as saucers he uttered “Tengo miedo para ustedes” (I am afraid for you).
Clutching his freshly sharpened machete, Pablo cautiously rose from his haunches, as did the other two guides in unison. All three silently stepped towards the wall of the dark jungle to investigate. Rolando turned to us in a state of controlled anxiety and whispered “Jaguar!”
Stopped in mid conversation, we were still chuckling and a little reluctant to believe them. Rolando then narrowed his eyes and loudly whispered: “Jaguar… muy peligroso!” an authoritative tone overshadowed by what appeared to be genuine fear. We realized this was the real deal. Tim, Rich and I sat silent, curious and dumbfounded.
The methodical movement of the elusive cat snapped a twig every few steps, which permeated the cool night with a foreboding sound. The only way to describe the noise was that we could actually feel it getting closer.
Pablo explained in his best Spanish that the jaguar has found us and will return later when we are asleep to choose one unlucky soul for a late evening meal. Although many Peruvian Indians no longer believe that the Jaguar carries the spirits of their enemies, as their ancestors once did, they are all very cognizant of the danger that these powerful animals can pose to humans. Just one year before in a nearby village, a Jaguar killed a man in a late evening attack.
We stoked the fire and the guides placed a variety of human effects (shirts, packs, etc.) around the edge of the jungle to act as decoys in the hopes of giving the predator enough pause to allow for some action on our part; whatever that may be. The guides vowed not to sleep that evening until they could determine it was safe. As we finally started to doze, the guides began their all-nightlong vigil with machetes firmly in hand.
Shortly after midnight, the eerie silence was shattered when a large and frantic animal tore through our camp only to evanesce into the darkness without so much as a trail of lingering sound in its wake. In one lightning fast motion, we shot straight out of our sleeping bags to train our lights in every direction, searching for what we thought would be the source of our demise.
Only the footprints of a frightened Capybara (the largest rodent in the world weighing around 60 pounds) remained a mere ten feet from our sleeping bags. Pablo began talking, but I could barely hear him over my thumping heart. I gulped down several deep breaths so that I could decipher what he was saying. As my heart slowed and the novelty of the moment faded, I began to listen to Pablo.
With an air of grim certainty, Pablo calmly revealed that Capybaras are gifted with a keen nose. He opined that the frightened animal likely smelled the jaguar nearby, panicked, and made a fleeting dash for its life. He then concluded the Jaguar was very near and waiting. Lovely, exactly the sort of information one wants to ponder while drifting off to sleep days from a radio and even further from a phone.
Tim and I awoke, quite startled, around 1:00am to witness all three guides frantically heaving stones into the murky black jungle with tremendous veracity. While Rich blissfully snored away, Tim and I exchanged looks of dismay and bewilderment; the kind of “do you want to attempt to explain this one?” stares. Then, Rolando coolly explained that the jaguar came dangerously close to us and needed some encouragement to search for food elsewhere.
Some time later that night while we slept, Walter heard the jaguar make a kill. As it turns out, we were unknowingly camped next to a herd of wild boars. The jaguar was stalking them, not us. While not as romantic as our initial perception of a natural tourist population control, it beats getting dragged off into the jungle by an oversized and underfed nocturnal kitty.
The mercurial nature of the Amazon jungle seldom relented. The morning after the Jaguar encounter, we broke camp to make our way to the final rendezvous point where we would be picked up by another boat to begin the hitch back to civilization. After seven days of navigating our rafts through the gamut of river conditions and obstacles, we all acquired an air of over-confidence.
In a fleeting moment, all three rafts, one after another, wrapped around, dove under and smashed against a fallen tree obstructing the river. As my raft was instantly ripped from underneath my feet I found myself pinned against the raft, which was smashed against the log by the massive flow of water.
My legs were being pulled underneath as I hung on to the top of the raft and part of the log. Staving off thoughts of a watery grave, I to slowly inched my way up to the top of log.
Upon removing myself from the clutches of the river, I began to chuckle. There was Tim’s pack, the water filter; six thousand gallons in the front pocket, six thousand gallons out the bottom pocket. Then I realized Tim’s camera was floating listlessly in that pocket. Tim would have been better off scuba diving with his new non-water-resistant camera. After an hour or so of dismantling part of the logjam and retrieving each of our battered rafts, as well a medley of floating personal items, we quietly drifted to the pre-planned rendezvous point.
Not breaking with tradition, our trip from the rendezvous point back to Cuzco provided for another memorable enterprise. After waiting for over 24 hours with no food at the pickup location, which also seem to double as an experimental breeding ground for every single flesh hungry insect in the Amazon basin, we set off on one hell of a journey.
Over the course of the next maddening 16 hours, we experienced a smorgasbord of every type of transportation available in the region. First, back into a dugout canoe for a few hours of fun, then in a small restaurant, yet another human zoo. Next, we climbed into a small four-door Toyota pickup truck for three hours on a road irretrievably damaged from decades of erosion. After tasting my spleen on several occasions as a result of our driver plowing through enormous potholes at such speed that we could feel the wheels of the truck leave the ground, we climbed into another small, ailing riverboat. After that, we climbed into the bed of pickup for another leg of the journey.
This truck was an Amazonian engineering marvel. The bed, hood, doors and quarter panels all moved independently of one another during yet another stint on the harsh boulevards of the Peruvian backcountry. We clung to whatever we could to keep from bouncing out of the truck, all the while hoping that whatever we gripped to would also not leap from the structure of the vehicle. The friendly driver dropped us off in small village of only few hundred inhabitants and bid us farewell with instruction to hop the next bus heading to Puerto Maldonado.