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Reisverslag The jaguar and more
6 september 2014
The jaguar and more
It starts with being curious in how people live in different environments around the world and giving me reasons to be proud of myself. Being able to live in the most extreme surroundings makes me feel more confident in doing more ‘normal’ things back home. That being said, I do want to get home alive. I only did things that felt safe to me.
When deciding to go to South-America on this trip, visiting the jungle was one of the two main goals to plan my itinerary around. Flying back from Lima had been decided, so going to a remote city (Iquitos) for my adventure was no strange choice. For reasons mentioned above I wanted to go camping rather than stay at a fancy lodge. Also, I wanted to learn about survival in the jungle. There were a few reasons not to do the actual survival training (two days of instructions, 2 days of surviving in the deep jungle), but I did ask to learn some skills.
The other two tourists (John, 23, from the US and David, 28, from Australia) were also interested, so we learned a few things. We learned how to find and get food and water: get the right type of bamboo tree and cut a specific top part out for eating; find live vines, cut a piece off and drink the water that comes from it. In case of being lost there are some ways of contacting other people: the tree telephone (bump a big stick onto the lupuna tree roots and it will echo for about 4km), yell (less distance and will scare huntable animals away) and whistling (if people are nearby). There were also specific leaves to make you smell like part of the vegetation, multitasking as insect repellent and we were shown easy way to make darts and another easy way to make a spear. All you’d need was a machete. We got to use it and get ourselves most of the above. Oh, how I love that big knife. (Just to indicate: locals bring just and only the knife into the forest, not even a bottle of water for water.)
Furthermore, we had seen that there was not so much to be afraid of. Other than the basic mosquito there were only few animals that might come after us. You had to search for them in the middle of the night and be very quiet to find a majas or small foxes. Our local guide, a hunter, had only seen the jaguar (or otorongo in Spanish) 6 times in his 12 years of hunting and 6 years of guiding tourists. Other people have similar luck ratios. We had also seen that it was easy to get some fish. There were tons of them and they were willing to bite. One of the fishes that seemed incredibly easy to catch in our river was the red piranha.
For piranhas it’s a different story. Yes, they are everywhere, but they are also harmless, most of the time. You can even swim with them, as long as you are not bleeding. Do note that this differs per type of piranha. This type is what we had been swimming with from our very first day. There were dolphins, too, and tons of small fishes. The small fishes had been nibbling our flesh and with some effort you could tell yourself you were in one of the pedicure parlors with a small aquarium of tiny fish for your feet. The piranhas weren’t always as lucky as during the swimming. We also caught a bunch on a fishing trip, and after one of them bit me I felt extra happy about the planned cooking class: chopping the fish up and preparing them for dinner. Mostly it was nice to learn to feed ourselves, and for me there was a little bit of revenge as well.
Soon after arriving at our camping place we felt comfortable walking around the bushes, knew the basics of getting back to the camp and even some things for setting up a new camp. Our guide from Iquitos (Alex) had been talking with us about the survival things we wanted to do and that we would be leading the way back home from an over day excursion and we were excited to do it. So after walking around for three hours we were to walk back home and we’d meet up with the guides (Alex and local guide Herman) at the camp. We felt confident and went for it. We felt like a team, safe, and didn’t despair when we lost the thing you could call path. We still had our machete and a general direction (got to love my tiny compass). After not too long we found back the path, recognized some trees from before, and were on the right path again. The guides wanted to check up on us and so we used the tree telephone to meet up and we led the group to the camp again. We were perfectly fine. Even without a guide helping us we knew how to use the basics of survival in the wild. It felt good.
Now you might understand better why walking around felt like a good idea, I’ll give you the story on our encounter with the jaguar. It starts with our local guide.
Our amazing hunter, Herman, had been calling for animals and leading us to them every single day. He knew so many calls, I didn’t even bother to keep count. He found us about five types of monkeys, two types of alligator, many types of vertebrae and endless amounts of birds and fishes. Long before we ever knew anything was there, he had been adjusting our route to find it. He also knew exactly what time the moonlight wouldn’t expose us to the animals anymore, which meant we woke up at midnight to go search for that animal the three of us wanted to see so eagerly: the jaguar.
This is probably a good moment to point out that all except a small expedition inside a village all our nocturnal adventures were on the river. At night that is the safest place to be. The fish won’t do a thing, and the alligators in this river were so small they were cute. The same probably goes for the anaconda, too.
So, in our dug-out canoe Herman peddled us from side to side of the river, pointing out animals to us, catching local fishes and making animal noises to find some more. On the hard wooden seats we sat quietly to improve our chances, and we were feeling lucky. At some point we were close to the riverbank again and the Herman motioned us to be quiet for the next bit as well. He peddles us a little bit closer, aimed his light at the bushes and started saying some things in Spanish. It were not words I could make out or understand. After what might have been a description or directions, he said something that did make sense: otorongo! It was the jaguar. We all sat up straight and tried to get a glance. The reflection of light in its eyes and the fact he was in an open spot made it easy to find him (Herman had been peddling us to the spot with perfect sight). The jaguar looked at us for a little while before starting to move around and start walking out of sight. We had not had the chance to get a picture, but we now did belong to the lucky ones to have ever found a jaguar in the wild. And all the while we felt as safe as we could be.
Other than these highlights it was very interesting just to be there. We had a god time hanging out with the staff (the guide from Iquitos, local guide, cooking lady and the driver), playing cards, dancing and generally having fun. We also got to see how the people lived. Cooking on a self-made wooden barbecue, washing (of every type) in the river, fishing with rod, harpoon or hands, making whatever you need from the forest with only the help of that one magical machete.
While it’s very tempting to stay here I do still plan on catching that plane back to the Netherlands. Departure from Lima is in less than a week from now on Friday local time and arrival in Amsterdam on Saturday.
PS. Again, picture will have to follow later.
Foto's bij verslag (13)
7 september 2014 11:21 | Door: Thomas
Superleuk stukje om te lezen, en wat een avontuur heb je beleefd. Gaaf hoor!
10 september 2014 15:52 | Door: Els
Wow, wat een avontuur! Echt één zijn met de natuur, dat zal weer wennen zijn als je terug bent! Ik had ook het geluk om in Brazilië (Pantanal) een jaguar te zien, die gidsen werden toen ook helemaal enthousiast omdat het niet vaak gebeurde.
Geniet nog even van Zuid-Amerika en alvast een goede reis terug!
12 september 2014 15:09 | Door: Ben
Echt wel avontuurlijk!
27 september 2014 00:25 | Door: MariTon
Wat leuk om te lezen allemaal...! Ook waarom je deze bijzondere avonturen zoekt. We genieten erg van elk verhaal. Bijna niet te geloven dat je op dit moment precies.... in het vliegtuig terug naar NL zit.
Wordt ff wennen. Wat een bijzondere herinneringen.
Welkom weer in NL, en we houden graag contact.
Abrazo uit Chili,