Let me start by saying I hate snakes. In fact, I am not sure that hate is a strong enough word for something that makes my skin crawl, my hands sweat and my pulse race. I blame my Dad for this phobia, as when I was about 12 years old he insisted on allowing a Moroccan snake charmer to drape a horrible long, brown, heavy snake around my shoulders, for the sole purpose of getting a photo! I was terrified and the fear has stayed with me ever since.
So as you can imagine, I was more than a little nervous as a sat in a motorised canoe travelling up the Rio Napo and into the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador. As my fellow travellers enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the 2 hour journey, I started to question what on earth I was thinking when I booked this. However, I was fascinated by the Amazon Jungle, sometimes described as the “lungs of our planet”, and I wanted to go there and see this incredible rainforest for myself.
We passed a few lodges along the way, I tried to ignore the fact that one was called Anaconda Lodge, but mostly all we could see were trees and the river and its tributaries. Eventually we arrived at our Lodge, it was basic but clean and most importantly there were no snakes hiding in the room – trust me I checked thoroughly. Shortly after arriving we were introduced to our guide for the duration of our trip, his name was Fausto and he had grown up in one of the local villages and was going to be showing us around and teaching us about life in the Amazon.
Our first guided walk with Fausto was an incredible experience. After putting on our Wellington boots we headed off on smaller canoes to the starting point for our walk. The walk was to be 4 hours long and I was quite nervous, the canopy of trees was so thick I was concerned about what could be lurking there.
Fausto was a quiet man, but we quickly learned that unlike us he had a sixth sense for the jungle. He would point out animals and bird life that had been meters from us but we hadn’t noticed. He poked around in little crevices and brought out all sorts of weird and wonderful insects, most of which I had never seen before. After about 1 hour with him, I trusted him completely, when he said a creature was safe to touch, or a seed or berry was safe to eat, I didn’t question him.
He showed us which plants the locals used to cook with, introduced us to the pungent taste of jungle garlic and showed us which plants they used as medicine. On one occasion he made a paste in his hands and told each of us to put a little on our lip, a few minutes later and I had a very numb lip. This was the natural anaesthetic used by the locals to pull teeth.
The whole experience was amazing, like being in the jungle with the Ecuadorian equivalent of Bear Grylls. I found myself hanging on his every word. At one point he poked a stick into a hole and it came our covered in ants, he told us local kids went crazy for these ants and called them jungle candy, he then proceeded to eat them. If anyone else had asked me to taste live ants, I would have told them where to go, but when Fausto asked I thought why not. Honestly, there weren’t bad, the ants had a lemon tangy taste, a little like the popular Haribo sweets Tangfantastics.
The walk itself was not tough, but it was warm and as we got deeper into the jungle it seemed that the trees got larger. We came to the largest tree I have ever seen in my life, the 14 people in our group holding hands could not surround this tree. It was here where Fausto pointed out my biggest fear. High in the trees above our heads was a snake enjoying a lazy afternoon snooze. I am not going to lie and say my experience in the jungle had changed me and that I suddenly felt enlightened and had a rich understanding for every creature and its purpose here on our planet. That was certainly not the case, my pulse started racing and my hands started sweating. However, did it ruin my experience? – definitely not. After a few minutes I was hanging on Faustos every word again and keen to learn all about the seeds that the local women ground down to make lipsticks and dye for clothes.
The time I spent in the Amazon jungle is still one of my favourite highlights from my whole 6 months travelling in South America. The rest of my days in the jungle were spent swimming in waterfalls, visiting an animal rescue centre and drinking the local brew in an indigenous village, but the walk with Fausto was the thing I remember the most. It was fascinating and I would love to go back to learn more about this incredible place. Where else on land can you discover a place so unexplored that scientists are still finding new species there?
Jac visited the Amazon Jungle on one of Tucan Travel’s Budget Expeditions in South America.
About the Author: Jac is Sales & Marketing Manager for Tucan Travel. She has travelled extensively on Group Tours and independently to South and Central America, Asia, Australia and Africa. You can find her on Google+ or read her other contributions here.