Day #11,052: I thought today would be tame.
Of all our days spent in the Amazon, this final full one suggested a general easing back into civility.
But I probably should have known that the Amazon, like travel in general, is whatever you make of it, and I don’t like ‘easing back’ into anything.
Our morning’s activity- aside from exotic juice guzzling at breakfast- was a jungle hike.
As you may or may not remember, Mr. M & I have done some fairly hairy jungle hiking before. As in machete-wielding, make-a-path-as-we-go, leeches everywhere, Serious Jungle Hiking. We were bordering on obnoxiously confident that we’d be able to handle whatever the Amazon had to throw at us.
Although we could’ve used a good putting in place, the jungle hike honestly did turn out to be more of a walk. Because there are so many ground snakes in the Amazon- most of which are venomous- it’s necessary to follow a well-trodden trail. Mr. M, with his healthy fear of snakes in tow, was more than happy to oblige.
As we meandered along, our guide Robelan stopped to point out various medicinal plants of the Amazon: the fake coffee plant from which quinine is derived for tonic water and anti-malarial uses… a tree whose shaved bark is used as an anti-coagulant… various other barks steeped in tea and used to cure any and every malaise you can think of (impotence, emphysema, ‘gynecological problems,’ whatever that means). It was an amazing reminder of the wealth of knowledge springing from the Amazonian rainforest and into the ‘civilized world’ every day.
Halfway through the hike Robelan gathered us around a small hole in the spongy earth. He cautioned us not to scream or run- which of course made me want to do nothing but scream and run. Robelan stuck a thin blade of grass inside the hole, and out popped… a giant hairy spider.
Not a tarantula, he said quickly… a ‘hairy spider.’ Seeing as it was huge with legs the size of my fingers, I can’t say I cared about any possible distinction.
I’m really not an insect person. And I’m guessing the hairy spider really isn’t a ‘people spider,’ so we’re probably even.
As we continued on, Robelan showed us small, marble-sized nuts filled with coconut-like meat and the larvae of fireflies! The insects lay their eggs in a hole, and the larvae eat the coconut meat as they develop into fireflies and eventually break their way out. He told us how the local people eat the grubs as a snack and went to work hacking a few of these little grubs out of their nutshell.
“Who’s in? Who’s going to eat?” He asked casually.
Eww. Just… ew. When did my life turn into an episode of Fear Factor? But dammit. Not eating a grub is one of those moments you regret on your deathbed, right? Someone please tell me I’m right because I panicked about having a grub-related Life Regret and said:
“Umm… okay. Yes. I’ll do it.”
Mr. M thought I was crazy, mostly because he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of eventually kissing the mouth that was about to be filled with juicy larvae.
The fat white grubs wriggled around on the ground as Robelan dug out more. Nausea. This is the girl who refuses even to step on insects that are too big for fear of ‘squirting’ under my shoe. Then Robelan fashioned a wooden skewer with his knife, started a mini fire using local kindling and a flint rock (#badass), and proceeded to roast a grub shish kebab.
It was buttery… nutty… kind of bacon flavored… honestly, if I didn’t mind the meat taste, it would have tasted pretty fantastic.
I surprise-attack-frenched Mr. M with my grubby mouth. Because that’s what you get when you’re weak sauce and won’t eat bugs in the Amazon.
That afternoon, we were off on a much-anticipated trip to see the famous pink river dolphins of the Amazon. I remember seeing that short-lived show on the Travel Channel, 1000 Places To See Before You Die, and watching the couple in question jumping- albeit hesitantly- into a tea colored river to have toothed pink dolphins tug at fish held in their hands. I remember thinking it was pretty balls-out… and also that I really wanted to do it.
Well today was the day, and we motored upriver to Novo Airao for a chance to see the pink dolphins as they came into the area for a taste of fish doled out by a local rehab center. Our guide Leandro told us we were allowed to touch the dolphins as they came up to the dock (delighted squeal!!).
He also calmly instructed us not to kick the dolphins, which immediately gave me a bout of inappropriate giggles- what imbecile kicks a dolphin on their visit to the Amazon??
Leandro offered us the chance to get in the water with them- although he emphasized that it was NOT recommended, as the heavily toothed dolphins often mistook hands for fish, and there had been a few… incidents… in the past. Namely where a girl’s finger was nearly bitten clean off.
Even after hearing that, one of our fellow (stupid and slightly obnoxious) tour mates decided he wanted to get in and pet them. Fine. But then he started waving his hands around to get the dolphins’ attention. Listen, douche, did you not just hear the bitten-clean-off story? Leandro and the girl who worked at the dolphin sanctuary kept offering warnings (“Keep your hands up! Danny likes to bite!”) and looked like um, this is why we tell you jerk-offs not to kick the dolphins.
Leandro did say that if I was very still, I could put my feet into the water and allow them to come to me. Gulp. But if anyone was going to get bitten by a dolphin, it was the dumbass thrashing about in the water, not me.
So in went my feet. And around came a pink dolphin, his toothy snout nudging my verrrry still feet. Ohmygoodness. I was petrified. I desperately wanted to fold and pull my foot out but couldn’t move for fear of sending off ‘fish signals.’
So I sat there, frozen, and let the two dolphins- including Danny, the known biter, who apparently got a taste for human flesh a few weeks ago- come up and sniff and visit.
Terrifying, and, as most terrifying things are, SO worth it.
The boat ride back to the lodge was bittersweet. Mr. M & I were off to Rio de Janeiro the following day, and this would be our final sunset over the inky Rio Negro.
I had a nagging feeling: I wanted to swim in the Rio Negro. It just seemed wrong… sane, but somehow wrong… to come this far into the Amazon and NOT get into that tea-colored water. Yes, yes, the same tea-colored water where we went piranha fishing and searching for caiman and anaconda… but still. (I promise this isn’t as stupid as it sounds- the staff kept telling us it was fine to go for a swim.)
I hate the feeling of regret. If there’s a tiny bit of any part of you that wonders if it should be done, a huge part of you will regret not doing it later. So on went my rattiest suit (the water stains your clothes like tea), and as the sun set over the Amazon, in I went.
“You have ONE shot, Mr. M. I’m going in and leaping out before piranhas eat my toes… GET A PICTURE.”
Balls out. And bonus: I still have all ten toes.
Explore the next day’s adventures hitching a ride out to giant lilypads on the Amazon River.
You Can Do It, Too!
Tips & Tricks: If you’re headed into the jungle, be sure to bring at least one long-sleeved shirt and one pair of long pants to protect yourself from the seeming gauntlet of stinging, biting, itch-inducing plants waiting to attack.
Remember: No to drugs. Yes to grubs.