“Now this is the law of the jungle – as old and as true as the sky
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.”
~ Rudyard Kipling, The Second Jungle Book.
I had always dreamed of the jungle – the real jungle – ever since I was a wee lad of about 10 absorbed in the adventures of Tintin. Shortly after, I wrote my first poem entitled The Jungle. This jungle, the place I had always felt so curious about, was for me the Amazon jungle in South America. Fast forward years later and I found myself wandering through its steamy corridors…
I was in the tropical town of Rurrenabaque in north-west Bolivia, sniffing for ways to access one of the most southern parts of the Amazon rainforest. “You’re crazy Andy”, a few of the locals told me. However, not only did I convince a guide to take me there, I convinced a fellow traveller, Katy, to join me.
Madidi National Park
Touted as the most biologically diverse place on earth, Madidi National Park is a primordial wonderland teeming with rare lifeforms that prowl, slither and drop amidst dark tunnels of forest. Our guide, Hairo, told me he takes roughly 20 groups a year through Madidi, and they are all scientists. This time, however, he was to take two travellers and a cook named Waldo, a placid, portly chap who Hairo cheekily referred to as “gordo” (fat in Spanish).
Beginning our journey along the Beni River, we were dropped off on a remote bank (also our point of departure in a week’s time) after a few hours’ travel. Carrying our food on our back, we followed our machete wielding guide through several kilometres of thick foliage before stopping for lunch. Here our mood was high.
I wandered a mere 25 metres from our lunch spot, sat silently and listened. I may as well have been miles from my comrades, the jungle was that dense. Suddenly, an auburn haze tore across the clearing, only to halt metres in front of me. It was a howler monkey, who hadn’t yet noticed me. I made the slightest movement and its head snapped towards me. Then, with near sonic speed, it flew across the forest floor and was gone.
Absorbed in this amazing experience, I followed after my party, now walking at the rear. Only a few minutes later an iridescent orange snake, as thick as sealed salami and about four metres long, sliced through the forest, slid across my feet and continued into the dense foliage. This place, as I was discovering, was incredibly wild.
Later that night we made our first camp, and it was here that I saw how adept Hairo was with a machete. With deft strokes he hacked into the surrounding foliage and sculpted our campsite, creating supports for our mosquito nets which were to hang several feet above ground due to the creatures, namely frogs and snails, which were almost as large as soccer balls.
Sitting around the campfire that night, all was pitch-black, save for a few feet around us. Then came the noise – oooo-oooo-oooo-prrrrrrrr. Then again. “Shhh”, said Hairo. “Jaguar”. This lean spotted hunter was circling us, as the sound crept slowly around the outside of our fire. I’m sure it was more curious than anything else. Of course Katy and I sat wide-eyed in amazement.
The following morning we decamped and pretty soon we were saturated with sweat. Each time we stopped to rest, my shirt became covered in a blanket of flies and bees. We were in Madidi’s world now, and we had no choice but to surrender – as Kipling had said – to its law. Fighting it would just end in madness, perhaps even death.
Some days were met with frowns as we settled into a rhythm, drinking the river water flavoured with purification tablets and checking ourselves for ticks, of which I had no less than 30 at the end of each day. Then, suddenly my spirits would soar as the forest came alive. Spotting a pack of wild boars I bounded after them with my camera gear. I missed capturing the action but there was a thrill in the chase.
To the river
Our packs now becoming considerably lighter, we soon came to a river, which we stumbled across onto a small island. Here Hairo swiftly lopped off a bunch of thick trees and we helped skin them, using the stringy husk to bind the logs and make a raft.
Boarding with our packs, we now drifted down river towards our pickup. Marvelling at the park’s endemic birdlife, travelling on our home-made raft and absorbing the exotic wonders of this strange world was an incredible experience. I had been indelibly marked by Madidi National Park, in ways not yet realised.
Weeks after the trek, I collapsed in La Paz, as my leg had blown up considerably. It wasn’t until sometime after my visit to La Paz hospital (pictured below) that a savvy traveller told me I had a botfly maggot living in my leg. I had worn long cords tucked into my socks through Madidi in anticipation of such malice, which achieved very little. I had to suffocate this worm and pull it out, which I did in an alley behind a café in Cuzco.
A small price to pay for my journey into the Amazon.
What’s been the place you’ve always dreamed of? Did you get there?