The two of us were sitting so still. Our eyes rendered useless, completely unable to visualize anything through the blackness. The knowledge of unseen spiders crawling on us persuaded us to pierce the stillness by securing our necklines and tucking in our shirts. We were in the jungle, baby! Although I allowed my mind to run wild as often as possible, safety was never a concern. Luckily for us, we were in the care of native Peruvian guides who had generational knowledge of the jungle combined with an uncanny knack for calmly navigating spur-of-the moment adventure (which the Amazon freely gifts), while preserving edge-of-your seat excitement, as well as promoting sense of safety and security all-the-while.
It was pitch dark, six p.m., and we were motioned to board the canoes. Armondo and Abner, the two of our four guides who were natives from the small village of Flor de Punga reached out their hands presenting us with our first challenge. My friend was skeptical, but she relied on my good sense of judgment to calm her. The riverbank was a foot deep with thick muck and the canoes did not look stable for entry. I went first.
One after the other our hands met the hands of our guides and we stepped up and onto the slippery hand carved gunnel of the canoe. What do you imagine happened? Yes, it tipped. Not all the way--but just enough to give us a good scare, and the guys a deep laugh. What saved us from falling was also the one thing that eased our minds through the whole journey. It was the ability of our boys! They knew to step a little this way, or a little that way to evenly distribute weight and keep the canoe and its much-needed cargo dry.
Because of their urgency to get out on the water, and the fact that neither of us spoke Spanish, we had no idea that we were so soon embarking on a journey to find where the big caiman alligators hang. While navigating a narrow tributary, miles from the Amazon River itself, the world became very surreal. This was further accentuated by something that I was unable to fathom even when I saw it. A fire. Way up high in a tree. It pierced the blackness as we rounded a curve that carved the dense jungle floor. It was later explained that it was a killer bees hive, which the Indians in the canoe ahead had shot with a flaming arrow for our protection. I think they also did it for mere shock value.
A little further along we were quickly quieted, as one of the area’s most poisonous snakes was spotted stretched out on a branch that would soon be over our head. The canoe was slowed, a rifle drawn, and as standing balance was obtained, a single shot, which killed the snake, echoed, scattering monkeys and resting birds in all directions. The excitement was to continue, although if it had ended here, I would have considered it a good night.
No sooner had the snake episode finished (we would collect it on the return trip, as it was to become a belt) we approached a lake. At this point we witnessed our guides, all four of them, communicating with each other, from canoe to canoe, with what sounded like calls of bugs. The next sounds we heard were the guttural calls of the hunters themselves, then the return bellows of what sounded like monsters of various sizes. Having the information needed as to where the big ones were, the guides were satisfied and we began back to camp.
Although these guys were efficient, we hadn’t moved very far when we heard Armondo and Abner summoning us to come quickly to their canoe. Moments later, after edging up to their canoe, via one flashlight on Armando’s head, and one on Juans we saw that Armondo and Abner were holding a ten-or-so foot anaconda! Green! and straight from the water! This snake was not happy being held.
Swiftly, our boys subdued the serpent. Lucio, our translator, reassured us in English that this was common. He told us not to be afraid. Abner restrained the muscular hunter by griping it behind its head; it coiled onto the floor of our canoe, inches from our feet, and he held it for the hour-long trip back to our camp. It had been an exhausting day day, and both of us, like children after a long day at the beach, were unable to keep our eyes open. The snake, of course, remained in the forefront of both of our minds. We hoped, and prayed that our Indian friend who was holding it would not fall asleep also. Why worry? These guys have proven themselves over and over to be competent in their skill of providing true Amazon Jungle Adventure. So, I tell myself, “Shhh…,” and I let my mind wander.