After Colombia flew by I was now so close to the end of my trip. I’ve seen many things in many places, but one thing I was missing was the jungle. The Amazon. I’ve had ample opportunity to see it in the countries I’ve been to but I kept putting it off so I could see it in Brazil. Why? As a kid I never thought the day would come that I get to make such a decision, but the kid would have been disappointed if I’d seen it somewhere else. I’ve been told so many times it’s cheaper and easier to go in Bolivia or Peru, that Manaus is stupidly hard to get to. To me the Amazon is all about Brazil. You think of Brazil, and you think of Rio, you think of football, you think of the Amazon. I was seeing it here.
I don’t think many others were joining me in flying from Santa Marta on the north coast of Colombia to Manaus in the heart of the jungle. I had to fly to Bogota, say farewell to Emma, and from there down to Leticia. At the end of my last post I said I’d walk into Brazil but what actually happened was slightly more elaborate than this. I had a very strange half hour which involved being ferried back and forth over the border between Matt Le Tissier on the Colombian side and Tabatinga on the Brazilian. All amidst confusion over exit stamps, Colombian pesos, Brazilian reals and broken communication with the taxi driver. My new tropical surroundings threw up mass downpours just to add to the chaos. I think the whole situation nicely summed up the craziness of where I’d taken myself in the world, and where I was about to go. From Tabatinga I made it to Manaus.
Lots of places have surprised me while I’ve been here and Manaus was another. You’d never guess it’s a mentally remote city in the middle of nowhere, it was just like any other big South American city, two million live here. It’s also home to an absolutely incredible theatre. On the way into downtown Manaus I saw the stadium England lost to Italy in during the last World Cup, the game where Raheem Sterling announced himself on the world stage with one of the great World Cup goals, only it didn’t go in and the side netting had taken us all for fools. I watched that game with my mates in Sheffield, and while I wasn’t hugging strangers after we thought Sterling had given us a Michael Owen moment, I thought to myself ‘that would be a cool place to go someday’.
From Manaus I embarked on my last adventure. Heading into the jungle with me was a lovely American couple from Hawaii and a gigantic Brazilian girl. On the boat in we saw the meeting of the waters, where the rivers Amazon and Negro come together. The rivers are in the same body of water but they don’t mix. They flow at different speeds, they have different viscosities, different acidities, other different science things. What was striking was they were essentially completely different colours, the Amazon is brown and the Negro is black. It’s a phenomenon that can be seen from space, and it only really dawned on me how unbelievable it was after I’d seen it. I put my hand in as we crossed from the Negro to the Amazon and the water became colder. The A Level geographer in me was taking note of everything. What a case study this would have made.
I spent three days in the jungle and did an array of cool stuff on the water and on land. I saw monkeys, sloths, pink dolphins, frogs, tarantulas, caimans and a two metre anaconda. I caught two piranhas. The best part, with an element of danger, was trekking through the rainforest on foot. A bite off a bullet ant is the most painful bite off of any creature in the world. If the shells of falling Brazil nuts hit you on the head you will no longer have a head. Slip near a spiked tree and the spikes will impale you. Poisonous snakes. Poisonous frogs. Jaguars. Of course in the three hours we spent in there, the event of any of these causing serious danger was unlikely. Though that’s just it, unlikely, not impossible.
My local guide, would you believe it, was called Nigel. Nigel. It’s not exactly a Brazilian name, it’s a dying name, and a Nigel had popped up in the middle of the Amazon, I couldn’t get my head around it. Nigel lead the way. In polar opposite fashion to his name, he was incredibly cool, ploughing through the jungle wearing his camo gear, chopping the way with machete in hand. I’ve never seen a more obvious oxymoron. A cool character by name of Nigel. I even admired his voice. He somehow managed to make a story about once getting stung by a scorpion on his manhood sound cool, but better than that he passed on so much of his knowledge of the rainforest to us. All I saw was a shitload of trees, but Nigel explained the medicinal qualities so many of them have. He even toyed with a bullet ant on the end of his machete, and rubbed a less dangerous type of ant into his skin as natural mosquito repellent. I was treated to a masterclass in how to survive in the jungle.
There was another moment with Nigel that I won’t forget any time soon. As darkness fell one evening we went out in the boat on the river to look for caimans. Caimans for anyone unsure are like alligators. Nigel had the coolest scar I’ve ever seen on his hand. He’d once been bitten by a caiman. “Two metres is my limit now,” he said. Nice to know there’s a limit Nige, I thought. By this he was referring to jumping on them. It turned out Nigel was an absolutely crazy bastard. When it looked like disappointment that we wouldn’t find any, he incredibly dipped his hand in the water and pulled out this tiny alligator, probably a couple of feet in size. I’m from Sheffield in England though, this was not a tiny wild animal. “Ok, hold here, and here.” Suddenly Nigel had given me an alligator to hold, this man was insane. It was small but still had the teeth to rip some of my flesh off. “Ok, don’t drop it.” It’s worth noting it was pitch black and the only light we had was Nigel’s torch. He had now turned round to search for more caimans. I was still holding this thing but now in the darkness I couldn’t see it, mildly petrified to say the least. Though big Nige shortly dived in and pulled out a caiman twice the size and as he shone his light back on the one I was still clutching to, the last five minutes I’d shuddered through with it in my grasp now seemed tame in comparison.
I also admired Nigel for his compassion he showed to the local people who lived in the area. It appears to be an incredibly tough life, but a simple life. Everyone seems to look out for each other in the communities on the river, and it really made me realise how ridiculous some of the things are that I complain about. I bemoan the quality of wifi in South America, but here were people relying on the fruits of the forest and the fish of the river to be able to eat. This was my lasting impression of the area, and it will stay with me for a long time. I thanked Nigel for an incredible few days as I left slightly emotional, of all the places I’ve been to in South America only Machu Picchu was able to make me feel like this.
With that I returned to Manaus, and then I flew down to Rio. Back to the start, I couldn’t believe I’d come full circle in the five months I’ve been away. From the special feelings that places in Peru or Brazil have given me, to sleeping in shitholes in Bolivia and Paraguay, the experience has been quite obviously unforgettable. I’ve met plenty of good people along the way too. When I left my family in Manchester airport back in January my legs were trembling a little, it felt like a big thing I was taking on, but now I’m laughing thinking back to that. What was I nervous about? It’s been amazing.
I haven’t become a spiritual earthling. I’m not going to tell you I was blind but now I see. Though I will say this. The time I’ve spent seeing a part of the world that I’ve been fascinated by for so long has certainly made things in my head appear more clear. When I was 13 I lost my dad. It is undoubtedly the standout event to have the most impact on my life and the following years have been blurred to me. I’ve never really been able to properly make sense of them, or why I could be painfully introverted, or why I settled to do things deemed normal, or why it felt uncomfortable to discuss my dad, or why football seemed to be the only escape. Having spent the time in my own company to reflect while seeing some amazing stuff along the way I can see it’s changed. I can make sense of these things. I achieved dreams by going to Machu Picchu and seeing the Amazon in Brazil. Without pouring my heart out entirely, I don’t think this would have happened had I continued to stumble through the monotony of life as a normal 22-year-old living in the north of England. For a bad decision maker, this one wasn’t so bad.
Travelling, try it. To anybody actually still reading the blog, thanks.