Night time we negotiate through the jungle floor, the guidance of the dappled moonlight through the canopy the night before, now replaced by our makeshift ‘explorer torches’. In an act of manliness, Herman split some bamboo in quarters at one end and stretched them across an old tuna can which he tied and mounted with some twine. Dousing some oily torn cloth in fuel and placing it in the can, his explorer torch was assembled. Not to be outdone I hurried to make one of my own and this night, guided by the 10 foot light cast from the flames of our Indiana Jones style torch, we ventured into the Amazon. Our mission was simple, the local tribe had seen some large Anaconda and Herman and I hadn’t, so we were about to rectify that. We left the village in a line, one torch at the front and one at the back, the middle in almost complete darkness but for the sparing light from the moon and a couple of inadequate dimly lit head torches. It was romantic in a dangerous first explorer sort of way. The moist leafy floor crunches underfoot as we negotiate vines, fallen branches and the dense foliage, traversing intermittently onto what seemed to be a path from what certainly couldn’t have been. The vegetative smell of damp leaves and rotting wood.
The group walk silently, their footfall the only sound we add to the sounds of the jungle mammals, birds and insects. The jungle kneading me as we walked, habituating to us from an initial shyness, now insects and birds go about their business around us and sometime on us.
After an hour of trekking we encountered our first challenge. A cliff, maybe 15 to 20 metres above a rushing river. The foliage so dense that a small dirt path barely a foot wide from the cliff was the only route through. Some of the group voiced their opinions that this path was far too risky but our local seemed unperturbed and Herman and I urged us forward. The group left with no real option but to advance, we held hands, backs to the scrub, eyes diligently sizing our next step in the darkness and shuffled sideways along the ledge to the next clearing. The odd slipping of a foothold with the associated heart skip the only mishap that did more to add to the realness of the adventure. We make our way to a stream, our local “guide” commented that it was most likely we would see big anaconda here but we had to get to the other side. The nimble footed locals had walked across and back the log that stretched across the fifteen meters of water. I was to be the first gringo to attempt the crossing.
I have never been the most coordinated guy in the room and already had serious doubt I would make it across the precariously thin “bridge”. My first step, shaky, the mud caked on the sole of my shoes compromising the necessary traction required to balance. I place it down and immediately slip off the side of the log and into the mud.
“What are you doing?” Herman shouts from behind.
I pull my wet muddy leg from the muddy quagmire and attempt to place it on the log. Again it slips off. I step back deciding barefoot is the only way I am going to get across this log. I toss my shoes on the bank and call out to Herman to throw them to me when I get to the other side. Again I step onto the log, uncertain. My toes curled, gripping at the smooth cool wood. So far so good, I slowly move my way to the middle of the log, wobbling, arms out. I hold my position. Still myself and look down into the dark, possibly anaconda filled, waters a metre below. One more step, an overbalance and I was off the log and into the water. What usually would have been a hilarious scene now sent panic through the group. Except for Herman who battled his explorer torch and camera whilst heaving with laughter. My feet make the bottom and I stand in waist deep water, quickly assessing my options and for the first time thankful I could not see an anaconda. I push for the far bank quickly, sloshing through the water and clambering up the bank through the darkness and flashes from Herman’s camera. The group are relieved and I sit back in the dirt, panting, adrenaline pumping.
“Herman, can you make yourself useful and throw me my shoes” I ask quite amused he thought only to immortalise the moment rather than attempt to help me.
Herman throws my shoes but predicably they fall a metre short of the bank sending me scurrying back into the water after them, knowing Herman has a better arm than that.
Looking back across the water I see Herman’s hulking frame carrying the explorer torch pushing through the team and stepping onto the log to be next to cross. Within seconds he was across the log without so much as a sway. He jumps off near me, his grin evident in the flickering light. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to. He just patted my back and grinned as I put back on my muddy shoes, both of us knowing that we would probably have to come back this way and cross the bridge again.