Under Fire

Night time, two kilometres south of the middle of the Amazon and we again set out to explore. We were about an hour and a half out of camp when I hear Herman howling profanities at the top of his voice. I turned and called out “what the fucks the matter Herman?”

“I’ve been fucking bitten by something”

I race back and inspect Herman in the torch light. He has a couple of marks on his chest and some on his arm. I get anyone with a head torch to start scouring the nearby jungle floor for the culprit as Herman and I attempt to diagnose his bite marks.

“Did you see a snake? A spider?”

“I didn’t see anything mate but it hurts like a bitch. I know one thing though, there are a lot of nasty fucking things out here in this jungle.”

I inspect the marks on Herman and could visibly see the venom from whatever bit him moving across his chest and up his arm.

“We have to get you back to camp, keep calm mate, I’ll hold your arm above your head to try and slow down the venom and lets move”

And so we did, for an hour and a half we walked, me holding Herman’s arm in the air, back to the campsite. Animal shrieks and the beating of insect wings keeping time with our dramatic march back. We sat Herman down next to the fire, he was a tough guy but was obviously in a lot of pain. The local guys gathered around, the first proclaiming the wounds were a snake bite which didn’t make sense since Herman hadn’t seen a snake and the bite marks while both in pairs were not the same distance apart. I didn’t know what a snake bite looked like but we weren’t buying the snake bite scenario. The next of the local Indians supported his mate and my stomach dropped. We were so far from anywhere and without knowing what snake it was my mate’s life held perilously in the balance.

“What kind of snake?” I asked urgently, but he couldn’t tell. Our situation seemed helpless given the broken English, mime and broken Spanish we were trying to communicate through. I look over at Herman, he was sweating and grimacing in pain.

“What’s he saying Robbo?” Herman asks with much more presence of mind than I would have.

“He doesn’t know” I said back, half lying. I turned back.

“Are you sure this is snake? Serpiente? Not spider?”

He was sure that it wasn’t a spider because if it was a spider he said then the fangs would be still in wound. I sat down with Herman.

“These guys don’t know what they are talking about, they say they are snake bites but I can’t see how they could be…… they don’t look like they could be. They say that if it was a spider the fangs would be stuck in you because spiders lose their fangs when they bite?”

“What? Well that’s bullshit” Herman grimaced

“I know right? Have you ever heard of that?”

“Never bru”

“Right, what do you want to do? The way I see it, we could put you into a boat and start making our way out of this jungle. That might be pretty dangerous at night and it might be morning before we get you to some sort of civilization?”

“No, I want someone to tell me what the fuck bit me.”

I get up again and send the local guys off to find a medicine man or witch doctor or someone that can help tell us what bit Herman. I sit back down with him and feel his pulse and forehead.
“What the fuck are you doing Robbo?” he shrugs me away
“Just checking your vital signs”
“What for? Do you even know what you are doing?”

“Well I know you feel hot”

“Well that’s because I’m sitting next to the fire dickhead”

Almost an hour later one of the guys came back with someone that knows what he is talking about apparently.

“Yes, this is ant”

“Herman recoils, “There is no way this was a fucking ant bite”

“Yes, fire ant” he responds going on to tell us that he has seen grown men crying from one bite on the hand. Each bite feeling like being shot. Juan speaks with him confirming the fire ant is also known as the bullet ant because its bite feels like a gunshot wound.

The medicine man nods his head matter-of-factly and stands up. “You ok tomorrow.”

I take one look at Herman and burst into hysterics, “an ant bite….. all this for an ant bite.”

Herman now in a mix of relief and dread that this event will be brought up in every backpackers we visit for decades. Every time I see an ant, every time a snake or a spider is referred to, every time South America is mentioned.

Tonight though I give the bloke a break, he was obviously still in a lot of pain and despite recent revelations I was still concerned the diagnosis given by our bush doctors was incorrect. Tonight we sit around the campfire until the pain starts to subside. Tomorrow is another story.

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