I reluctantly turned my flashlight off after my dad told me I was keeping him up, and was surrounded by darkness. The jungle came alive at night, and I was stuck right smack in the middle of it. I heard a buzzing near my head. A thin net hanging over my hammock was all that was separating hundreds of mosquitoes, some of which possibly carrying Malaria, and me. These mosquito nets work surprisingly well at night, however it would not protect me again any other… bigger Amazon creatures that might sneak up into our sleeping area at night. After all, we were in THEIR territory now.
I tried to fall asleep, but I kept getting jerked awake by noises. I heard the flapping of wings right above my head. I asked my sister to shine the light over me so I could see what it was, but she was sleeping. Then I heard a smack into the nearby pole and the flapping stopped… I guess that took care of that. I heard trees rustling sporadically. I tried to imagine all the possibilities of why the trees would be moving… the wind, a fruit falling, or a monkey. I wished I could see in the dark just this one night. Then I heard a splash in the Amazon River flowing right beside us. Maybe I didn’t want to see in the dark… I’m not sure I wanted to see what kind of creature could make that loud of a splash. It was too loud to be a fruit, too quiet to be a monkey, and too strange to be a human. My heart started pounding as the splash came again, sounding closer this time.
If only we hadn’t JUST sat around the edge of the dock and exchanged scary stories as we watched the moon come up. All I could think about at that moment, shivering in my hammock… was of one Brazilian folk story about a dolphin that would turn into a man with backwards feet. He would wait until someone who wasn’t familiar with the jungle to come wandering into it’s mysterious depth. Then, when you felt almost comfortable in the jungle, he would call out your name in a familiar voice. You would follow this voice, thinking it was someone you knew, deeper into the forest. This man would trick you with his backwards footprints, and you would end up going to opposite way to safety. Once you were beyond the point of anyone hearing you, he would take you.
As the splashing was coming closer, I could see in my head the backwards feet man crossing the river towards my hammock. Then I heard it. It was quiet at first, and almost sounded like a hiss… “Aaaaannniieee”. But then it started to get louder, and the voice sung my name in what sounded more like a whistle… “Aaaannniiieeee.” I closed my eyes tight and told myself I was NOT going to follow the voice no matter what. But the voice continued to get louder and louder, and now it was starting to resemble a snort. Wait, this wasn’t scary… this was just weird. I stood up in my hammock and then rolled my eyes as I realized the voice was just my dad snoring whimsically.
I finally lulled myself into a dreamless sleep that was constantly disturbed by sounds throughout the night until I was greeted by the dim light coming in through the trees when dawn finally broke. I stretched in my hammock, the mosquito net sticking to my sweaty skin, and took a deep breath as I took in the refreshing coolness of the morning air and the relaxing sounds of the water gurgling beside me. All this relaxation was quickly diminished once the hair curling sounds of the “Amazon Rooster” began. This "Amazon Rooster" wakes up the entirety of the jungle every morning, and is actually the common rainforest parrot. These parrots are so loud and annoying, that if I didn’t think it was so cool to be seeing them in the wild for the first time, I might have thrown my flip-flop at them. Their screech can be heard from miles away and it intensifies when more than one group together and “talk” to one another. The “talking” sounds as if a bunch of gossiping girls or witches laughing. Since there was no way I was going back to sleep after the parrots woke up, I made my way to the bathroom.
The dreaded journey to the bathrooms
In all honesty I had to use the bathroom ever since I first crawled in my hammock the night before. However, considering the intense journey to get to these porter potties, I was not about to search through my backpack, find my flashlight, and balance along the rotting beam to the wooden porter potty that consisted of a wooden seat with a hole in the middle that empties out to the river. The day before I had seen a giant spider crawl into the hole, so the risk of sitting on that monster in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep and too far away to hear my screams was too much for me.
I never thought I'd have to worry about getting splinters from a toilet
However, during the day, although still not very sanitary, I used the bathroom confident that no spiders would bit me since the wooden hole was now lit by the rising run. As the parrots continued to screech other animals were beginning to awaken. I could hear the trees stir as creatures began to travel across the jungle, hiding themselves from our campground. A strange looking bird perched close to the beam. It had a beak of a humming bird but would whistle in a way that sounded as if it was gurgling water. My dad woke up to this sound, and as he stumbled toward me he mumbled something about realizing that the asprin he had taken in the middle of the night turned out to be a Mydol. When the rest of the students started to awaken, we got ready for our first adventure of the day.
We were first taken out in two canoes, steered by two men that lived in wooden huts nearby our campground. Crawling into the canoes was difficult since any small movement would tip the canoe. I was grateful I was not in the same canoe as the two students suffering from arachnophobia in our group, for fear that if a spider were to jump in the canoe they would either jump out or tip the boat. Many spiders entered our canoe during that journey.
We coasted down the Amazon, dodging stray tree branches all the way, until we reached a fallen tree in the middle of the river. The canoes could not float over the logs with all our weight, so we each had to take our turn to stand on the log while the men pulled the canoes over. Lucy accidentally sat down on the log and found out the hard way just how fire ants attack when threatened. The backs of her legs viciously until she got up and brushed them off in one quick and desperate movement.
Pushing the canoe under the fallen tree
By the time we reached the third fallen tree we decided to turn our boats around and head back to the campground. When our canoes were tied back up on the dock, a little girl greeted us. Her father asked us if we wanted to see the process of making Acai, and before we could even answer he was halfway up a tree. I still have no idea how he got up that tree, considering it was well over 20 feet high. I tried to climb one nearby while he was cutting down the Acai branch. I wrapped my arms around it, swung my legs and hugged the trunk… and slowly slid on my butt and into the mud. I figured you have to have some extreme upper body strength to climb. Yet right as I said this, the little girl (around the age of eight) jump up and climbed to the very top and giggled as she slid all the way down again.
They gathering up the Acai seeds and put it through the processing machine to get the juice out, but while they were doing this something else caught my attention. I saw a huge turtle on its back in the sink. I thought this was really strange, and was wondering if it had died there. As I continued to stare suddenly the women of the house slammed a machetti down onto the turtle’s shell. I sat, horrified, yet unable to divert my eyes away as the women cut up the turtle into small pieces and cooked the meat in its own shell. As crazy as I thought this was, I guess it wasn’t much different from preparing fish or chicken.
Speaking of fish, let me just say right now how proud I am that I caught my first fish ever that same day. A man was holding a string over the edge of his boat, and I curiously walked over to see what he was doing. He handed me the string, which I figured out was a fishing line, and motioned for me to sit on the edge and wait until I feel a nibble. Well as soon as my hand wrapped around the wire I felt a nudge and I yanked on the wire. It wouldn’t move at all, so I figured whatever I had caught must have been huge! But when the guy saw me struggling with the fishing line to the point it started to cut into my hands, he laughed at me, jumped in the water, and pulled the hook out from the log it was stuck under. We stuck another shrimp on the hook and tried it again, only this time when I felt a nudge I wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions. The guy helped me pull up the fishing wire once again, and this time a little catfish came up with it!
As night started to come the entire family of the little girl came out to hang out with us. They played music on their little TV and the little kids danced until we were all worn out and ready for bed. As our time in the interior was coming to an end, I realized that was one of the coolest experiences I have had in my life. And although I would love to do it again, I don’t think I could stay for longer than we did. When you think of how cool it would be to live in the rainforest, you never consider how constantly hot and sweaty you are during the day and how dirty you get from daily activities in the middle of the jungle. I think my dad would agree, he could live without never again accidentally taking a Mydol. He was very sensitive that night.