The Amazon jungle has an abundance of plant and wildlife with one of the most bio-diverse climates in the world. That’s what drew me deep into the jungle for a few days, and that’s where I foolishly faced off with a piranha and survived unscathed.
After a two hour bus ride and three hour boat ride deep into the heart of the jungle, I climbed some wooden steps, donned some rain boots, and hiked about thirty minutes to the eco-lodge I would stay at for the next couple nights.
The lodge had no electricity or hot water, and my room only had three walls, that means one wall was just open to the jungle. My bed was two feet from the jungle, and I could see monkeys, capybara, anteaters, and more through the mosquito net that neatly hung around my bed. There were probably a lot more animals, but it takes a keen trained eye to spot them as they camouflage well. I’m sure they saw me though.
That night I took a guided walk. The Amazon is full of animals and the guides there say you “have luck” if you get to see one, including the dangerous ones. I had lots of luck that night seeing some of the largest spiders I have ever seen that were nearly as large as a dinner plate, some caiman, and a green boa constrictor mid-hunt.
That night I fell asleep to the cacophonous serenade of the jungle. See the jungle becomes alive at night, their version of Las Vegas or New York, but with animals and insects. There are loads of bugs and insects in the jungle and they all must be taking steroids or something, because they’re all huge.
I wasn’t asleep for long, because a couple hours later I needed to go to the bathroom. That was a process wrought with some terror. Remember my room had one side completely exposed to the jungle and I only had a candle that lit about half an arm’s length around me, who knew what could be lurking in the darkness. Climbing out from under my mosquito net my feet connected to the floor with a squish; I stepped on one of the many bugs the jungle produces. The bathroom contained tons of frogs, frogs that could jump more than six feet (183 cm), and, while normally not scary, add darkness, and anything moving in your periphery is likely to make you jump.
The next day I stowed a roll from breakfast in my bag, and took off into the jungle with a guide and a small group. The jungle is so green and full of healing plants. It truly is magnificent. The canopy of trees only permits small slivers of light through, and you only get small glimpses of the sky above. Upon climbing an observation tower, I got to see what only the birds do, and probably our satellites, the top of the rainforest canopy stretching out further than I can see.
The jungle can be a harsh place to survive if you lack survival skills like me. Finding water, besting mosquitos carrying deadly diseases, not eating poisonous plants, and avoiding dangerous animals to name a few. The Amazon jungle is full of dangerous creatures: the fearsome and elusive jaquar, the massive anaconda, the venomous pit vipers, the colorful poison dart frog, the vampire bat, the occasional man-eating bull shark, the snapping caimon, the electric eel, the nickle-sized bullet ants, and more.
Finally in our day exploration, we came upon a lake. We scooped out water from some row boats, because that’s what happens in a rainforest, it rains, and water pools wherever it can. Then we pushed off into the water that likely housed an array of freshwater fish, anacondas, and piranhas. Birds and monkeys looked upon us from the trees that lined the perimeter of the lake.
A couple of us pulled out the rolls we snagged at breakfast, tore off small pieces, and chucked them into the water. Immediately, the small morsel of bread was devoured by piranhas. Several would attack the bread, with water splashing, fish tales swiping, and teeth baring. It was at this point I realized this lake was teeming with piranhas.
Piranhas can tear the flesh off bones in a matter of seconds. They live in groups for protection from predators. When the guide asked, “Does anyone want to put their hand in the water,” most people responded “No,” I asked, “What would happen?” The guide said, “Nothing. They won’t attack you.” Piranhas, while they have been known to attack humans in rare circumstances, generally are scavengers who feed off dead or dying animals. Attacks on humans or other live animals happens when food is scarce, like in the dry season, and is rarely fatal usually only leaving some cuts on the hands and feet.
But still, they immediately devoured a piece of bread, which to me, could be easily confused with a finger or hand. Despite my trepidation, one of my Peruvian guides and I made eye contact, hovered our hand outside the boat over the water, dipped our hand in for five seconds or so, and then removed them, untouched. That’s when I realized I was holding my breath, so I took a much needed breath of air.
Moral of the story, “When in the Amazon, do as the Amazonians do.” Or don’t, because seriously, you just don’t have the skills they do.
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“There is a fear that keeps you living and a fear that keeps you from living.” – Rusty Wells