Amazon 101: What They Don’t Teach at Brownie Camp

It turns out that even the luxest of luxury, airconned Amazon cruises require a teensy bit of outdoor savvy. Not exactly being the camping/trekking/hiking type, I knew I didn’t possess too much of this. Boy, did that turn out to be an understatement.

First of all, I get that a rainforest is a forest where it rains. Duh. But who knew that it rains so much in parts of the Amazon that entire villages get temporarily sub-merged by the river during the rainy season? Okay, “entire village” equals miniscule hamlet with four open-sided huts and 50 people. BUT STILL!! And how is this relevant for travellers aboard the lovely “Aqua” riverboat? I’ll tell you how. During our briefing on the first night, I nearly spat out my Pisco Sour when they told us to “be prepared to rough it in the bushes during your excursions. There are no ablutions in the wild – ha ha ha ha ha”.

Ha ha ha. Heeee-larious.

Yes, of course there’re no ablutions in the middle of the Amazon jungle, you eegits, but why do you have to take us away from the safety of this magnificent mothership for FOUR HOURS on the trot? What do you think we are? Camels? So I nearly spat out my cocktail for two reasons: partly out of shock that I would have to pee in the bush on our five star holiday and partly because I didn’t want to swallow another millilitre of liquid before I was safely back in my cabin, post excursion.

But it gets better. As it turned out, even the most die-hard outdoor enthusiasts would have had a hard time doing their business in the bushes. That’s because we did not come across one inch of terra firma on our first excursion (nor on very many of the subsequent excursions, for that matter). The jungle simply emerged from the water all around our little excursion boats (skiffs) but there was no sign of the land the trees were anchored to. So unless you were a boy, and happy to heed the call of mother nature over the side of the skiff, in the company of the six charming Canadian retirees you had dinner with last night, each and every one of us had to cross our legs and try to drown out the sounds of the Amazon gently lapping against the boat.

Second lesson: protection from Amazonian mozzies does not simply mean covering up and slapping on some Tabard. Not at all. During the briefing Aqua recommended we use a spray containing at least 40% DEET. Now, I’m no farmer but something from Std 3 science is ringing a bell here. DEET? Isn’t that, like, illegal? I mean we’re only in a national park in the middle of the endangered Amazon Rainforest, aren’t we? Needless to say, my save-the-pandas side went out the window the next day, after I counted no fewer than 38 mozzie bits – on one limb. The leetle b*stards had munched me silly – THROUGH my pants. The pants I’d bought specially for the trip since my wardrobe doesn’t exactly contain clothing for jungle jols. Thereafter I wore my only other pair of outdoor longs (also purchased solely for the trip) morning, noon and night. By Day 5 they could basically stand up by themselves, not to mention that they smelt divine.

But that’s not all. On the day of the great mozzie attack, The Husband and I were walking in the jungle (on one of the few occasions we were actually able to access dry land) behind Victor, our naturalist guide. I say “walking” but we were actually trudging almost knee-deep in water. (When we saw higher ground to our left, we rushed towards it but then Victor told us to stick to the middle of the mud as there’d be snakes to the right. Nothing like the threat of an Amazonian serpent to send me diving back to the centre of the swamp.) Anyway, for our first and only jungle walk, we were covered from neck to foot in clothing to try to protect ourselves from insects. We were sweating like pigs in the sweltering humidity and furiously swatting mozzies away from our heads. Victor looked at us in our cute little tomato red Cape Storm waterproof jackets and said:

“You know, mosquitos are attracted to the colour red.” Ah, right – like bulls. We knew that.

That’s what they DON’T teach you at Boy Scouts and Brownies. (Not that I was ever a Brownie. Even at age 10, I wouldn’t have been caught in a long-sleeved poo-brown tunic and floppy hat, after school hours).