Bungle in the Jungle

Day 4: Bungle in the Jungle

Today is July 4, Moe’s 40th birthday, the reason we’ve all gathered here in the Amazon.

I woke up feeling groggy and off, like I was still full from the night before, and I couldn’t keep a train of thought going. I popped a multivitamin, which I’d forgotten all about so far, but barely touched breakfast.

Foggy and groggy

In the end it turned out all I needed was a good shot of adrenaline.

The 1st four hours of the day were scheduled for kayak exploration of 2 nearby “lakes.” Eric got a 20 minute head start, and we didn’t run into him at all out on the water. He must have hit the other lake first. Moe and I hit the south one, more like a tributary river, and followed it until I spotted a cool “tunnel” through a passable wall of trees to another section of lake/river. Moe followed, as a Moe does. (“Moe-cuts” are his specialty!)

Plants vs. People

We kept exploring well beyond the point where Moe asked, “Benj, what is the probability you’ll remember our way back out of here? My memory’s not that good.”

“100%” I assured him.

It was a valid question. The river had turned into a pinball machine of bushes, I guess you could call them, that we navigated around while maintaining our same rough direction. [Future Benj: We thought maybe one of the bushes was the canopy of a Brazil nut tree, with the “lids” still on the tree, but turns out to be a relative, Eschweilera coriacea, known as machimango in Peru. Brazil nuts don’t live where it floods.]

Not Brazil nut

Some twists and turns later, we reached what we considered a dead-end even by our low standards. More importantly, we were due back at noon, and it was almost 10am. We had been kayaking since about 8am.

I confidently marched us back through the turns and twists, back through the pinball bushes, and straight down into some other river. Maybe 20 minutes into it I finally admitted to Moe that nothing looks familiar. (I had been thinking those words for a while already.) Moe agreed, noting that the long grass dangling from the trees here was new to us. It clung like Velcro to your clothes, and according to Maurice the micro-barbs also cut skin. So we realize we’re lost on the Amazon while tangled in human-devouring grass.

Razor grass from a safe distance

Mind you, we had no maps, no internet to get maps, no compass, and our one survival tool, a machete borrowed from Erikes, Moe had accidentally dropped overboard. It was a total Blair Witch moment. “I kicked the map into the creek!” The water here was deeper than 10m: that’s how much the water is up now from it’s low season. [Future Benj: The Amazon is 320′ at its deepest. The Jatapú tributary is indeed 30+ feet deeper in the wet season than dry. But since we were lost over “dry” land, it’s not easy to say for sure whether there was 30′ of water below us. We could have been over a hill. All we can say for certain is it was deeper than Maurice’s paddle!]

Is overboard machete within reach?  Nope.

But what I had done is taken a screenshot on Apple Maps of our farthest point, the dead-end, before we turned around to go back to camp. That map was very low-detail, not showing us on water at all — thanks to the wet season we were kayaking through the treetops of what’s dry land the rest of the year — but we could use it for comparison to at least get back to somewhere we’d definitely been. And far away from razor-grass town, please. Consider it a dot on a map where we’re lost, but don’t know it yet. This should save us, right?


Moe stayed perfectly calm, at least on the outside. We agreed on the general direction of our farthest dead-end point, and figured we’d head back to it, trying alternative directions, or really more like different off-ramps, from bushy pinball land. Off ramp #2 looked promising, but 15 minutes down that one we weren’t recognizing anything there, either. And then, you guessed it: more razor grass! Survey says? XX

The third off ramp we tried from bushy pinball land looked the same as the others initially. And to be honest, nothing I saw was recognizable beyond doubt. And we had so much doubt at this point. Part of it is we were seeing everything from the other direction on the way out. But I also kept looking back for some glimpse of something, anything I remembered from the way in. Instead, it was all beautiful green generic jungle along the banks. But no razor grass thus far, so Maurice and I were content to give this 3rd attempt the benefit of the doubt.

I was pleased to know, barring any more stupidity, that we would both be returning home to our families (eventually) once I saw that sweet, sweet tunnel through the jungle wall straight ahead. And we still had an hour left before lunch, so we started exploring another branch. 🤠

Freedom! We made it back to camp.

Let its spirit carry me

And just in time for this surprise: a birthday cake made of couscous (some finer Brazilian variety, apparently, but yellow like cake), frosted with something chocolatey, and sprinkled with coconut. How sweet of our crew?! We sang to Moe and he blew out a candle. Happy birthday, Moe, and happy birthday, USA! May you both prosper in the coming year and learn from mistakes of the recent past.

4th of July birthday cake

After lunch was a nice long siesta in hammocks on shore, since our boat hammocks, where we usually sleep, were being set up in the jungle. I’ve read over half my book, Everything Matters, a gift from my friend Matt about 3 years ago that I’m finally prioritizing. (Love it!) Mid-afternoon I was served a coconut with a hole drilled in it and one of those flimsy plastic cups. Delicious, as always!

My hammock needs cup holders

Late afternoon we packed up and kayaked over to the same trail head we hiked yesterday, except this time, after dinner, we hiked up to find our hammocks hanging higher than usual over the ground, and with mosquito nets and rain tarps over them. That’s where I’m blogging now. We saw a tarantula hanging out in an armadillo hole on the way up.

Tarantula in an armadillo hole
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Sleeping with the monkeys

Moe had an epic birthday. Mission accomplished!!

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