Between Christmas of 2002 and the New Year, Kate and I journeyed a thousand miles up the Amazon of South America.
We employed a native dugout canoe.
We took on the deadly Amazon because we wanted to explore the second longest body of water in the world. (The Nile at 4,150 miles is a few hundred miles longer.)
Another reason for our trip was that this Christmas was the seventh year that no one had invited us to their home for the holidays. (And, those we invited to our place had far too many excuses when they declined.)
Of course the real reason we went up the Amazon was that I regard yours truly as an extreme traveler / adventurer.
I don’t want to brag but I’m the kind of guy Abercrombie & Fitch was created for.
Had I lived a few centuries earlier I would no doubt have explored our planet with the likes of Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus.
I certainly would have led an expedition to conquer the South Pole long before the notion occurred to Admiral Perry.
Tragically, I live in a modern millennium, but the fact is, all my life I have dreamed about being a guide in a hostile yet beautiful rain forest, subduing nature as you would a wild and dangerous woman.
Over the years I have come to realize that any Amazon guide (worthy of such a title) would need to know how to handle at least three problems.
First, the condura — these are large parasitic worms that swim around looking for orifices in your body to burrow into.
If they wiggle into any of your body openings (quite often through the penis), they open up their umbrella-spiked head and claw deeper inside you, sucking blood. They make the so-called deadly piranha seem like goldfish.
You die screaming.
The second insight an Amazon guide needs to know is how to deal with poison arrows tipped with deadly curare.
This kills you pretty fast but you do not die screaming.
You can’t talk.
The curare inhibits you from talking and breathing. (Many waiters in Brazil pack curare blowguns to deal with the shabby tipper.)
The third item, I concluded, was that a guide needs to understand how to deal with giant boa constrictors and other large snakes that eat people after hugging them near to death.
Since he had been a very young boy, living in Milan, Moreno had longed to become a rainforest guide. He had traveled to Brazil and learned the local language and married a Brazilian woman (it turned out several Brazilian women) and became a certified Amazon guide.
I put to him the three questions I thought were essential for any Amazon guide to deal with.
Moreno had dwelt with Amazon head hunters. Obviously, things had gone quite well since he still had his head. Moreno said that when a condura swims into your penis, all you have to do is drink a brew made from the Jenipopo nut.
The parasite will vacate your winkie immediately. This is far better than having your winkie lopped off, hoping to kill (or seriously injure) the nasty little condura with its infernal spiked umbrella head.
Apparently, the Amazon witch doctor had shared this information with Moreno. The primitive M.D. (who wore a bone in his nose) thought the western medical use of the number five scalpel to rid the patient of the condura was hilarious and oh, so primitive.
The next question was — what do you do when someone shoots you with a poison or curare tipped dart?
The same witch doctor had told Moreno to simply have the victim drink lots of water and if necessary “perform a tracheotomy on him.” (You are very much alive when you have been shot with a poison arrow, you just can’t breathe easily for a while.)
The final question I asked our guide was how to cope with an anaconda or boa constrictor that nails you.
Well, apparently neither a glass of water nor “Jenipopo shakes” help. You’re a dead man (or woman) — the best way to avoid the deadly coils of the large snakes is to spot them and stay out of their way.
After Moreno shared this with us, I was, during the next week, able to spot and alert my wife to the whereabouts of over 2,000 monster snakes. Why, I discovered a dozen boas one night in my hammock.
I screamed when I saw them and obviously this must have frightened off the reptiles because on closer investigation they had vanished. (I can attest to this and so can the belligerent natives that I had to summon repeatedly in the night.)
Since I now know how to deal with boa constrictors, curare poison and pesky condura, I am ready to lead a small expedition of extreme adventurers into the Amazon.
Oh. Moreno told me one more thing. He said that if you are a guide it’s essential to be honest with clients. After all, from time to time they will put their lives in your hands and they must feel you are trustworthy.
Fair enough. In the heat of the Amazon excitement, I may have misled potential rainforest clients.
So that no one can ever accuse me of deception I wish to point out something about the dugout canoe and our method of travel in South America. I said we employed one, I never said anything about paddling it.
We certainly spent time in a dugout, albeit on land. We gave a native a dollar to sit in his dugout while we took each other’s photos. (My Lord, you’d have to be nuts to use a piece of rotten bark as a float in croc-infested water.)
I’m assembling a group to lead up the Amazon. You’re invited to join me. Bookings are filling up fast so if you can’t go with me, you’ll have to settle for Moreno.
I guarantee that while it may not be safer with yours truly, it will be a lot more fun.
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