“…hand me Lucille.”
I reached back and took the affectionately named machete from Aaron as he steered our canoe towards the thick jungle wall of the riverbank. “I’ll bring us in slowly” he said. I crouched up front armed with Lucille, ready to cut an entrance into the dark green tangle. I didn’t like this part of our daily routine, all kinds of things hid in the overhanging vegetation. With a thrust of his paddle Aaron sent me face first into the creepers; I looked behind to see him laughing through his beard as I twitched and shook myself off.
Eventually we cleared an exit from the river and clambered on to the bank. A brown snake darted away, the usual infinity of ants and mosquitoes descended and a troop of little monkeys with white faces and golden paws rattled branches then fled. The strong ammonia smell of jaguar spray hit us and we saw the big cat paw prints in the mud. It was too late to find another place to camp and, anyway, with its extensive roaming radius and ability to swim across rivers, the jaguar could not be outmanoeuvred. Whilst the ‘onça-pintada’ is rarely known to attack humans, that night we slept in shifts, one of us always awake to keep the damp fire burning as bright as possible, machete and flashlight in hand, staring out into a universe of glowing lichens and insects that blinked neon through the Amazonian night.
The two of us were alone in a vast expanse of rainforest with no sign of human life, no indigenous villages, no trails, no litter, no aeroplanes above. It had been this way for weeks. We were paddling up the Rio Amapari, heading deep into the remote Tumucumaque region on Brazil’s frontier with French Guyana. The maps we had found of the area were useless and had ‘relief data incomplete’ stamped all over them, although this did not trouble us too much – we had no set destination, and following the river back downstream would eventually lead us out. We were seeking isolation and a chance to drift alone for a while inside this equatorial wilderness. A portable Norwegian Ally canoe that collapsed into a 25kg backpack gave us this freedom.
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