Day 17: 17th Feb. The day I scrubbed hog from Ness’s arse
I’m lying in my hammock listening to the sound of the rain splattering the tarp overhead, wishing that I could have been bothered to get out of my hammock last night to collect my washing that I’d left on a log over the river. Ah well, a soggy start to the first day of the hike to the source it is. It’s currently pitch black, 5.30am, and the light of my phone seems to have attracted a firefly to me. Beautiful. Slightly less beautiful is the burn I have in my throat from the malaria tablets. If you take them too late at night without enough water they really singe the throat. Same thing happened last time I was in the Amazon which is why I stopped taking them – will persevere this time though – slightly more mosquitos here and we’re definitely more remote!
Was thinking about the upcoming hike and how tough our jungle guides said it would be. Got me pondering how the Wai Wai really seem to work as a seamless unit out here – tasks just seem to be done, no one is shirking off or avoiding responsibility – firewood needs to be found, fish needs to be caught and prepared – everyone mucks in. On a base, human level, I feel so much more protected in the group and feel reluctant to stray far from it. I wonder if this is one of the ills of the modern world; that on a very primal level we feel safer, more included, more protected in groups, yet increasingly we are building fortresses. I asked 16-year-old Nigel yesterday who his best friends were. His large brown eyes looked at me steadily: “everyone in the village.”
The girls and I have often commented that the Wai Wai, although small in stature, would dominate any CrossFit/fitness challenge back home. Their functional strength and skill is phenomenal. Our cameraman for the first section, Peiman, joked that they’ve nicknamed Jackson “the hulk” – he told us that in their boat (Nereus, Jackson, Peiman and Eron) they’d often joke “Jackson, smash” as they’d approach a fallen tree that was blocking the path.
We had a late breakfast and I had the sense that everyone was dragging their feet a bit. It was peeing down with rain and we’re not exactly feeling motivated to get hiking. We looked quite funny though, almost ready for battle rather than a hike to the source – machetes attached to our belt hooks, decked out in military grade Altberg jungle boots and I’m in anti-mosquito infused clothing from Craghoppers. With the exception of the mosquitos I don’t think the jungle has too much to fear from me – I am still working on my machete skills…
I accidentally fell down the riverbank this morning as one shoe hook got caught on the other lace and I careered down a muddy bank and landed smack on my knees on the sand below. Didn’t hurt but felt like an utter wally. Tried to redeem myself by making a handle out of a vine for the water pot. I succeeded but on my first attempt I didn’t hold the pot straight and ended up pouring a load of water next to the fire – thankfully today it wasn’t on it! Pouring water on the fire and putting it out has become known as “doing a Pip” and Laura has nicknamed me Clutz. James said there was better binding in the forest. Mine seemed to do the job – at least until I tried to remove it from the fire and then it snapped! Doh. I think I need to listen more to my jungle professors.
The hike across the first mountainous ridge took about 3 hours, quicker than we thought. The first part involved crossing a few logs that had fallen across the river. James had fashioned long sticks for us to use as balancing aids. There was a beautifully touching moment when us girls were all holding hands trying to get from one side to the other. Nearly choked up on the walk thinking about how powerful teams can be, and how much you lean on each other when things get tough.
Definitely took a while to get into the routine of walking through the forest. You have to lift your feet up way more than you think – lest a rogue vine will whip them out from under you. After a while thoughts of spiders, snakes or scorpions hiding in the rotten wood began to dissipate and I really started enjoying the walking. It had peed it down in the morning and continued to do so for most of the walk. Hard to tell if it was sweat or rain that had soaked us through. The terrain is pretty hilly and the last part I really felt the exertion of my backpack, resting every few breaths, but desperately trying not to be the weakest link.
“It feels amazing to have more of an understanding about Ed went through when he walked the Amazon” said Laura. “Now I am like you are a motherfucker – I’m not even cutting a path day after day like he was and I feel like a wimp.”
Came across a hog’s bed – a patch of brown soil, free of leaves and surprisingly clean. Have to say I was mildly alarmed at the finding because of all the things I least want to meet in the jungle is the peccaries as apparently en mass they are extremely aggressive and tend to stick together in packs of between 40 and 200…
About half an hour later we did stumble across a hog, albeit a dead one. Apparently Eron shot two yesterday – the one they brought to the camp – and one which was wounded which managed to get away. It had been shot through the stomach and was lying dead on its side, now at the mercy of the jungle floor…
Jackson said that the boys love to eat the liver and that the hog would still be ok to take back even though it had a swollen stomach and was already covered with flies and yellow globules of tiny maggots; almost like a dusting of fish eggs on its snout and bum. Jackson sliced it open with his machete, slowly and delicately as if scoring leather. He was trying not to pop the stomach sack with the built up gasses inside. However, when he cut into it the most rancid smell escaped, almost enough to make me wretch. Jackson did warn us to move further away from the carcass and good job I did as he accidentally nicked the stomach and the air was saturated with the smell of decomposing hog; the sort of smell that sticks to you and threatens to cling to you for a lifetime.
He then reached into the carcass and started pulling out the innards, and laying them across a large fern leaf that the Wai Wai tend to use for everything from putting under hammocks to prevent creepy crawlies working their way into our bags, to prepping and covering food. A handy jungle carpet, chopping board and food protector in one.
When Jackson checked the liver – it was no good apparently, it had black spots on it, and was already too far decomposed to bring back. Instead we brought back the more muscular meat, the legs and the ribs.
While Jackson was choosing the cuts that were edible, James had found some leaves and was weaving a full on backpack. Ness had been carrying Peiman’s camera for the day and offered to carry the pig. I tried to keep ahead of her on the hike as it absolutely stank. It leaked down her back and on her bottom. She literally stinks like a pig.
The sight of the dead pig, innards everywhere, blood on Jackson’s hands and the swarming mass of flies that were now fast joining our group turned my stomach. Ness and Laura are totally fine with it and I understand their argument that this is the best way to eat meat, naturally and sustainability. Back home I eat meat a few times a week, and when I do I make sure it is the best I can afford, organic and free-range. However, many times on this trip I have questioned why, when faced with other options so readily available, I should eat another sentient being. Even seeing that fish heart still beating in Laura and Ness’s hand yesterday brought a wave of sadness over me. The more I see of the world, the more connected I feel to the people, nature and things in it; I am really questioning my choice to kill to eat, just because I happen to like the taste. I did eat the hog that evening, albeit a small amount, but as I swallowed I couldn’t help but feel like a total hypocrite.
Close to the end of the walk we found a stream of water coming from the mountain – the first piece of rock we’d seen in what appeared to be dense forest. We stopped to taste the water – it was delicious, almost sweet.
Possibly the most random moment of the trip happened today. After the hike I found Ness in the steam, which was only a few inches deep, wearing her bikini top and pants and looking utterly miserable. Her arms wrapped around her legs, sitting on her trekking shirt, and her big blue eyes staring up at me mimicked a puppy dog. “Ness, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I stink of hog and I can’t get the smell out of my clothes or myself.”
I offered to help her scrub and essentially ended up squatting to her arse height, lathering up her bum with soap suds, and scrubbing her pants and bum directly in front of my face. Then she asked me: “Pip, this might sound a bit weird but can you do me a favour? Can you sniff my pants to see if the smell if I still smell of hog” – not a sentence I ever thought I’d write. Her pants, incidentally, were full of holes… It went from bizarre to ridiculous as Ness’s soapy arse was suddenly in my face as I was sniffing around for any residual pig smell. Joy. “It was definitely very odd seeing you down there lathering up Ness’s pants and you guys being like ‘it’s not what it looks like’, chuckled Laura.
When we approached camp Jackson produced a hard sap from a Haya tree. It almost looked like a black and white rock that Jackson called “a tree candle” – when lit it burns and we used it to light the fire. So many ingenious little tricks like this in the jungle.
Nigel came to sit with me while I write. His head rested on a log and he played with his machete. He’s a a very sweet and quirky boy. He asked me if I’d ever seen mermaids and told me I looked like one – although that was also followed up with the fact that they have a slimey tail…
Our campsite this evening is beautiful – there’s a large, thick tree in the centre of it covered with vines that have wrapped their way around it. Absolutely stunning. Our hammocks are strung up in a three right next to that beautiful tree. Was chatting to the girls as they lay in their hammocks earlier and they asked me to sway them from side to side as Laura was pontificating about what lyric from Pocahontas we most relate to: “the river that chooses the smoothest course” or the fact that “you never step in the same river twice.” Next thing I know is the two are on the floor, hammocks and their contents sprayed out everywhere – and the log holding up the hammock was careering towards us. It was such a funny sight that I stiffled a giggle, until I saw the log coming towards where we were…
It hit Laura on the arse and for the second time that day I found myself rubbing someone’s bum – this time it was Laura’s grazed left butt cheek (as well as an angry looking mosquito bite) – albeit with paw paw ointment not soap suds.
Nereus came over to help us patch up the tarp which had ripped. Again, another bizarre moment in the day: I found myself under a tarp with a topless Nereus a hare’s breath away, trying to pull the tarp together so I could stick it together. I would then reach my hand under the tarp and Laura would attach a piece of duct tape to my finger from the other side. I did apologise for invading Nereus’s personal space as essentially he kept backing up into a tree as I came closer and closer with the tape. Poor man, in any other environment it might have been a femme fatale moment, but instead I must have absolutely stank as my clothes were sodden with sweat… ha ha. Made me chuckle a lot, which in turn made everyone else laugh. Alas, the patch up didn’t survive the night as it peed it down with rain.
Ness remarked that today has felt a bit like we’ve “gone through The Looking Glass”. I couldn’t agree more, it definitely was a weird sort of Alice in Wonderland kind of day. Jungle life is certainly unpredictable…