Day 26: Back on the river and feet from hell…
Felt a bit sad leaving base camp today, as Laura remarked yesterday it’s felt a bit like home. The plan for the headwaters of the Essequibo is to paddle the two dugouts rather than our NRS inflatable kayaks because of the sheer number of logs, thorns and jungle debris that litter the river. Here, the jungle is very much part of the river. We don’t want to risk puncturing one early on. It also means we will get to experience both canoeing and kayaking on this river which switches things up a bit.
Had a lovely chat with Jackson this morning over the fire. We asked if he’s enjoyed the expedition and he said yes. “You are phenomenal ladies,” he said which was a lovely (if misguided) sentiment. I think he’s really appreciated how we’ve tried to learn from them; reading cuts in the forest line, lighting fires, making camp, finding dry wood for fires, and how to use the machete to cut a bundle of kindling from it (you hold the wood and scrape downwards), figuring out what a good jungle campsite looks like (higher ground but with a landing that has good access to the water). I told him I’d miss him a lot as we washed up the Tupperware at the river.
Also said to Nigel I’d miss him and gave him a big hug. He said he’d miss us too and asked for my hand. He started at the top of my middle finger and traced a line down my finger across a line on my hand that runs directly underneath it along my palm. “Always look forward, never back, if you look back you will cry,” he said as he curled my hand up and gave it back to me. “You’ll always be in here” he made a fist and held it to his chest, “and me in here” as he gently placed his hand on mine. It was very sweet. Laura remarked afterwards that she thinks “someone had a crush on you”. I’m not so sure as I think we just make each other chuckle in a sibling sort of way. Regardless he’s a lovely boy and I’ll miss him hugely.
We started paddling this morning and to say it was tough is a bit of an understatement. We were hauling the heavy dugout canoe over logs. Laura also has her period and said that she feels like she’d like to be under a duvet. “I feel like a complete cretin today, a bottom dweller”. she remarked. Jackson said that in the Wai Wai whenever a woman has her period she has to rest. Alas, we don’t really have that option.
Remarkably I seemed to have a great deal of energy today so I tried to help as much as possible, jumping in and out of the boats and pushing them over logs. You mentally have to try and block out the fact that there are nasties in the water – easier said than done sometimes. Law of sod, when Peiman, our cameraman, got his camera out and pointed it at me I managed to slip on a log and land half in, half out of the boat. Elegance and grace… Quite funny, but also scratched my calf as I did so. Thankfully I wasn’t gobbled up by a pool of piranhas.
Ness is also running on empty, I think the last few weeks have taken their toll, we’ve only really had one rest day since we started on the expedition 3 weeks ago. At one point in the day she jokingly said she was tapping out as the banged the side of the dugout. She said that her body was broken – and she was – literally slumped across the bags in the middle of the boat; a shell of her usual Rambo self. Slightly worried she might have dengue as she keeps talking about how much she aches. Hoping it’s just a case of exhaustion and not much more. We literally had to ban her from jumping out the boat and pushing – unless it was absolutely necessary and a case removing all weight from the boat. Laura remarked as we finished the day “getting Ness to stop working is a bit like getting a nun to have sex.”
I remarked to the girls that my life choices today consisted of staying in the boat and taking on spiders and scorpions by going under logs, or getting into the water and taking on caiman and hymara…
I stared at the water for a brief while in the afternoon and Jackson caught me looking. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll see Charlie soon.” Bizarre that this was what I’d been thinking – I think both he and James are quite naturally initiative. I replied, “you’ll get to see your wife soon too. It’s been three weeks, that’s a long time.” He looked at me and said that he was looking forward to seeing her but that “three weeks on expedition is nothing, when I’ve gone away before working as a ranger or mining, it’s usually three to six months – that’s a long time.” That put things into perspective for me.
Eron caught a caiman earlier in the day, which, to our shock, is being kept alive in the back of the boat. Apparently it can feed about 25 people and I think everyone on the trip is keen to take one back for their families. We all hate the idea that it’s not put out of its misery earlier but apparently by keeping it alive it preserves the meat. Jackson told us over dinner that with the exception of the intestines they eat everything “from source to sea” he quipped. James explained that this is how they live, they do not have access to supermarkets full of food, the jungle is their deli. He explained that they never over hunt, they only ever kill what they eat and respect and give thanks to the animals they do.
Today was the first day we’ve seen blue sky for a prolonged period; the river is beginning to open up. “It’s like LA with those palm trees pointing through” said Laura. It really was a shock to see such blue sky, and clouds. Wow, I’d almost forgotten about those beautiful, white, whispy decorations in the sky. As we were looking up we saw a monkey wander overhead. It was a beautiful brown and looked like it might have had a child on its back.
Peiman got the giggles at one point as he was filming. Ness had dived into the water and managed to wedge her vagina on a log. I tried to sympathise by explaining that I once caught my vagina in a car door and that was bloody painful. Little did I know that Peiman was filming a scene of chaos behind me; Nigel, James and Eron hauling boats over logs with all their might, while I was nonchalantly paddling and talking about painful vaginas. Apparently the end result is quite amusing. It kept Peiman chuckling for a good 5 minutes.
Ness was in a sorry state by the time we got to camp so she threw up her hammock immediately and dove in. I set about trying to find dead wood. Essentially this process was sped up tenfold as Nigel is the master of finding logs. Laura suggested I better double check that what I was chopping up was, in fact, dead – as Ness and I had both made this mistake previously.
We are back at the camp where Peiman nearly sat on a nest of poisonous spiders. As soon as I noticed where I was standing I moved further away from the fire – only to spot a small black scorpion on the ground. Once again Jackson smashed it with a stick.
Took my shoes off and my feet are in a mess. They are flaking and the skin is broken everywhere – a beautician’s nightmare and they look like something out of a horror scene. It’s like athletes foot on speed. At one point I had Laura, Ness (from her hammock), Peiman, James and Jackson crowding around with flashlights and commenting on how disgusting they are. Turns out that’s what happens when you mix sand in a shoe, constant damp and throw in a casual week long mountainous hike. Horrendous. I even had a pedicure before I came out too. I’m hoping this doesn’t develop into something more serious.
Lying in the hammock and we heard shouting from across the jungle in Wai Wai. We had no idea what was going on: it was pitch black and the boys have gone off hunting caiman during the night, leaving us with James and Jackson. Turns out they were after an axe but it definitely got the heart going. There is a “motherfucking obstacle” said Jackson as he took off in his pants to deliver the axe. “He’s literally going off into the forest in his underwear and welly boots,” said Ness. She commented earlier in the day that she now has real life superheroes as Jackson and Nereus kept jumping in and out of the water. I have to agree, the strength – in both heart and mind – of these men is phenomenal. I asked Jackson the secret. He said: “James told you on the trek, that root we showed you, we were washed in it twice a day as children. It makes you strong.” Whatever they’re on I’ve never encountered anything like it.
Lying in the hammock I heard Laura exclaim: “Oh no, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.” I wondered what the hell had happened. As it turns out there was no cause for alarm, she’d been looking through pictures of Ed and Ran and stumbled across images of Halloween chocolates; curly whirlies, chomps, After Eights etc “The second worst is sharing it with all of us,” declared Ness.
“I love you both dearly,” I pipped up, “but I am going to kill you if you carry on with this chat.”
“Such a good thing we’re not addicted to sugar,” Ness said.
Their ensuing conversation made me simultaneously want to hide in a hole and salivate all over the hammock. We have been eating mainly rice and fish for the last few weeks. We’ve run out of all sugary snacks, seasoning, oats, sugar, coffee – essentially anything that tastes nice! The trek to the source took longer than expected so we didn’t take as many rations as should have done. This conversation nearly drove me to the brink of insanity.
“Yeh that hike was a great detox…”
“Oh Ben and Jerries.”
“I can’t stop thinking about peanut butter.”
“Pip is going to kill us.”
“Oh the cookie dough…”
“Oh my god, Reece’s peanut cups…”
“How to make grown ups cry.”
“Just two more days until we’re back at the Wai Wai village and SUGAR…”
I genuinely can’t stand these conversations, not least because they make me salivate but because there is bugger all we can do about it in the middle of the jungle. My usual response is “yes I love rice and fish”. Whatever gets you through right, whatever gets you through…
(I could murder a Lindt dark chocolate bar right now!)