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Atlantic Ocean

Day 72: The Atlantic Ocean and finish!!

72 days, over 1000km and an extraordinary collaboration with the Wai Wai community to descent the Essequibo River from source to sea.

We have done it! We have arrived at the mouth of the Essequibo river. As we look ahead all we can see is the open Atlantic Ocean, a sight we dared not dream of till now as we made our way down the entire length of this mighty river. Reaching the ocean paddling side by side with our Wai Wai guides and our wonderful Guyana friend, Fay, who joined us halfway through has been extraordinary as it truly has been a great collaborative effort to make this all happen.

We are all exhausted, overwhelmed and utterly content so for now it is off to have a beer with our team, let the journey and memories soak in, have a shower (people are doing banana walks around us at quite a distance we smell so bad) and get some much needed sleep. We’ll write up a full update and story of these final days after that! Thank you to all our sponsors, our Wai Wai guides and also to you all for following and sending so many messages of support to everyone on the ground here all along the journey – we raise our beers to you all. What a ride.

More to come shortly…

The finale of a source to sea descent of the Essequibo River. Image by Jon Williams.

Pip’s Diary: Jungle dispatches III…

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.

Lunch with Peiman and the Wai Wai
Lunch with Peiman and the Wai Wai – Running the Essequibo – Lauras Bingham, Ness Knight

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.

Pip Stewart's Immersion Foot. (Trench Foot) Running the Essequibo
Pip Stewart’s Immersion Foot. (Trench Foot) Running the Essequibo

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!)

 

Pip Stewart

https://www.phillippastewart.com/

 

Pip’s Diary: Jungle dispatches II…

Day 25: My most terrifying day in the jungle and back to base camp

Today was one of those days when you realise what a hostile environment the jungle can be – and are thankful to be alive at the end of the day. After spending nearly a month living in the wild we were jolted out of our complacency and the reality of where we are was brought into sharp focus…

Each night we leave our jungle boots upside-down on two sticks next to our bed to prevent creepy crawlies getting in. However, as I shone my torch into my boots I noticed a small black spider lurking in there. As I hopped to the morning fire with one shoe I asked Jackson, one of our Wai Wai jungle guides, how you remove it as I was trying to smoke it out. Turns out that’s exactly what you do. Jackson, completely at home in this environment, then bashed my shoe against a tree and to my shock, put his hand in and wiggled it around. He couldn’t find the spider and concluded it had gone. I did put my shoe on rather tentatively nonetheless.

Jackson also has diagnosed that I have ‘mosquito worms’ in my hands and shoulders – small white, irritating lumps with worms growing underneath. Getting rid of them essentially involves putting duct tape on them and hoping they suffocate. I feel like I am now in the worm club as both Ness and Laura have them on their bums.

“I may also have one on my coxic, I wouldn’t mind someone checking it out in the morning,” said Ness as Jackson checked me over.

http://www.jon-w.com/
Laura Bingham Running the Essequibo. http://www.jon-w.com/

“Mine’s in my bum crack,” said Laura. Joyous. It’s amazing how quickly you bond on expedition…

We were hiking back from the source to where we left the dugout canoes. Unfortunately this involved crossing steep, 45 degree slopes – and seemingly we meet a new one every hour. Given we’d already walked this way finding the so-called trail should have been easy. It wasn’t.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re following the yellow brick road and we’re following a grass path on a lawn” remarked Laura to our Wai Wai guides as they taught us how to read paths through the forest.

Ness Knight by Jon Williams
Ness Knight by Jon Williams – Running The Essequibo – expedition source to sea – world first http://www.jon-w.com/ https://www.inmarsat.com/ https://www.ddhammocks.com/

“Mate, I swear you’re like walking Velcro” Ness remarked to me at one point in the hike.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You seem to pick up most of the forest and dont even realise it.”

In addition to my backpack it turns out I’d been trailing a large branch behind me for a good five minutes and hadn’t clocked it. With exhaustion setting in I guess a bit more weight is barely noticeable.

We were all unbelievably sweaty today. I was going to attribute this to the strenuous exercise but apparently the cause may have been in our morning jungle drink. Jackson said açai makes you sweat.

“It gives you a lot of power, a lot of energy”, he said.

Ness snorted: “Does it mate? I’m still trying to find it.”

Today was notable in that I had my most terrifying experience of the trip so far. As I was crossing a log I got my foot stuck in a vine next to it so waggled it around for a while trying to free it. Just as I moved my leg Laura exclaimed: “Oh my god, there’s a snake.”

Mere inches under where my bum and leg had been flailing around seconds earlier was a small black, white and grey snake, its diamond-shaped head reared up and its tongue out. It wasn’t just any snake either; it was one of the three snakes you pray doesn’t bite you in the jungle. It was a labaria snake.

“That’s definitely an enemy,” said Jackson – who had drawn his machete at this point and was holding it at arms length close to the snake.

“An oval head on a snake is ok but not a diamond. If it gets your veins it will kill you. If it gets your muscle you will be very sick. It was getting ready. It’s very tiny but very poisonous.”

Jackson covered it with the machete so that Laura and Ness could pass the log unharmed. Before Jackson crossed all I heard was the thud a machete on wood. I was in total shock. To think that I’d been hovering just inches from something that could have quite easily killed me was terrifying. I was also exceptionally thankful to it for not attacking.

“Bushmaster, emorara (a little green one like a leaf) and the labaria – these are the three bad snakes of the jungle” said James, our eldest and most knowledgable jungle guide. He shook his head: “pain, pain, pain.”

I was in shock coming down the mountain and broke down in tears when the reality of the situation hit. I was amazingly shaken afterwards. Also felt sad that the snake was killed. It could have absolutely have finished me off, I was just inches above it, yet it didn’t. Bizarrely, as I sat on that log I had even thought how amazingly comfortable I am getting with the environment and sitting on logs. Perhaps it was another warning from the jungle to not get complacent. I’ve been learning to sit with fear, I’m not quite ready to sit on it…

“Pip, don’t think too much about snakes”, said James as he watched me zone out as we stopped for a rest. Jackson then pipped up with a story about needing the loo and how he’d accidentally squatted down by a snake and jumped a mile as he saw it. “So the snake was dodging your shit”, Peiman, our cameraman, joked. Jackson responded that you should always clear the area with your machete first. “Thanks for letting us know right now, after two weeks in the jungle…” said Peiman.

My head was still with the labaria snake and I asked Jackson why he killed it. It had done me no harm and I felt uncomfortable that it had been killed because it had a chance incident with a human on a hike. “I killed it because it’s poisonous”, he said very mater of factly.

Jackson said you always see a snake if you dream of needles. Bizarrely Laura said she had a dream about mending Peiman’s shirt that evening. He also said if you dream of a vagina you’re about to make a big mistake, but if you talk about it it’s ok. Laura asked what it means if you dream of things that don’t exist. “No one has ever told me that,” he said.

“Did you smell that hog-like smell as you walked down the hill?” asked Peiman. “It turns out it was a Jaguar smell.” Just what I needed to hear…

On a more positive note, one of the camps we had been through previously had the vine that the guys said could cure HIV. We asked them to cut us some up and I have a flask of the liquid as well as a cutting of the vine with me. Just need to figure out how we can transport it home. Would be just our luck that it turns out to be a class A drug and we end up in jail…

Walking seemed to go on forever today and we literally went through all sorts of terrrain – from swamps (where if you stood in the wrong place your foot, calf or knee would be lost to the mud), to steep slopes, to rather pleasant meanders through the forest, which if you imagined hard enough, could almost be like walking through English woods in the summer. At one point we walked through a break in the canopy. “I’d almost forgotten sun existed,” Laura remarked as we entered the patch. I felt like a vampire trying to hide! Was a shock to the system.

It was weird going back through our old camps, they felt like ghost towns – the jungle almost seemed to be clawing back any remanence of life that didn’t entirely belong there. Was an eery feeling.

When we finally reached base camp at 3pm we were so elated. Just 5m from camp I managed to trip over my feet – again. Laura remarked that this camp felt like we were coming home, which I suppose we were in a way. Peiman said we should all dive into the water fully clothed – which we did. We’d left as much weight as we could at this camp, and only hiked with survival essentials, so shampoo was waiting for us in the bags we’d left behind. I washed my hair for the first time in a week, what a luxury! My hair has been down a fair bit and literally turned into a bird’s nest.

When we moved all the bags from the table top we’d left them on (essentially the base of the kayak) we saw a brown scorpion. Nigel took his machete and cut off the sting – although, thankfully, it turns out it was already dead. Been feeling very bad about the snake still.

jungle boots, explorer, jungle
Pip Stewart by Jon Williams – Running The Essequibo – expedition source to sea – world first http://www.jon-w.com/ https://www.altberg.co.uk/

That evening we put some music on, our head torches on flash mode and had a bit of a dance party. The weirdest place I’ve ever had a boogie for sure. It felt like a celebration; we’d made it to the furthest source of the Essequibo but more importantly we’d survived. I literally felt like I’d experienced every single human emotion in a day: joy, fear, shock, pain, elation. The first part of our journey was over, now it was just a small matter of paddling the entire river. As I dropped off to sleep the enormity of the task that faced us didn’t matter – I was just thankful to be alive…

 

Pip Stewart

https://www.phillippastewart.com/

Pip’s diary. Jungle dispatches…

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.

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-24 at 20.36.38

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.”

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-01 at 21.23.02

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.”

pig

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.

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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…

 

Instagram: @PipStewart

 

Finding the Source of the Essequibo!

Firstly apologies for falling off the face of the planet for the last week. I’m going to hold my hands up that this is an utter baptism of fire for me in terms of responsibilities. I’ve just turned 25-years-old (here in the jungle – woop woop!) and I suddenly find myself leading two amazing (and already very accomplished) friends and six Wai Wai indigenous guides through an environment that scares me and that I am “processing” as I write.

I could not have predicted the stress that I feel; sometimes I feel like I’m going to vomit. I’m so fried about logistics, different people’s conflicting wants, sponsorship commitments, and simply leading the team through the jungle. We have timings to try and stick to if the cameramen are to swap out at the right time and I’m trying to juggle it all with really limited battery-power and headspace! To top it all I miss my son in a way that is indescribably painful. I knew it would be tough – but about a week ago it started stabbing me like a machete. Its more than tough; some nights I literally sob myself to sleep in my hammock.

So something had to give in our battle through the tangled jungle to get to the source and back – and it was social media updates over the last week. Sorry – my bad.

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But this is not a sob story – far from it – I just wanted to give some context to the situation. In fact – its all incredibly positive…

The amazing truth is that we got to the source of the Essequibo, logged the position, took some photos (sensible and daft of course – you know me!), and we are now back in the Wai Wai village having a well-earned rest day.

If we had inflated our rubber kayaks when we got back to the cache we would have got them ripped to shreds so we paddled the heavy Wai Wai dugout canoes whist the undergrowth at the sides of the river was still dense and sharp. It was a case of make it up as you go along. It worked – so we adapted.

I’ll be honest again – getting back out on the water scares me. This tribal village is kind and warm and safe – but the vast majority of the Essequibo River – its waterfalls, rapids, gold-mining, jaguars, snakes and piranhas – still lies ahead. We’ve hardly started.

At least from here on in we are going in the right direction: towards the ocean; towards a world first; and towards home.

Laura x