Edit, 22/04/2020: This post was written back in 2010. Since then I have educated myself a lot more with regards to animal tourism and I now understand that yanking animals, in this case caimans, from the wild to maul them for our own entertainment is not in any way acceptable. I would never go on a tour offering this experience now. I have left the post as it was written ten years ago as it is a reflection of my own experiences back then, and this blog basically serves as my memory because without it I wouldn’t have a fucking clue what I did ten years ago. I barely remember what I did this morning.
Well thank you to my digestive system for at least waiting until I got to dry land and checked into a hostel with a working toilet before disintegrating and exploding out through my arse. The stench of Rotorua ain’t got nothing on what came out of me that day. I spent the first day in Manaus in the toilet whilst anything I tried to put into my body exited through the nearest orifice. Everyone advised me to keep a stash of pills handy for the shits. My travel doctor, my mates, even the Lonely Planet recommends it but oh noooo. I have an iron stomach. I shan’t need something as frivolous as diarrhoea medication. I advise eeeeeeveryone to carry it. It still took me two days employing my favourite “if I ignore it it’ll go away” technique before I caved and headed to the pharmacy clutching my stomach. Operations had to be suspended for a few days suspended pending bowel evacuation.
Once my bowels had gotten themselves under control I set off on a three day jungle tour despite despite all the mucus in the world having a snot party in my sinuses and on my chest… but was it really the jungle? There were a couple of older travellers staying in the hostel and you’d think they’d be cool. Nah. They were a couple of the most self righteous wankers I’ve ever met and gave me and two other girls big lectures on how it wasn’t even the jungle because you can’t get into the real jungle without a machete, cutting your own path, and what we were doing was all tourist infrastructure put there just for us and all this visiting a local family thing was all bollocks because it’s all just show.
Well yes, you’re right, it’s tourist infrastructure. Of course it is. But how does that make it any less of a jungle? Just because it’s not dense, impenetrable jungle it’s still jungle. I mean, they had some valid points regarding seeing traditional life but none of us were under any illusions that we’d be off into the thick of it to visit lost tribes or anything. To be honest if I wanted to see uncultured savages communicating in grunts and clicks and wielding crude weapons I’d just head to Manchester on a Saturday night. Yes, we know we’re not going to see jaguars and we know we’re not going to be getting spear throwing lessons from a man with a bone through his nose and yes, there was a comfortable lodge with flushing toilets and electricity from a generator for a few hours a day. But it still looks like jungle to me, mate. And just because the local families use modern tools, use guns to hunt and wear similar clothes to you and I, it doesn’t make them any less local.
“Angel Falls,” one guy said, removing his head from his arse long enough to patronise us some more, “you want to carry on going past that for 500kms or so. See where that gets you. That’s real jungle.” No, actually I don’t want. What I want is to be taken to nice places and shown pretty things and I want to ooh and aah at scenery and fish for piranhas. There’ll be plenty of time later on in this trip to be uncomfortable and get properly feral, somewhere cheaper and when my immune system isn’t caving in on itself. But right now, I’d like to be looked after by people who know what they’re doing, please. I wonder what life is like, travelling round, not really having any interest in how others live and making sure that everyone around you knows how superior you are. If I ever get like that, please shoot me.
Sooooo, day one in the fake jungle, I was picked up from the hostel along with a very tall English lad called Jimmy, bundled into a car to the docks, taken over the river to where a VW combi was waiting (this country is saturated with combis), driven to a smaller boat and spent an hour cruising through flooded forests and down picturesque rivers to the lodge which would be our base for three days. The first boat we were on took us over the Meeting Of The Waters which I’d seen a couple of times from the larger passenger boats on the way to Manaus but this time we got commentary. The light brown water of the Rio Amazonas is colder and has heaps of fish and the dark water of the Rio Negro is more acidic so there are less fish in it. It’s so weird how they don’t mingle even with all the boat traffic constantly crossing the line and churning the water.
On account of the fact that today was the World Cup final the itinerary was a little different than usual. After lunch (rice, beans and an over-salted meat, gotta love the Brazilian staple) there’d be a little boat ride to look for birds then the footy for those that wanted to watch it and piranha fishing for those that couldn’t give a flying fuck how many times Spain or Holland got the ball into the net things, followed by another boat ride to look for more wildlife and upset your retinas by gazing directly into the setting sun. I opted for piranha fishing. I like footy as much as the next guy but given the choice between that and hauling pointy toothed little fishes out of the water by hooks through their gobs I’d take the latter any day. I settled on the deck with my fishing rod made out of a stick with some fishing line and a hook tied to it, pushing bits of bloody chicken skin onto the hook to attract them whilst sipping on a Skol. Beer is compulsory whilst fishing, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re fishing for, if you don’t have a can of something alcoholic sat next to your bait you’re not doing it right.
I enjoy fishing but I need to feel them nibble or I get bored after 10 minutes and wander off and yeah, they do like a good nibble, these piranhas. It’s fun. The first one I caught was big enough to keep and eat, I caught a few more but I only kept the first one. Not only are their teeth razor sharp (the big ones could take a finger off if they thought it’d taste good), their bodies are like saws an all. You have to hold them with your fingers at the top along their dorsal fin and your thumb underneath whilst you remove the hook and you have to be careful not to cut yourself on them. Pointy little things they are. You’re fishing right outside the lodge too where the water is perfect for swimming, warm like in Alter Do Chão but still cool enough to refresh you. The little boat rides were beautiful but I’ve never been that interested in birds… Not the ones with feathers anyways… But it doesn’t matter to be honest, it’s such a gorgeous part of the world and it was just amazing to be there as Alan, our guide, pointed out the different birds that inhabit the area along with the occasional Cappuccino Monkey.
Once night fell we went out in the dark looking for caimans. I love caimans, me. Crocodiles, alligators, caimans, anything with big teeth that hasn’t had to evolve for millions of years because they’re basically perfect as they are. I think they’re amazing. We went out in the little canoe again with one guy operating the motor and Alan stood at the front shining his head torch into the floating grasses so we could see their eyes reflecting. We were looking for one to take back to the lodge so he could show it to us properly and tell us about it. I know I know, this is the stuff that the eco-warriors at the Lonely Planet would recoil in horror at. But whether you admit it or not, who doesn’t want the chance to hold a wild caiman? One that hasn’t been born in captivity and didn’t have its jaws tied with tape?
They’re strong animals and lets face it, out of everything that’s bigger than them and likely to grab hold of it, these particular humans were going to do it the least damage. When Alan caught one he handed it to someone on the boat with the words, “Just hold that for me, please.” He found a couple of babies but he wanted a bigger one to show us so we were sat there, some of us clutching little prehistoric predators as Alan kept looking for more. Eventually he decided that one of the ones we had would do and we released the others and headed back.
There will now follow lots of facts about caimans on account of the fact I find them fascinating and therefore think everyone else should too. Everyone is entitled to my opinion…
Alan told us that there were no alligators or crocodiles in Amazonia, just caimans and there are three varieties here; The Spectacled Caiman which is the most common, the Black Caiman which is the biggest and and Smooth Fronted Caiman which is the least common of the three. We had us a Spectacled Caiman.
He showed us the two eyelids they have, the thinner, horizontal once used for diving which protects its eyes against the strong currents in the water and the thicker vertical eyelid which it uses on land to keep out dust and parasites. They also have a flap over their ear hole for the same purpose. He got it to open its mouth and showed us its tongue or lack thereof. Turns out they don’t have a tongue, just a membrane that covers the back of the throat which closes over when the animal opens its mouth underwater to catch prey so it doesn’t swallow the water. The caiman then takes the prey back to land where it can eat it.
He flipped it onto its back and showed us how it likes to be massaged down its front and this is how they mate with the female on her back and the male on top, massaging her front with his then they shag missionary style-ee. Good, old-fashioned animals there then ay. The one we had was male and only 30% of the caimans here are male because the sex is determined whilst they’re developing in the eggs. If the average temperature is less than 30 degrees they’ll hatch as males and as the average temperature in the Amazon Basin is generally more than 30 degrees, most of them hatch as females. Good news for the guys, then, not such good news for the girls.
After it had been suitably mauled, prodded and poked and handed around to become the next star of everyone’s’ Facebook page he was released back into the water to go and tell all his mates that he just got abducted by big aliens with flashing devices and blunt teeth and no actually he hadn’t even smoked anything that night. And lets face it, if he was going to piss on anyone it was gonna be me. So he did.