Steve's Adventures in South America

I bought a one-way ticket to Venezuela and I'm not coming back until my tube of toothpaste runs out...

Jungle Survival Course

After learning the basics, I'm left alone in jungle isolation to put my newly found skills to the test.

Into the Jungle

After Brekkie we wait for our 4x4 ride to arrive. It's a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck, the most indestructible vehicle in the world! We are all decked out in our military gear for the first time and feel like a crack commando squadron about to leave on a mission.

On the Bura Bura River

We take a dirt track to a village some 45 minutes away where we ditch our un-needed kit and pick up our bows and arrows. Graham picks one up, has a play and snaps it in two! We weren't aware they have to be moistened and tensioned up first. Ulp! It's another 30 minutes in the 4x4 to the Bura Bura river with us all bundled in the back where transfer to a couple of dug out canoes for a 2 hour paddle down stream. Along the way we encounter Howler monkeys, a Green Emerald Boa Snake and a 4 foot Fire Snake!

Jungle Steve by his New Home

On arrival at the campsite it's cheese and crackers for lunch and straight into machete training! These things are cool! It is the only thing you need to survive in the Jungle. This thing is sharp and will cut down a tree - we know, we tried! Awesome.

Then we pick a site for our house and pitch our hammocks. This included a lot of fathing about as we learnt how to tie knots and the pick the rights trees to use. Then it was time for a dip and a wash in the river, followed by dinner and our first beer in the jungle - in the middle of absolute nowhere!

(I am writing this tucked up in my sleeping system, watching fire-flies dance around the black night.)

Archery

After brekkie we re-adjust our hammocks because they sagged overnight in the heavy rain - all night, rain kept pooling up on my basha sheet (the plastic roof) and pouring off in a big dump every 5 minutes. We also re-adjust our mosquito nets to stop Vampire Bats sucking at our faces too! Whilst doing so I look up and see a large silhouette on the basha sheet. On closer inspection, on the other side, it's a giant bullet ant crawling around. This thing is bigger than my thumb! I double check my mosquito net and tighten it up.

Twang!Our Decimated Target

Then it's straight into archery, Amerindian style. We're putting our metal tipped training arrows (i.e. no barbs) through our target some 20 feet away. My accuracy was so good to begin with that everyone thought I was a natural. So I tried very hard to prove them wrong! The bow string, after fired, has a tendency to twang back and bruise your wrist and the feather flights start to wear away the fleshy bit between finger and thumb. I fashioned a bandage to stop it getting any worse and kept practicing. I even tried a couple of double arrow shots (firing 2 arrows at once) - it works and is very cool!

A Giant Bullet Ant

After lunch we learn about rainforests (jungles) and the nasties that lurk within. To prove they really exist the local boys brought in some examples they found lying around the camp site in the past hour. They are all tucked away in bamboo tubes, sealed by leaves stuffed down the end. They brought in the usual; a huge brown spider, a yellow scorpion, a small snake and a giant bullet ant (probably from my basha sheet!). Invariably they all scuttle around, fall off the dinner table and get lost somewhere under our feet.

The Piranha Infested River

During dinner Ian tries to mislead us with regards to the isolation phase by feeding us mis-information. Net result, we don't know how many days or nights we're going to be alone for or when we're getting back to civilisation. Then it's back into the Caiman (croc) and Piranha infested river for a swim(!) and a wash.

Night time and we paddle up the same river for some wildlife spotting. With only head torches guiding us, all we see are outlines of eerie vines dangling down into the river. The local boys often call out to the various wildlife and usually get a response too! We saw the biggest Emerald Tree Boa ever, Possums, Kingfishers, Kinkajous (the cute big eyed pet that Paris Hilton had once) and a Pit Viper. At one point we looked up to see a huge stalk perched above us, who then promptly took an almighty dump in our boat, landing just 1 foot in front of me! Grr, if only I had my bow and arrow.

Now I'm in my hammock, in torrential rain, giant moths landing on my mosie net and a hole in my basha dripping water on my head. Night night!

Next Day

My Drunken Dairy

The end of the evening saw us drink up our entire stash of beer. Meaning I then had a hell of job writing up my dairy after everyone else had gone to bed (well, hammock). In fact, what I wrote in my drunken state looks so comical, I've pictured it to the left and translated it below:

"Howler Monkeys - sound like a cross between eerie Ogres, evil winds and a 747 jet. Today, learned how to make fire, find and eat big white grubs. Went fishing, caught and ate Piranha. Floods from last night have risen the river by a good metre. Drank beer, lots of."

I'll now attempt to be a little more descriptive.

The night had brought a troop of Howler Monkeys passing through the camp. You couldn't see them in the pitch black of the jungle night but, boy could you hear them! They scream a low un-earthly howl bringing visions of eerie un-dead and evil mystical spirits. The sound they propagate through the canopy is truly the stuff of nightmares. Still, I slept soundly!

Kutkrit Grubs and Kutkrit Nuts

Morning then, we learnt how to make fire. The husks from nuts fallen from the silk cotton tree contain a cotton wool like filing, which when dry is excellent for catching sparks and turning it into a flame. Tiny twiglets are then used for kinder, followed by twigs, followed by bigger sticks. It's an involved process which takes a lot of preparation. But an essential one to master.

We rummaged around for kutkrit nuts fallen from the kutkrit tree which, more often than not, have been impregnated by the kutkrit beetle and harbour small white grubs. These small nuts have to be delicately held between fore finger and thumb in one hand whilst the other wields an oversized machete down upon it in an attempt to cleave the end off. Thereby presenting the kutkrit grub inside. Given these nuts are as hard as stone they necessitate a hefty wallop with the machete, just millimetres from your fingers. Challenging is a word I'd use to describe it, especially if you're kak handed like me!

Piranha

Oh, and why you may ask! Why, to eat them of course! Being as cool as I am, I went first, flicked one up in the air and caught it in my mouth. They're juicy and taste, well, nutty!

Piranha Teeth

The afternoon sees us trying our hand at fishing. It seems crazy but we fish for piranha in the same river that we wash and swim in at the end of the day! We make some little Yari Yari (fishing) rods from sticks and add some fine fishing line and a hook. With these we fish for little baby cat fish, using kutkrit grubs for bait. These baby fish are then used as bait for bigger fish and piranha!

I hate fishing. I'm crap at it. (One inevitably leads to the other!) I swear all I do is feed the bloody fish! The local boys on the other hand, using the same tools as us, but with a smattering of skill, pull fish and piranha out left, right and centre! It's good news because we eat the piranha for dinner. Man bites back!

Ruff in the Jungle

After retentioning my bow (by twisting the string) I'm handed my 3 real arrows. 2 barbed for fish and birds and 1 spear tipped for mammals. I'm told that in isolation everyone encounters a situation to use them, it's up to you as to whether you make the most of it or not.

Smoking Fish on a Homemade Barbie!

Today's remit is to trek into the Jungle, spot trees, make fire and fish. We spot plenty of Kutkrit palms whose fallen nuts contain the big white beetle grubs we ate yesterday. We chopped down a Heart of Palm tree (with Machetes, f*cking cool tool eh?) and ate its starchy heart; a small cabbage-esk tasting, leek looking bit at the top. Around Gum (aka rubber) trees you find lumps of sap which had oozed out of the branches up high. These rock looking lumps actually burn very well and can be used to start fires and to make old fashioned flaming torches. Silk Cotton trees produce nuts whose husks contain cotton wool, fire starting material. And of course the water vine! You cut a section out, upturn it and drink water! You cut the top first, then the bottom, otherwise capillary action sucks the water straight to the top of the vine faster than you can chop it down! We were also shown a vine which the locals reckon is a cure to snake bites and a cure to cancer! As most of the world's medicine is based on jungle plants and knowledge, I've a tendency to believe them.

Harry and the Remains of a Bush Cow

We found a little creek where we tried our hand at fishing again - both traditional and with bow and arrow! And dead eye Graham shot a little fish! We gutted it, made a fire, grilled and roasted it (and others which the locals caught). We came across the remains of a big Bush Cow that'd been had by a Jaguar! I pulled out and kept some of it's fangs - I figure they'd look good on a necklace.

I wore my Leopard print posing pouch thongs for my Piranha Jungle wash today. The guys weren't impressed. Jealousy huh!? After dinner we spotted a Brown Fishing Eagle asleep in a tree near the camp so we wasted a couple of training arrows taking pop shots at it with our lethal bows and arrows. We all missed although dead-eye Graham ruffled it's feathers. The Eagle kept on sleeping.

Armoured Cat FishTree Boa

Everyone went to bed after finishing off the remains of last nights beer and messing around with fire torches made from the sap of the Gum tree. Whilst sat on my own, Lionel (local guide) dragged me out to see a huge fish he'd just caught and an armoured, talking(!) cat fish. Then we headed out in the canoe to see a huge tree boa they'd spotted. Awesome! (A word I find myself using a lot on this trip!). The local guys later come back for a shot of rum. I showed them the photos of Guyana I've taken so far - they love it! And the recent sound recording of the talking cat fish really cracks them up!

The weather was dry ALL day and beautiful to boot, but still hot and humid. Although we didn't walk that far my shirt, and everyone else's except for the local boys, was permanently soaked with sweat. On the walk alone I drank 4 litres of water (8 pints) and only went for a waz twice!

The Hunt

Eat This Bit!Don't Eat This Bit!

Today we hunt. So it's a little dead eye target practice first thing with the ol' bow'n'arrow. After brekkie we watch one the lads hack apart a living tortoise. It only dies once they've cracked it open, ripped the legs off and pulled out the spinal column. Nice!

Into the canoes we paddle upstream, past some giant otters, land and begin stalking prey. This loosely involved stealthy following Harry (local lad, 52 today) through the undergrowth. He shot a bush turkey before anyone knew it was even there! It flew off with his arrow embedded in it's side, and so the chase began - those arrows are valuable you know! After our confirmed kill (when we found the turkey) we all lay low to ambush some Trumpet birds. Amazingly, as the local lads called out to them, they answered back and started walking straight toward us and our trap! A foray of arrows rang out as they approached but we all missed, so we decide to poison some fish instead.

On our way we saw Jaguar scratch marks on a tree - Bejesus, they were some 2½ metres up a tree with a 3" spacing between the claw marks! He's a big, agile, lethal cat!

Poisoning the StreamMashing Up Poison Vines

To poison fish we rip up the roots of a poison vine, mash it up with a make shift hammer and dunk it in the stream to release it's milky poison. It drains the water of oxygen meaning all the fish swim to the surface - while we lie in wait with bow and arrows! We cook them up on a make shift barbie, head home, take another dip in the piranha infested river and eat tortoise stew!

Tortoise Stew

It was so hot and humid today that my shirt was completely drenched through and dripped with sweat, and effectively all I was doing was just walking about!

Shelter and Traps

A Shelter

Harry and Thomas (with a little help from Ian) build a shelter to show us how it's done. It's got a water and wind proof roof, a bed, a fire and a stove (complete with cooking pot). It even has a radiator to keep you warm! Mental! And it only took them 20 minutes! Graham, Richard and I have a go collectively - it took us 1½ hours to get anywhere close! Whilst cutting down a palm tree for the roof I get stung - lots - by these bee waspy things - Ouch! Oh well, it is the Jungle, could have been worse! e.g. Thomas, whilst cutting down his palm accidentally chops a snake in half - he didn't see it! All the other locals find his poor eyesight hilarious!

We each make a cooking pot from a large section of bamboo. I start a start a fire (for practice) and then it's on to the good stuff - Traps! We were shown two: a bow and arrow trap and a spring loaded snare. Awesome!

My Only Life Line

The afternoon was the calm before the storm. We all milled around checking and rechecking the contents of our survival kit. All we know is that tomorrow (Monday) morning we go into isolation and that by the end of Thursday, somehow, we'll be in Somara Village. The scenario I'm playing is that I'm a researcher heading to a Lodge up the river. I send all my stuff up with the porters in a canoe up front whilst I follow behind in my own canoe - it sinks! Therefore it'll be the end of the day before they realise I'm not there, another day to organise a search party and another day to find me. But when they do, they'll have no provisions and we'll all have to make our own way back to the village, somehow. For all those worried people, I will have a walkie talkie as a life line - that is, if I'm not too injured to use it!

The day has fallen, night has come and all I can say whilst I write this is, "Bring It On!" Graham asked if I had any last requests should I die - all I could think of was, "Tell everyone I was killed by a Jaguar and that I died with a smile on my face!"

Day 1 :: Abandoned

We arrive at my crash site by canoe and immediately spot giant Bush Cow footprints on the river bank. Ian led me up an embankment and set a bearing on my compass to a giant Silk Cotton tree - useful should I get lost. He then gave me a quick list of things I need to achieve before my rescue and disappeared. They were:

Survival Crash Site

1. Make a shelter
2. Make a fire
3. Catch food
4. Make a trap

The first thing I did was to mark my territory like a dog - several times. I really had to go! Next I sat down on a log and thought about my situation whilst sharpening my gutting knife. That stopped when I slipped and slit my right fore finger. No worries, I just need to find a site for my shelter. So I start looking about and after ½ hour I realise I quite disorientated; mainly because what I thought was North, my compass said was South! Eeek! Then I couldn't find my way back to the river! Was I reading the compass right? Red is North yeah? I start to question even the simplest things. Gulp! If I can't find the river, water's gonna be hard to find, and I'm gonna be ever harder to find! But I trust common sense and my compass and find my way back to the Silk Cotton tree. Phew! That was quite a panic.

Shelter in Progress

I found 3 trees, which I could easily recognise, close to my landmark and decide to use them as the basis of my shelter. Needing 4, I tried crafting the 4th tree but as it wouldn't stand up, it wasn't an option. So I had to use a real 4th tree some distance away making it the biggest shelter ever! Finding tree's tall and straight enough to build the shelter became an issue. Afternoon came and I was no where near finished. I switched to chopping down bamboo as an alternative, but the bamboo spikes ended up cutting chunks out of me instead!

Home Sweet Home

Then I stumbled across a tiny 4 tree den - but it was very overgrown with shrubbery and rotting vine roots. "F*ck it!" I thought, time was is of the essence - I needed a shelter before dark. My machete made short work of the overgrown ground. I hauled all my chopped trees over and re-assembled them in my new den. Job done - almost. I only had time to chop down 2 giant Kutkrit palm leaves for the roof, leaving big gaping holes in it. I just hoped it wouldn't rain!

Bush Cow Footprint

I get my fire started just before dark - phew! And then spend the evening chopping up firewood by firelight. It only lasts 6 out of the 12 hours needed. I also had the most uncomfortable bed; a mix of Kutkrit palm, bamboo and tree logs - very uneven. Some hard and rigid, some soft, some saggy, some raised, some etc... But there is something to be said about sharpening your machete at night by an open fire, in a shelter you've just hand crafted, in a jungle in the middle of freaking nowhere! Very Rambo-esk! Very cool!

During the night, the Bush Cow cometh... no big deal as I figured if I didn't disturb it, it wouldn't disturb me. Not that I could disturb it mind, as without a fire you can't even see your hand in front of your face! But it was there and it was close! I heard rummaging about, it was big and it was snorting. Having heard the local lads imitate it's sounds whilst hunting I knew exactly what I was listening too.

Day 2 :: Do Survivors Shit in the Woods?

Home Sweet Home

I woke up feeling like shit; my bed was stupidly uncomfortable. Due to its layout I had practically been sleeping on 2 sticks. I was cold, it was pitch black and I waited for daylight. I figure I was without a fire for 6 hours. As I had no watch I based this assumption on the lack of scary Howler Monkey sounds which are supposed to start at 3 am. I think I was only able to doze for a few hours at the most.

Once I came to (which took a while) I slowly added more kutkrit palms to my roof. I was lucky that it didn't rain much last night - tonight may be a different story. I didn't want to be cold and wet! Whilst skimming the sharp corners off the palms with my machete I slice into my thump. Instant blood. 1st aid required. I blame it on being lethargic and tired. I continue and build up a decent roof, and the stems I use to make a very comfortable bed. They were all the same height and had a little springy give in them. Arrrr... I was looking forward to night time already!

Bugger!

I then stumble upon the remains of an old shelter and decide it'd make good fire wood. So I haul it back to base. Time for fishing - only I lost my Yari Yari (fishing) rod so I fashion myself a rough looking new one and add a hook and line. Then, whilst chopping up the tiny kutkrit nuts for grubs to use for bait, I literally cleave off a slice from the top of my left middle finger - right through the nail. Bugger. Well it's still hanging on a bit so I decide to leave it there and wash it out in the Piranha infested river (where else?). I could feel the end flapping about as I swished it around in the water. I apply 1st aid. There is nothing more anyone else can do for it so I continue fishing, but I leave the nut cracking for now! For all my efforts I catch 1 tiny catfish, bait size! Oh, a wise Amerindian recently told me that a sharp machete makes an excellent slave but it has no honour. I now understand.

Catch of the Day

It looks like late afternoon so I hang up my marker tape on an overhanging tree by the river so the search team know where I am and head home to start a fire. It starts on my 3rd attempt. Phew! (My silk cotton was running out!) Despite being very tired I start chopping wood. I notice a huge blister on my right fore finger caused by using the machete - arse. I bandage it with my grubby sweatband.

Whilst chopping up a length of old bamboo, from a hole I'd just made, swarms of 1000s of big red fire ants came gushing out and coated then entire log! Woah! There were so many it was unreal. It looked like a scene from "The Mummy Returns" or any similar Hollywood film! Forget chopping, that whole bamboo log went straight on the fire! As it was, there and then! Burn suckers, burn!

I chopped and I chopped and I chopped me up a shed load of fire wood but I still had a feeling it wouldn't be enough for a 12 hour blaze.

Fire

Jungle = 12 hours daylight + 12 hours blackness

I stoked up the fire, had a rest and fell asleep. When I woke up some time later I had no clue as to where I was. It was pitch black. I stumbled around looking for a light switch. When I couldn't find one I realised I was outside. Strange, where was everyone else? There was no light, but plenty of rain and then I noticed some slight red glowing embers on the floor. The penny drops, it all comes back to me.

I'm in the jungle, all alone. Crap.

I look at the fire. It went out some time ago. Double crap.

Methodical panic ensues as I fumble about on the floor for the tiny twigs and dried leaves I had prepared earlier for such an event. Then, after some character building moments I brought my fire back to fire. The phoenix rises from the ashes once again!

There is an art to keeping a flame going on a fire for 12 hours as I found out, especially after several close calls. You need a flame to burn fresh bits of wood, especially when it's damp and raining out side. (Most logs were in the shelter but the rain still found it's way in.) It rained hard throughout most of the night and only a couple of drops / drips made it through the roof. I also took many, many micro naps (waking up with a jolt, determined not to let the fire go out again). With my new comfy kutkrit palm bed I was warm and cosy (well sweating hard to be honest!) and when I called it a night at 4am (ish) I slept well into mid morning.

Day 3 :: Judgement Day

Survivors

Every digit of every hand pains. They all either have nicks, scratches, splinters, cuts, burns, blisters (or any combination of) or just have chunks missing from them! My back is real stiff (probably from the night before last), I feel tired and weary and my mouth feels furry. Oh what fun!

Anyhow, after waking from a comfy slumber I plan my days activities;

1. Water,
2. 1st Aid,
3. Trap / Snare making,
4. Firewood

Steve

No sooner had I made a mud slide down the embankment to the river and iodined some water... Hark! Is that the rescue team I hear? Bugger, I've not set me snare yet. So I race back into the jungle, grab me a bendy tree, cut some rope, whittle down a trigger from a stick and rack my brains to recall how the release mechanism works. But it's too late, the rescue team are here, Ian and Lionel walk over with chocolate bars. They look over my shelter and give it a nod of approval - Lionel even remarks that it's the best of the lot! He inspects my trap. I apologise for not having to time to set it but says it's okay as all the right triggers and release mechanisms are there and it would work when set. Cool! It seems I pulled it off just in time. All 4 survival objectives met!

He Shoots, He Scores!

I kiss my home (shelter) goodbye and am taken to join the others. They both made it through too - although Graham, after being drenched, cold and wet all through last night decided to call it quits and radioed in - only to be told the rescue team were on their way anyway! It also transpires they both found shelter remains on their first night and just re-built it! Grrr... Ian is adamant that in future all used shelters are going straight in the river!

Rescue Camp

Back to the survival scenario. We may have been found but we've still got to get ourselves back to civilisation and what better way than to paddle ourselves upstream for 4 hours to another campsite! The guy up front in the canoe is mainly the engine whilst the guy at the back uses his paddle strokes to steer. Luckily we had Richard, the yachtsman, who was well practiced in boat steering. I tried it for ½ hour and quite frankly, I was crap! Even under Richards expert guidance! I found powering the boat from up front was actually less tiring!?

Shower Room

Ian, who's on a canoe with the local lads just messes about on the river and has him a little hunting practice (while watching us struggle!). He even mortally wounds a baby Kapibary through the lungs after Lionel pointed it out through the bushes. Harry then swiftly delivers a fatal shot to the head and pulls it out of the water. Lionel finds it all very amusing that Ian managed it hit something and claims it was just the law of averages. With all the shots Ian was putting into the bush, he was bound to hit something sooner or later!

Survivor Steve

Our new campsite is absolutely stunning once again. We empty the canoes and set up our basha / hammock sites. Ian gets a guilt complex over killing the cute, 2 month old baby and reckons his girlfriend Sarah would never forgive him! Never the less, we de-fur it, gut it and roast it on an open fire for dinner. The meat is tender, sorta porky and delicious, especially as it was still feeding off its mothers milk before it met it's early demise.

I survived. Nuff said.

And He Walks Out of the Jungle

Bushmasters

We get up, pack up and start walking. A few hours later we pass our last tree, walk into the Savannah and arrive at Surama Eco-Lodge. Tonight we have cold showers, beds and real flushing toilets! It's an interesting observation that when most westerners mention cold showers, it's in the context of a rustic novelty but here it's mentioned as a luxury! We hang up and dry out our kit. I decide to buy my bow and arrow and a couple of training arrows to send back to the UK and also buy a Gootie - a rubber pot the locals use to keep their booze in.

Lionel turns up and takes us for a walk around his Surama village. It is literally just a few huts! Still, they are very proud of their wooden school buildings. There's a school assembly going on outside which we stand and watch. But we decide to move on when it becomes apparent that the whole assembly had stopped to watch the watching westerners!

Tapia - Bush CowTapia - Bush Cow

We go to the animal sanctuary. Spurred on by a German TV company the idea is that they catch wild animals, hold them captive for a 3 months or so whilst they're filmed "in the wild" and then released. Apparently if you watch the credits of almost any nature program it'll say, "filmed in controlled circumstances." As for this place is concerned, I'll just say that their Puma has been caged for the past 3 years and it paces up and down in distress. They keep a bush deer in the cage right next door to it - I swear that poor deer hasn't slept a wink in the past 3 years. Would you with your natural adversary sleeping next door? Poor frightened thing! They also have a very friendly Bush Cow (Tapia), some monkeys, an armadillo (!) and other stuff. We leave to visit the village shop, pick up a couple slabs of beer and head back.

Jungle Mountains

We throw up a couple of lazy hammocks in the upstairs of the main Behab and marvel at the tranquility of the view; jungle mountains slinking off behind the Savannah. Ian kindly donates a lazy hammock to my traveling cause; the only catch being the others get to choose which one. Hmm. So you know that sickly purple & yellow floral psychedelic one that we all laughed at when it was first brought out? Well it's now mine! We are joined by Morden & Elizabeth, a young Danish couple who recently arrived in Guyana for a quick holiday. Elizabeth has piercing googley eyes and spends most of the night talking to me. :-) I fill up my Gootie with Rum and once the slabs of beer are finished, drunken Rum chaos ensues into the early morning.

Today I was impressed to find my first ticks - one on my waist and another behind a knee. You catch them scraping through tree ands shrubs in the jungle. Needless to say, the resilient blood sucking monsters didn't last for long once I found them!