One ravishing, boiling hot day deep in The Bolivian Amazon, something deadly serious was about to unfold…
The land was already cooking in the morning sun and my Father and my eldest brother (I had 8 siblings in all) decided it would be a fine day to go hunting. They were getting ready to leave just as the howler monkeys were ending their morning hoot. I raced up to my big brother, dropping to my knees, begging to go with them. As I was the second eldest in my family, my Father agreed, so long as I stayed on the path.
I marched behind them in triumph, my younger siblings gawping at me with their eyes bulging as I was handed my first machete. When we approached the forest, it loomed over my head like a jaguar gaining on its feast. Time slowed down as I heard the musical hum of the grasshoppers, the frantic beating of giant cicada’s wings and the echoing call of an oropendola, sounding like droplets of water colliding with the russet brown, murky depths of the Rio Tuichi.
I waved to my mum and my younger siblings standing outside our hut and turned on my heal. The jungle soon swallowed us. We walked for what seemed like hours with my Dad pointing out animals and plants I had never seen before. Some were more familiar - like the blue and yellow macaws flying over the cliff edge or the wood stork wading in the muddy banks of a stream flowing into the river. I wasn't afraid of the spiny spiders as I knew they weren't poisonous nor the jungle turkeys sitting on their treetop penthouses looking down at us as if we were ants.
At around midday we finally found some tracks of a wild boar, about three hours fresh. Boars, my Father had told me, could go one of two ways: they can either be social and not bothered by humans at all, but if they're hurt and in pain or they're protecting their young, they can become ruthless killers trampling anything in their path!
My father was therefore understandably nervous and told me to wait by the tree next to the tiny path we had left, which was barely visible, while they tracked the unpredictable boar. They said they would be gone at the most, two hours. So, I waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity. Soon I had leaf cutter ants storming along my feet and bullet ants seemed to appear from nowhere, threatening me with their painful pincers and agonising sting. The mosquitos were especially fierce as they managed to bite through my trousers. I had lived in the jungle all my life and had encountered many creepy crawlies in my time, but the discomfort now was unbearable. I got more restless by the minute and after enduring the agony of waiting for their return, I staggered up and started to backtrack to what I thought was the way home. As dusk finally began to creep over the jungle, the path became even more difficult to see, until I realised, eventually, that the path was no longer there…
In that moment of pure panic, I ran around in circles, screaming my head off until all the breath had deserted my lungs. Hyperventilating, I sat down, and in a daze I remembered what my Father had said before we ventured into the jungle. “…if you do get lost, move downhill and find the river, you know by now that the village is upsteam…”. So, I got up, catching my breath and I started to walk.
In the fading light I stumbled through the thickets of vines, ramming into trees and spiderwebs. I was dying of thirst, and as I cut through a plant it started bleeding … Water! I picked it up, I couldn’t see it very well, but it felt fuzzy. Remembering what my mother did when she found this plant, carefully skinning it so as not to chew the fuzz, I sucked the sweet water from the pulp. My strength gradually came back to me. Not much further along I found a huge Ceiba tree, with buttress roots the size of our canoe for a shelter. I cut off large palm tree branches to use as a roof for the night.
Exhausted, I slumped down in my makeshift den, trying hard to grip onto my trusty machete, but my arms were going limp and my hands were numb from the pain of insect bites. It was almost pitch black now, and as my sight failed, my ears became overwhelmed with the sounds of the jungle at night. Was that a leaf brushing the back of my hand? Or a tarantula? A snake perhaps? I could not tell. I was paralysed with fear, but worse still, I knew that jaguars came out to hunt in the dark... My small body could cope no more and I fell into a disturbed sleep.
I had a dream that night of a man, no older than my Father. I was looking up at him as if he was a giant. He said to me “when you wake, look for the rising sun. Follow it and you will find what you seek…”. My eyes snapped open and I woke to a line of leafcutter ants straining to get their share of my trousers and a wandering spider crawling around its web above my head. I had survived the night! Remembering my vivid dream, I grabbed my machete, cut a piece of the fuzzy plant for breakfast, and started walking towards the rising sun.
At about midday, the sun was high in the sky and I didn’t know which way to go any more. I looked right and glimpsed a burst of light shining through an opening in the canopy of trees and heard the rush of water in the distance. With a new found strength, I raced along, gaining on the light and smashing through saplings to find the river! I splashed the welcoming, cold, murky water on my face and sat down to watch a yellow bellied finch traipse along the waters edge. I followed the river upstream for the rest of the afternoon until I finally found my village - my Mother ran towards me with her arms outstretched, screaming with relief. After a long hug I told her of my adventures in the jungle and how I had found my way home. But, my Father was still out looking for me. When he returned late that evening, we stared at each other without saying a word. I watched his face go fiery red as he burst out in a rage of anger, and joy. I had managed to spend a night alone in the jungle at aged 9… but, I was back, safe and sound. The pain of my bites had even begun to fade a little with the help of a poultice my Mother had made. I scoffed down dinner, ravenous after not eating for a day, and flopped down into a deep, comfortable sleep.
N.B. Daisy's story is based on true events! Our amazing guide, Ernesto from Mashequipe Eco Tours really did get lost in the jungle and endured a night alone when he was only 9 years old. He didn't know at the time that the buttress roots of a ceiba tree not only made good walls for a shelter, but that banging on them was a call for help that could be heard up to a kilometre away...