I bet you take roads for granted. You use them in your car, on your bike, hell, you might even skip down the middle of them at 4 a.m. after a particularly frivolous night out. You don’t think anything of them unless there are potholes and roadworks and traffic lights that are conspiring against you. You only notice roads when something goes wrong.
Well, what if there were no roads? What if, instead of that rush hour junction on the A10 and that cyclist who always cuts you up at the lights, you had two rivers to cross and a three-mile stretch of undergrowth to hack through with a machete? That was the reality I faced when I spent three months in the Manu National Park in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.
Admittedly, I didn’t have to make that four-hour journey every day, but I did it enough for it to become regular. One particular journey was worse than the rest, so I’ll tell you about that one. I have pictures too.
It rains a lot in the Amazon Rainforest. A lot. We have the occasional downpour in England and they tend to last about 20 minutes. In the jungle those downpours can last 20 hours. I got to the jungle at the start of March which was still in the wet season so those downpours were frequent. We spent half our days sitting in our wooden, straw-roofed homes watching the rain pour off the roof. One night it rained so hard I wet my bed.
The next day after that particularly bad downpour was the day we were leaving for this town called Salvaccion across the river. No, wait… rivers, plural. There were normally two rivers, a short walk on stony ground and a bus ride to overcome en route to Salvaccion, the holy land, the place they had electricity and two computers with Internet access that we could use to tell folks back home that, no, we still weren’t missing them.
We had breakfast, packed our backpacks with a few changes of clothes – okay, a set for the sweaty, grimy jungle days, and a second set for the slightly less sweaty but bug-spattered evenings – and put our boots on. We headed down to the mud bank we affectionately called a port, and boarded the peke peke. Papicha, “the godfather”, took us across the swollen first river with all the experience of a man born and raised in the jungle. A stronger current and a few extra feet of water was his equivalent of scraping the frost off the windscreen.
Once past that first tiny hurdle, it was the simple case of a quick mile hike across some stony empty ground. Oh no, wait, sorry. Since the last time we’d made the journey a new river had sprung up.
It had quite literally rained a new river. Where once was sand and twigs and walkable ground, there was now a river three feet deep. There was no way around it. It was either cross it or go home. No one would have held it against us if we had gone home because that’s how life works in the jungle – sometimes nature wins. But that day we decided we really wanted to use an actual light switch in Salvaccion, so we crossed.
We were now, obviously, drenched. I’m not in that picture by the way. I charged across ahead of the rest like I was built for river-wading. I even had time to stop, unpack my backpack, grab my camera and snap a photo of my hapless fellow waders.
After that bit of excitement, we followed the stone track to a lower-lying section that was also now a river. This one would have been suicide to cross because, although it wasn’t deep, it was fast. There was no other path for us to take, so again it was either give up and go home, or come up with a Plan B on the spot. After a bit of exploring the area and Lorenzo’s hilarious but almost-fatal attempt at crossing the torrent, we found a section of jungle that was less dense than the rest. It was thinner branches and bushes, so we got to work with the machetes. Choppy chop chop, we went, as we loosened bigger branches. Hacky hack hack, we did, as we tidied up the loose bits. Ouch bloody ouch, we said, as we scraped and stumbled through our hastily made path.
Eventually our path took us to a narrower part of the river, that we were able to cross with the aid of some luckily-placed rocks. We followed the path to the bus stop. Yes, thank you, an actual bus stop. Well, there was no shelter or timetable or signpost, and was in fact no more than a stretch of the road that the bus would pass, but it served us well enough, even if it took about two more hours for the bus to arrive. There was about two buses a day, from Point A to Point B, and just one going back. If you missed it, you were so screwed you might as well have been holding a shelf up. Thankfully, we’d just about managed to make it in time for the second one. Well, we assume it was the second one. It might have been the first one. Nobody had any idea.
We were finally on our way to Salvaccion, an actual town with actual roads, despite having to wade across a river and create our own jungle path like a group of 18th century adventurers. But the woman sitting on her sack of potatoes halfway down the aisle looked pretty content with how her day was going.