Sitting and teaching in the middle of the Amazonian Forest near the village of Rewa (current population 284) where the Rewa and Rupununi rivers meet, Dicky, one of the part time managers of the local eco- lodge, stops our conversation abruptly and puts a finger to his lips. Silence…… We halt talking about the finer details of international sales and marketing and how to prepare for higher gas prices in 2015.
|Normal sight in the forest|
“ I smell the rains”, he says. “ It’s gonna be wet tonight”. Overhead, not a cloud in the sky, the sun is relentlessly beating down on us. We don’t see, hear or smell a thing. We don’t doubt him though, we can’t, we have to believe him. We have learnt very quickly here that the people who inhabit the rainforests and have lived here for generations, know, smell and see things we can’t even begin to think of. As a result, they are excellent guides; they have this uncanny ability to see or detect wildlife before we even hear it, know where the fish are (do they love fishing) and spot birds and monkeys in the trees, where we only see branches and leaves.
Not so long ago, some of them were poaching for a living but , now, most of them have turned that habit around and provide their services to tourists who want to see the giant anteater, the capybara, the spotted jaguar or the super sized arapaima. The rain-forest is in their veins and, on many occasions, we have been the lucky beneficiaries of their skills to detect animals, good and bad. When one goes into the forest with a group of people, there is one guide up front and one in the back. They both carry razor sharp machetes which they use to cut the trail when necessary. The front-man keeps an eye out for animals to spot (the good ones) and to chop (the bad ones). The evil bushmaster (a snake with a notorious venomous bite) will be hacked to pieces if it shows its heat seeking head; there is not a lot of patience here for venomous snakes or other poisonous creatures. Living in tune with nature also means killing for a living. The guide in the back is making sure there are no attacks from the rear or straggling tourists. All alone or lost in the forest is not a pleasant experience when you are more used to an urban jungle with only Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts or Dominos Pizzas to contend with.
|Rewa, the office|
There are of course those, who want to prove themselves in spite of their upbringings in urban centers like London, Amsterdam or New York. They can be serviced….. A Tour Operator here (aptly named Bushmasters) does good business with his survival tours. For a considerable amount of money, he preps you to survive in the jungle for 72 hours. The tour includes an introduction into the forest, lessons on how to prepare your food (that you have to catch yourself) and how to build a shelter against the rains. The tours are organized during the rainy season, when mosquitoes and the dreadful kabouras are ubiquitous and survival seems to be more fun. We spoke with a few of those survivors after they returned from the forest and they sounded more relieved than happy to have made it out. None of them had caught anything to eat and very few managed to light a fire, which is pretty essential when you want to cook or want to keep away the biting insects at night. 72 Hours in the rain forest without a proper lifelong preparation turned out to be no easy feat, even for the most hardened and prepared European or American die hard camper.
|On the river to Rewa Eco Lodge|
Ask the contestants of “Naked and Afraid”. We were not familiar with this nature-reality show but it seems to get high ratings in the States and is currently, we believe, in its fourth season. The show features a man and a woman, who, having never met before, are supposed to live in the wild for a number of weeks only using their survival skills, whatever those are. The fact that they have to be naked seems to add to the excitement. The Rupununi is a good place to shoot this show because the wild rain forests are (relatively) easy reachable and the film crews can set themselves up not too far from where the real action is supposed to take place. We visited a few of the places, which were used as a base for the production of the show (Saddle Mountain and Surama). When the contestants arrive on site, they are, by contract, not allowed to talk with the local Amerindians, who would very easily make it through the whole series without batting an eyelid and could offer good survival advice. That wouldn’t be too exciting though now would it…..
|River otters seen at the Rewa Eco Lodge|
It seems that the first contestant made it for 48 hours in the forest, after which a new victim had to be shipped in quickly. What happened to the other contestants we do not know but, when we heard the stories from the locals, they were highly surprised that this was even a contest. For them it is still daily life and they really do not have any issues with living in and off the forest. Although they are used to some of our luxuries and comforts, the rainforest is still the place they call home and where they farm and live, without even realizing other tribes (like us) see it as an extraordinary form of survival. Go figure.
|As it's always been|
So, Dicky, the manager of the Rewa Eco Lodge, was right of course; that night it was raining cats and dogs, which brought out the mosquitoes and the bêtes rouges, but that’s another story, which we are itching to talk about another time.