After leaving Tefe (the city where the famous naturalist Henry Walter Bates based himself for several years) and following an exhausting 7.5K swim across Lago Tefé, my current guide Everaldo and I set off for the long slog to Juruá. Armed with Everaldo’s vast knowledge of the rainforest and my own very modest experience, we started walking from a community on the west side of the lake.
On the way across this remote part of the rainforest, Everaldo showed me a wealth of different medicinal plants and explained what they can be used for, and which are viable food sources, Of these, the most interesting for us was the Cacau do mato (Jungle Cocoa), a green, protein- & vitamin-rich fruit that grows wild on the side of a specific tree species in low lying forest. We ate many of these to supplement our diet every day (see photo below.)
We also encountered a small community harvesting brazil nuts, and I decided to spend an extra day with them to film them collecting the seasonal nuts which they will sell on to a passing boat bound for Tefé. There, they are processed and packaged and probably exported by a large company in Manaus. By pure luck, we also encountered some people on the Rio Caiçara making farine. They were the only people within about 35km up- or downstream, and told us they only spend a few days a month there. They fed us and took us downriver to a community to buy much-needed supplies before we set off again.
On the final morning, I awoke at 5.30am to a rainstorm of what I can best describe as being of biblical proportions. My old ant-bitten and leaky flysheet was getting a right old battering in the tempest. Clearly, since it had been raining in some form or other since the previous afternoon, God never forgets to water the plants here. I switched on my head torch to see clouds of mosquitoes prodding my hammock, observing at close range their probosces wriggling through the perforations of my mosquito net above, as they eagerly sought their gringo blood-fest. Most of our gear and clothes were still saturated from the previous day when we had had to set up camp late, in the heavy rain. We had managed to light a fire and wash in the nearby stream the previous evening, but the wood I had prepared for the morning fire was now soaked. We also hadn’t eaten, because our rationed food supplies had run out the day before, In the circumstances, I decided to give myself the luxury of lying in my warm and cosy sleeping bag until 7am, psyching myself up to exit the hammock and try to re-ignite the fire to make coffee.
We finally got going again when the rain subsided at about 10 am, and then we had another lucky break when we found and followed a track – a yellow sand track – that led us almost 8 kilometres straight to what I immediately decided to call the Emerald City, sitting, as it does, right in the middle of a mass of rainforest sometimes referred to as the emerald band (in 2015 the BBC used the term to refer to the band of tropical forests that surround the hot humid lower latitudes of the earth). We didn’t encounter any cowardly lions or tin men en route, but we both (me more so) resembled scarecrows after fighting through the treacherous tangled and water-logged forest for 3 weeks to get here. If you check the map at the bottom of this page you can see that this unusual city is uniquely isolated in a vast stretch of jungle on the banks of the winding, 2,400km-long Rio Juruá, almost 90km from the Solimões (Amazon) river. The original route I had planned was much closer to the main Amazon river, going via the town of Fonte Boa, but due to delays finding guides, the flood season started and it quickly became clear that the only viable route was on slightly higher ground. They may not have a wizard here in Jurua, but they do have the next best thing: WiFi! At the risk of mixing my metaphors, I took the green pill (for intestinal parasites) and escaped the real world for a while to enter the matrix and bring you this blog all the way from the Emerald City.
My walking companion on this leg, Everaldo, is the father of an earlier guide – Erland from Beruri. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived in Juruá, he clicked his red sandals three times (sorry – but he really does have red sandals!) told me there’s no place like home, and disappeared. I can’t blame him, really – this traverse was more difficult than either of us expected, mainly because of the heavy rains and all the associated problems. He also has a wife and family worrying about him back in Beruri. ”Respect the forest, it will surely kill you if you’re not careful” he would say.
So here I am once more on the hunt for a local who is willing to walk with me – this time to Amaturá. So far, nobody has put their hand up, despite the good wage I am offering. So again I will have to hire a boat and visit a few nearby communities. The forest on the opposite bank to the town is already inundated with water, and I cannot afford to wait very long. It already looks like I may have to swim 18km downstream to reach terra firma, where there is yet another long scary river to swim to finally reach ground that I calculate will be passable on foot.
As cosy, friendly and remote as it is here, I must soon leave the safety of Juruá, my Emerald City, with its wonderful wizardly WIFI, and find the courage, wisdom and heart to complete the next section though the emerald band.
Header photo. Community members collecting and opening the seasonal harvest of Brazil nuts. Near Lago Tefé
Cacau do mato. Wild-growing fruit in the low lying forest
Everaldo collects clean sand filtered water for drinking in one of the many streams we frequently cross
Natural clean sand-filtered mineral water of the Amazon. Now in rainy season we pass enough of these small rivers a day to stay hydrated. In dry season most of the small streams are bone dry.
Giant red-eye Piranha in the Rio Caiçara I swam across.
We cleared the ground to make camp, but this frog refused to move!
People from communities downriver, working making farine. We were very lucky to encounter them. Ivanildo (right) took us 35km to a community in his boat to get more supplies. Rio Caiçara.
“I can make 4 of these a day if I have time”. Community member Meiry makes various items from the forest to sell in Tefé.
Everaldo’s makeshift head gear. “Insects can get in your ears and cause problems and infections”
Mushrooms stand out – a colour other than green in the forest
Tracking map 1 – Tefé to Rio Caiçara
Tracking map 2 – Rio Caiçara to Juruá
Pan and zoom map below to see more detail