Lost in the Rainforest

Published by Chris Harvey October 20, 2005

Jason Adelson
Copyright 2000, RPK&A, Inc.

Getting to one of the remotest corners of the Amazon Basin takes awhile. First, there is the terrifying ride in a Lego plane. Then a seven-hour canoe run, 10 hours in a bus, a stop at a U.S. oil-company checkpoint so the philanthropists can give you permission to continue on Ecuadorian territory, plus another canoe ride, this one for 13 hours.

We oozed with anticipation at our arrival at the research station, but it was night when we pulled in; there were only sounds. I awoke at four a.m. with a start. Something that sounded like a cross between your basic growl and a thunderstorm was not far away. I got up, put on my boots, and strode out into the vegetation to have a close look.

Are you kidding? I was too busy pissing in my pants!

¡Cuidado! Getting lost in the rainforest can be the most dangerous thing you could do. It may be tempting to leave a trail to follow a troop of monkeys or get a better view of a scarlet macaw, but you should know that finding the trail again might take a long time. You may starve or be devoured.

“Where’s Leon?” Our first group hike in the jungle.

“I don’t know, he was right here a minute ago.”

“LEEEON!” No answer. He has a bird fetish and probably wandered off to do exactly what we were warned not to do–get a better view of a scarlet macaw. A search party is assembled. We are worried. This jungle is full of really scary shit.

Leon’s miniature mummified head is eventually found three years later in a Peruvian customs seizure.

¡Cuidado! The candiru is a very small eel-like fish found in the Amazon Basin. It is a parasite and attaches itself to the gills of larger host fish that it finds by following a concentrated stream of nitrogen in the water, emitted from the host fish’s gills. If you urinate in the river, the highly feared candiru might mistake your urethra for a set of gills. It can lodge itself in the urethra with sharp spines, and surgery is necessary to remove it. If you don’t urinate in the water, there is no need for concern. These fish need an actively flowing nitrogen source to find a new host. Don’t provide one, that’s all. Happy swimming.

Needless to say, this jungle is not like a North American temperate forest where you can sit down wherever you like or walk around daydreaming. Several “24-hour” snakes have been found on the station grounds. I’ll let you guess the reason for their name. “You guys, this mosquito bite has been getting bigger and bigger for the last week.” “Libby, that isn’t a mosquito bite,” Professor Ken regretfully informs after a close inspection.

Matthew leaps up in joy because he has correctly guessed the prognosis. “It’s a bot-fly larva!!!”

Indeed, it is. Libby’s forearm is pregnant with a bot-fly larva which has burrowed into her skin and is feeding off of her flesh. It breathes through an air tube it sends up to the outside, and during its restless waking hours, it turns about in its chamber, causing discomfort because, like everything else here, it has spines.

“Oh my god!”

“We have a couple options, Libby. We can cover the breathing tube with tape and hope that the larva will come to the surface and get stuck to the tape. Then we peel it off. There is a danger of infection, though, if we only get part of the larva out.”

“Oh my god.”

“Or we can tape a piece of juicy meat onto your arm and hope that the larva will like to eat that better than you. But really, the safest option might be to wait out your gestation period. In a couple weeks the larva will become a fly and hatch out of your arm.”

Libby is wigged out. As a group of science students, we try our best to convince Libby to go for the third option. We want to see this fly come out of her arm. Poor Libby–just a couple days ago she was bitten by the monstrous bullet ant which leaves an average human being in acute pain for three days.

Vulnerability. The river’s current is strong, venomous snakes and spiny caterpillars, spiders, stingray tails, and palm trees. Anacondas. Piranhas. It’s possible to stay out of danger, but the spores will still get you. Everything molds and mildews–the pillows, our clothes, our backpacks… Matthew’s camera lens has fungus growing inside it. Death and decay as much as life and growth. We, the visiting college students, are but specks.

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