The next day, we awoke at 4:30am to already brutal heat. This is going to be a really, really hot day, we all said at breakfast, wiping the sweat from our brows. None of us had slept well; sleeping at that point was just lying in a pool of your own sweat, daydreaming of cold water and a cool ocean breeze.
As we began the first of four hikes planned for that day, trekking farther and farther into the cacophonous, insect-brewing, mud-slick jungle, we began to notice the trees getting bigger, until their roots alone were six-foot walls of smooth bark extending above the ground.
I spent a silent moment with one such tree, placing my palms and forehead on its smooth, greenish-white bark and breathing in its heady, earthy aroma before Ronaldo said quietly over my shoulder, “Be careful—anacondas like to hide behind there.” He gave us similar warnings about leaf-cutter and bullet ants when we sat at the tree’s roots to eat our lunch.
We jumped back onto the boat and headed upriver to a hidden lake famous for its large population of a Jurassic Park–like bird, the hoatzin. You hear—and smell—these birds before you see them: they make a guttural huffing sound, like a rhino about to charge, and they smell like rotting cow manure. Oh, and they have claws on the inside of their wings. So they can climb trees, of course.
The Amazon is not comfortable. In fact, it’s the opposite of comfortable. But that’s the point of it: it’s the kind of little-kid-in-the-mud, skinned-knee, shit-eating-grin uncomfortable.
There’s something beautiful and epic in being able to push everything aside and revel in the beauty, magic, and danger of a place like that. After all, what’s life without that little twinge of fear telling you that you could realistically be killed at any moment?