Here’s what Lt Hernaman has to say:
As we gathered on a warm Friday morning at Worsley Barracks in York, numerous questions were going through our minds – had I packed the right kit? How hot would it really be? But one thing was clear – we all knew that it was an opportunity of a lifetime. This was my first Adventurous Training course, my first visit to the jungle, and I had also only been on a kayak/canoe for a few hours at a time – so I was apprehensive to say the least.
Around 27 hours and 3 flights later we landed in Manaus, and a warm welcome from our main guide Erikes was waiting for us. The severity of the heat/humidity became apparent immediately. We spent the rest of the day making our final preparations and transferring our kit to the many dry bags that would be used on the river. We set off by minibus early the next day and headed north on the road which eventually led to Venezuela. The trees and trucks got larger, and the road bumpier. After a short delay (caused by a blown out tyre – we hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come), we arrived at the drop off point as the temperature hit 34 degrees. We met the team of locals that would be our guides for the next 10 days and loaded our kit onto the 11 Sit On Top Kayaks and 2-person canoes.
We set off slowly, but not before a swim to ease our fears of the river itself. After a few hours paddling, which included two capsizes and one lost phone, we arrived at camp 1. Our guides had prepared a late lunch of rice, bean stew and barbecued piranha (along with some wild chillies which I avoided). We set up camp deep in the jungle, grateful to be out of the sun, hesitantly setting up our hammocks for the first time as the light dropped. This was my first experience of the jungle – the humidity, heat, sounds, insects, vegetation combined to create an awesome atmosphere.
A restless night’s sleep, interrupted by howler monkeys and falling trees, was quickly forgotten by all as we were treated to a traditional Brazilian breakfast. We then headed further into the jungle in search of a cave, home to dozens of bats (one of the highlights of the trip), and a nearby waterfall and pool (vine rope swing included). Even early in the morning, and only trekking a short distance, the heat and humidity became formidable. We loaded up the kit and headed back onto the river. The lunch stop gave us the opportunity to visit another incredible waterfall and cool off. Along the way we came across a tarantula; It seemed huge to us but we were told afterwards it was actually quite a small one. We paddled for another few hours to the next camp location – trying to keep cool and stay hydrated was a constant struggle on the river, with no cover from the sun. Camp 2 was an abandoned riverside lodge, which provided an empty structure for us to hang our hammocks. We made the most of the daylight by bathing and cleaning our clothes in the river – we had already started to smell… Sweat, rain and regularly being in and out of the river meant we were always wet, although it made wet/dry drills and good admin all the more important.
Over the next 7 days we spent more and more time on the river each day (paddling up to 35 km), all the while gaining open boating technical skills and knowledge as part of the Open Canoe Foundation (O2F) qualification. We settled into a rhythm and our confidence grew, allowing us to appreciate the beautiful forest and the wildlife. The hard seats of the boats and incessant insects were soon ignored. The same routine was followed each day and we became very efficient at setting up and collapsing camp. Particular highlights of mine were seeing a pair of monkeys in the trees on the river bank as we were paddling on day 4, piranha fishing at night, witnessing a thunderstorm that hit our camp at 1am on day 7, and seeing rare pink river dolphins (on multiple occasions). The river and landscape changed as we headed downstream, the fast flowing narrow river become slow and open, with no defined banks – only half submerged trees. This made navigation difficult and reduced our average speed.
Our last day on the river arrived sooner than we wanted, however I can admit that 10 days of paddling/the jungle had taken its toll on all. A particularly hot day, we arrived exhausted at the finish point – glad to have all completed the expedition with no (major) injuries. The air conditioned minibus was very welcome and after some goodbyes we headed back to Manaus. Our attention now turned to sorting our kit out, and the next few days. We headed to a nearby Ecopark where we went caimen spotting, trekked through the jungle, learnt about the indigenous people’s traditional methods of farming, visited a monkey sanctuary, and some of the group even swam with wild pink river dolphins.
It was a much needed chance to unwind after the river phase, and a great opportunity to see even more of the unbelievable Amazon wildlife before we headed home. A physically challenging yet absolutely phenomenal experience that each one of us will never forget.