On our second full day in Villa Tunari, we struck out into the rainforests north of the village, under the supervision of José, a great guide with twenty years of experience in the region. A six-hour hike along rivers which left our shoes soaked, legs pockmarked by the itchy bites of vicious flies and minds scarred by our first encounter with quicksand. It was a blast.
José picked us up at 7am, and we took a taxi to the hike’s starting point, about seven kilometers from the village. His eleven-year old black lab accompanied with us. Cúchufri, whose name approximately means “stink dog”, was an invaluable companion. José would send him ahead of us to scout for snakes, many of which in the region are poisonous.
Right away, we got into the river. Submerging our shoes into the cold water was initially uncomfortable, but was a sensation we quickly became accustomed to. But the knee-high water washed off the insect repellent we had so dutifully applied earlier in the morning. And every time we would emerge from the river, jungle flies attacked. Much smaller than mosquitoes, they were nearly invisible and impossible to defend against. By the end of the hike, our legs had been devastated. And these bites are far worse than those of mosquitoes. They persisted for three weeks, becoming ever itchier, and the urge to scratch was irresistible.
Besides the flies, we were having an incredible time. It was just us and José, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being all alone in the jungle. We saw monkeys swinging overhead and the tracks of crocodiles, tapirs and armadillos. Once in awhile, we would pause to listen to the jungle’s soundtrack: the warbling of strange birds, the rushing of the river and the chirping of god-knows-what insects.
After a lunch break and refreshing underwear-only dip in a deep section of the river, we walked up to the shore. Jürgen wasn’t following José’s steps exactly, and wandered into a patch of quicksand. Almost immediately, he sunk to his waist. Scary! But not scary enough to prevent me from grabbing his camera and start taking pictures. José was adamant that Jürgen extract himself from the trap, without help. Apparently, the pulling of other people only makes the sand more difficult to escape. So if you ever find yourself in quicksand, here’s how to get out:
(1) Remain Calm.
(2) Reach out to firm ground with your hands (or have someone get you a long stick for support).
(3) Very, very slowly lift one leg out, and place it lightly on top of the sand, in a kneeling position.
(4) Very, very slowly lift the other leg out.
At least, that’s how Jürgen did it, during a process that lasted about fifteen minutes. He had only sunk down to his waist. If you find yourself up to your chin, I would guess the above instructions are probably useless. Good luck.
Towards the end of the walk, we came upon a road that the government had just begun to construct. This is a controversial project among the residents of the region. Although a modern road would improve the lives of peasants who must otherwise walk miles into town, it cuts through a area of virgin forest which is supposed to be protected, and it might destroy the lives of remote indigenous communities. But it made the last bit of our walk a lot easier, so I found it difficult to muster any outrage.
If you’re looking for a great tour of some incredible nature, look up José. His office is found at the eastern extreme of Villa Tunari, right before the bridge that takes you over to Parque Machía. And tell him that Mike & Jürgen sent you!