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Bushwhacking and Camera Traps in Manu Park

by Jason on August 5, 2012

Wow. We just finished up all the bushwhacking and all the camera traps today. In nine days of bushwhacking, we have covered approximately 90 km (55 miles) of terrain in the jungle. I have to acknowledge myself for this accomplishment.

I was nervous and scared when we first started. I wondered what poisonous snakes or dangerous animals, like jaguars, we would encounter. And we would be remote as anyone could possibly be with no way of getting help in a timely manner. We were all alone out there.

I was also told that we would have to pass through swamps up to almost our waist, impassable bamboo with spines and many other things. I really wasn’t expecting this to be a cakewalk at all.

Now I actually have a bit of experience bushwhacking through the Amazon Jungle in an incredibly remote area. I’m no expert like the Machiguengas, but I have some experience. I’m recognizing some plant and tree species, some nuts, some flowers, some smells. I am recognizing bird sounds, animals and more. I feel calm and at peace now in the jungle. I know what obstacles are likely and how to get around them. I know what help I need. I’ve even learned the basics of Machete Use 101.

So what do you do when you come across a swamp or a deep creek that is above your head and you know caimans and piranhas are present in the water? And you have to get across? You go up and down the bank looking for a big log that has fallen across the way. You then get a piece of bamboo or something else to stick in the water to help you balance as you cross. We had to do this on more than one occasion. I was pretty nervous some of the time that I might lose my balance and fall.

Or what do you do when you come across an oxbow lake that has died and has turned into a swamp instead? The swamp is at least a hundred feet across. There is no other way around the swamp, and you have to get across. The swamp is nearly waist deep in thick water filled with mud, and other rotting organic material.

Well, you have a Machiguenga native present to help. Of course. Juan, our Machiguenga friend, proceeded to cut a course through the swamp by stepping and hopping across roots of trees. There were just enough trees, and solid ground by those trees, that we could step across the branches. Where there were no trees, we laid down branches. Those branches served kind of like snow shoes, distributing the weight across a much greater area. As a result, we did not fall into the swamp. For the last thirty feet, we found a fallen log that we walked across all the way to the other side.

Or what do you do when the path is obstructed by impassable forest, bamboo, bushes, vines and other things? Again, you have the expert help of the Machiguengas and their practice of using machetes. Juan also taught me the basics of how to use a machete. He let me practice from time to time. I’m not even close to how good he is, but I at least know how to use one, even if I still have lots of practice left to get it right. With his machete use, we cut paths where I didn’t even think we could get through — not without being covered in dirt and organic material and without a ton of deep scratches and bleeding.

What do you do when you come across a dangerous animal or snake? Fortunately, this is incredibly rare. If you come across a herd of peccaries, you climb a tree. Peccaries are nearly blind and often run into things when scared. That’s not a good mix. For poisonous snakes, we are not their food source. They do not want to bite us. So they will only attack if we stumble upon them. I encountered snakes twice so far, neither of which were poisonous. I stumbled upon both of them, one of which was right next to my feet. No bites. No attacking. The snake was just as scared as me and wanted to get out of the way. You practically have to step on them to be bitten.

For jaguars and pumas, again we are not their food source. Make enough noise, and we scare away most of the animals before we can even see each other. And if they do show up, they are more afraid of us than we are of them, so they quickly disappear, especially if there is more than one of us.

After nine days of jungle bushwhacking, every other hiking experience, especially with trails, now seems way easier. So many things that scared me a year ago now no longer scare me. I feel a new level of confidence and assurance. I feel weathered in the arena of life and survival. Every day we would meet up with the other group and be grateful that we all were still alive and well.

I am so grateful for everything that Cocha Cashu and the jungle are teaching me.

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