swimming in the Amazon

swimming in the Amazon

Three years ago, I made a trip to Rio de janeiro and I got to stay in one of the most famous hotels in the world, the Copacabana Palace right on the beaches of Rio.

…my main interest in going to Rio was the Corcovado, otherwise known as the Christ Statue…on TV it looks massive, but up close it is not as big as it looks.

The three days that I spent in Rio and surrounding areas was exciting … but the truth is once I got my picture taken in front of the Christ Statue … I was ready to fly back to Monaco.

I woke very early the second morning to go and walk on the beaches of Rio … sadly enough as I was walking out the door of the hotel, the concierge comes running up to me …”sir, its best not to go outside with your gold watch on your arm….Rio is quite dangerous….”

Apparently, Rio is very dangerous … as a matter of fact, Rio seemed like the most dangerous city I have ever visited (before my trip to J’burg in South Africa). Many people “warned” me about not walking alone …crazy, but sadly true.

Of course, nothing happened to me and the trip is a nice memory for me …

Although it almost seems like cheating because the story takes place many years before my Rio trip, but the focus of this entry is on my first trip to Brazil via Suriname in 1990, 15 years before my trip to Rio and my successful picture with the Christ Statue …

In high school my roommate for two years was a guy from Suriname, South America name Giovanni Linscheer. Giovanni and I became like brothers and during the Christmas break of 1990, I went to Suriname with Gio to visit Suriname and his family. (Sadly, Giovanni would die in a car crash several years later – and my daughter, Giovanna is named in his honor)

My first trip to South America in 1990 was my first trip outside America …although I was 18 years old, I did not have a passport and I got one especially for this trip. The trip to Suriname and surrounding areas was a great adventure …

After several days in northern Suriname, the family took Gio and I for a trip into the amazon jungle directly south of Suriname… before we left, G’s father warned us that we would have to sit in the back of his pick up truck for 12-15 hours as we drove on dirt roads and there would be many bats …. I remember laughing thinking to myself how his Dad seemed to be purposefully trying to scare us …but he was being sincere.

The next morning we left at 4 am … G’s mom and dad sat in the front of the pickup truck and Giovanni and I sat in the back … several bumpy hours later, after all conversation was completely exausted between Gio and I … his father stopped and picked up a black man hitchiking with a large rifle around his shoulder …

Gio got a bit nervous and spoke aggressively to his father in Dutch … I imagined Gio was asking his dad, “what in the F……. was he doing picking up a man with a machine gun….” ????

By now, 6 hours in the sun in the back of a pickup truck that was bouncing down a muddy dirt road had completely numbed me to reality.

The man with the gun would remain with us for the rest of the drive and he would also drive back home with us 3-4 days later … a couple days later I would learn that Mr. Linscheer had organzied for this man to come with us to protect us in case we were attacked along the dirt road as we drove into the thick amazonian forest.

Finally, we arrived at an area we would make our camp … the place had wooden house, like tents … tents, but stronger than the standard cloth tent., but absolutely filthy.

Giovanni and I were dead tired so we went straight to our tent … ate dinner and both of us crashed. We woke up in the middle of the night about the same time …. because of all the noise the monkeys as well as the bats were making. It was insane …even Giovanni seemed scared.

The next day finally came and after cold cereal and warm coca cola we went for at least a 4-5 hour hike into the amazon jungle … no guides, no trail …nothing … but Mr. Linscheer, Mrs. Linscheer, Giovanni and I …. we hiked and hiked in super thick jungle …the only thing I remember clearly being scared of was the snakes.

We saw a couple along the trees when we first entered the jungle, but after a couple hours of hiking, I was used to the surroundings and did not think about the snakes … I thought about “what happens if we get lost in the jungle….” this was before cell phones and or satelite phones were every where….but Giovanni’s father had everything under control – he knew exactly where we were going.

Finally …. we arrived at our destination … gorgeous water falls with an area to swim.

The first thing I thought about was “piranahs” when I saw the dark, shadowy water but Gio’s father assured us that piranahs did not go in areas of water with strong currents and water falls …Mr. Linscheer assured us that it was safe to swim … stupidly I trusted him.

I was super hot, tired and a bit excited to finally be at our camp for lunch … so I challenged Giovanni to jump in the water … and with out thinking I jumped in myself … “I was swimming in the amazon river … unbelievable….” then suddenly, a strong electric shock went through my whole body … like when you get shocked by a power plug, but this feeling was 1000 times worse …

As I tried to swim toward shore, I looked at Giovanni and saw that his face looked very concerned because he saw something I had not …and he rushed to the rock near where I was swimming …and I yelled something like, “Giovanni…there is an electric wire in this water … I just got an incredible electric shock …” and I remember him saying very dully, without looking at me, “yea there must be….” and then he pulled me out of the water.

Just as I am pulling myself out of the water of a tributary of the amazon river, I turn to look at the area I was just swimming — and suddenly, what to me seemed like a huge snake sticks its head out of the water and looks around. I freaked out …shouting to Giovanni for us “to get the F out of the place.” Apparently, Gio had seen this monster when I jumped in the water.

In my memory, the snake stuck his head out of the water, and had rows of teeth and made a hissing noise looking to see what he just “shocked” …. but I would soon discover that this was not a snake, it was a fresh water electric eel.

Mr. Linscheer came rushing over to tell us to stay out of the water …. that his friend from Holland had been knocked unconscious a couple years before by one of these “electric eels.”

As we stayed on the rocks with the thick forest surrounding us … both excidely looking for the eel to show itself again, a group of 10-20 monkeys started throwing berries and nuts at us, Mr. Linscheer shot the rifle in the air to scare them away….an absolute surreal experience.

We adventured for a couple more days further into the jungle … but I never got back in the water and I never saw another eel.

On the drive back when we stopped at an old, runned down road side gas station, a station from something out of a 1930s movie in America I imagined …. Mr. Linscheer laughingly told me … “one day you will be proud to tell about the time you got shocked by an electric eel in the amazon jungle….”

oddly enough … it was not until my trip to Rio 15 years later when I was on an easy half day guided tour into the amazon jungle that I understood how true his comment would turn out to be.

The purpose of these travels stories is to share my experiences and ideally, challenge the reader to make life happen.