Compiled by Ibrahim
Scraps and fragments uncovered from the dense labyrinth of the Amazon: seasoned Bangladeshi explorer Mahfuz Russel shares his experience of spending 2 months living with the indigenous tribes of the Amazon forest and the trials and tribulations that went with it.
It started off as a wistful fancy and incredulous stares from my friends but it slowly built up into something more. At the risk of giving my family back home massive heart attacks, I dreamed of a magical trip into the greenest part of the world. I started thinking about all the fantastical creatures and where I’d find them. Anacondas? A bevy of Wonder Women? The possibilities were endless. With a few tentative steps I started thinking out the preliminary logistics. Bear Grylls served as an inspiration and answer to any who pointed out that I might get lost in the jungle. But the temptation of living under lush, green canopies laid out under starry skies proved too much to bear. And that’s where I find myself now, luggage in hand, blinking in the Rio sunlight. The forest beckons.
It has been a tedious and frustrating effort, trying to make in-roads deep into the Amazon. Prior to this, I had spent two weeks in Manaus, Brazil trying to get coordinates and design a trip inside. Locals seemed eager to help at first but obstacles soon piled up one after the other. It would’ve been easier to throw in the towel but I didn’t travel half-way around the world just to go home empty-handed! After quite a bit of trying, I have finally arrived in Tupe, where I intend to stay for a week. Life here is different than what I imagined. People seem to be somewhat in tune with modern ways but, obviously, some inherent qualities of the wild did come back to bite me. Mosquitoes in my hammock, for one, and then the less superficial problem of answering nature’s calls. I’ve found it to be hard work as it involves trekking a respectable distance (never the same place twice) and the only tool in my arsenal is a spade. Sounds delightfully atavistic. In theory.
It’s been only a few hours since I arrived at Santa Isabel, having ventured deep into the Amazon belt by now. The indigenous tribes here seem to be spared from the cancerous touch of modern life. They have their customs, though, and aren’t wholly welcoming to foreigners. I fully intend on adapting to their way of life to make living here easier. This would include drinking water straight from the river (which, miraculously, doesn’t have any adverse effects due to it acidity. Tastes horrible, though) and not complaining of pain. The Amazonian tribes consist of warriors too proud to wince in pain. Indeed, I have observed women going about their work with swollen, bleeding hands from day to day life as if nothing happened. Guess I found the Wonder Women.
The nights and the days have started to blend together. Life in Santa Isabel has been slow going. At times, there is nothing to do but stay lost in thoughts. The indigenous here value their leisure, with only a few basic needs to cater for. I suppose anyone in a never-ending corporate desk job would have killed for this. The good news is that the people seem to have accepted me as one of their own. I have a family here with Mai (Mother), Pai (the father) and their children. I’ve been asked to take part in hunting trips like the rest of the men. The hunt is as important to the Amazonians as the kill itself. The trips can go on for days and weeks and, more often than not, they would be lost in the jungle. They’ll never admit it, though, and they always seem to find a way back. Hunting also entails a lot of responsibility as failure means no food for the entire tribe. But on my very first hunting trip, barefoot through the forest, we managed to catch a wild boar. Never have I appreciated manual labourers so much after carrying a dead pig back home for two hours. The meat made up for it, though.
The Amazonians certainly know how to have fun! Football has managed to creep into these secluded parts, as well. And the different villages hold matches against each other where the winner scoops up the coveted prize of live chickens, certainly more utility value than a golden trophy you can do nothing with. My time here has not been without the occasional eccentricity. This one man from a neighbouring village was intent on having me married to his 12 year old daughter. The rewards, according to him, would be numerous. He promised me a plot of land to farm on, livestock, and the entirety of the Amazon. Although it would have been nice to own a large chunk of South America, I turned his offer down on several occasions. My time in the forest would soon be coming to an end and I’d be lying if I said I never considered just staying put and living there. Hiking through the dense trees, sweating in the humidity, encountering an especially weird-looking insect, it had all become a part of my life here. These people are the real keepers of the forest. Not some fat-cat politician sitting behind his desk made from these trees, campaigning against deforestation. It has been an honour to be with them.
It’s been almost ten days since I left the tribe in Santa Isabel. They prepared a grand feast for my send-off and tears were shed on both sides. Returning to ‘civilisation’ was a shock. Although the biggest shock came when I looked at my face in the mirror after almost two months. I clearly needed a shave. I’m already back in Manchester and the days spent in isolation with my thoughts in the forest are starting to take their toll. There are times where I wonder whether I really should be here or back inside the forest. I imagine it will take some time to adjust and adapt to life as we know it. But how much of it is down to basic adaptation is still in doubt. Technology seems to be frighteningly redundant at times and the streets of Lancashire look only like a sorry replacement for the snaking trails through the dense forest. I am not a philosopher. Far from it. But having seen what both worlds have to offer, it is ironic that we’re hell-bent on chasing some arbitrary idea of development just to be happy. They have more to teach us about this world than we have them.