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rip and tear c Elizabeth WilloughbyA pink sunrise on the Amazon
by Elizabeth Willoughby

I'm motoring along a tributary in a grumpy old boat in the Brazilian Amazon, scooping out the water that is leaking through the floor. Like a scene out of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom", enormous alligators, basking in the sun on the riverbanks, slip into the water as we pass by. We've had to reach deep into the interior to find a camp because the Amazon River is at its peak, up to 16 metres above its dry season level.

So far I've seen the meeting of the waters, where the Negro and Solimões rivers meet, the first with black-ish water, the latter with white-ish water, together forming a bicoloured river unblending for over two kilometres. I've gone piranha fishing using chicken pieces on the hook as bait and eaten the catch for lunch (lots of bones, little meat). And I've paddled through the treetops, while dragon flies flutter about, spiders slink down from branches to rest upon our backs and miniature frogs and grass hoppers snap across the vegetation floating about in the water. The lily pads we floated past were wider than the canoe.

Next, I plan to see a famous Amazon sunrise, which unfortunately requires getting out of my mosquito-net-protected hammock very early. I'm not actually a "morning person".

Participants gather on the dock, dark and early, and scramble into a motorized boat. I sit quietly in my seat with my eyes open just a slit, foggy brained, listening to the noisy outboard, watching the black shoreline pass by. The boat pulls into a dirt bank. The passengers stand around on land, waiting for the sun to come up. It should be spectacular and pink, so I've read.

Close to the equator like this, sunrises and sunsets tend to be speedy events. I can tell it's getting lighter, but at this hour it doesn't seem fast enough. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to find a good place to be on the uneven shore.

I look down at my boots and see that I am standing on something. I bend down to look. It's an alligator skull. I'm so excited I can't believe my luck. I slip a plastic bag out of my pocket (yes, I always carry bags) and pry the skull out of the dirt with my fingers, first the top jaw, then the bottom, and place them gently into the bag. I notice that the skull has several teeth missing, so I dig around a bit to find as many as possible. Time passes but I take no notice, I'm so enthralled with my find. The sun has risen. I have no idea what colour it was.

I mention to the guide about the missing teeth, and he has an idea. He knows of an alligator corpse inland. It's a bit of a hike, but I know we're almost there because I can smell it. Carrion. It reeks. The putrefying animal is much larger than my earlier find, but I can't get close enough to it without gagging and heaving. I hand over my Leatherman to someone else to rip some of its teeth out, and then add them to my bag of goodies. It feels like Halloween. Thank you!

The skull sits atop my office bookcase today. A dried piranha occupies an egg basket hanging from my office ceiling, like a bird in a cage. I like.

skull c Elizabeth Willoughby

There's nothing like a great adventure travel story — one that's fun, thrilling and full of the unknown. If that's what you want, check out my WorldGuide Tales from the Road pages. This blog is about the stories a travel writer can't sell. The misadventures. The plans gone awry, luck run amuck. Sometimes with my partner, HB, sometimes with friends, and sometimes I manage to mess things up without any help at all. These are the stories that make your friends laugh and call you a knucklehead. These are the stories you really remember.

Images and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2015

This article was originally published at WorldGuide.eu

A good travel piece is fun, informative and factual,
not a place for hackneyed embellishments.
Do contact me to discuss bringing improbable journeys into the realm of possibility for your magazine or website readership.

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