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Rule #1 of the Amazon: Don't Mess With the Ants
(Part 3 of 3)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

We decided to record our bites to see how much we would exaggerate at the end of the trip. Our final bug and sting count was respectable, but not outlandish: Kempsey: 3 bee stings, 1 wasp sting, 14 ant bites (lost count); Jim Chisholm: 3 bee stings, 10 wasp stings (on the head after disturbing their nest), 318 bites; Fabio Oliveira: 1 tick bite, 12 ant bites (it was nighttime and raining but he just knows they bit him), 199 bites; Flavio Kunreuther: 12 ant bites, 2 bee stings, 2 wasp stings, 214 bites; and me: 8 bee stings, 4 ant bites, 1 wasp sting, 1 moth swallowed and gagged upon, 227 bites.

The general bites category was a combined total of mosquitoes, black flies, “borrachudo” flies, and other U.F.I.B. (Unidentified Flying Insect Bites).

While on the river, we preferred running the rapids we could, but after we swamped our canoes a few times in straightforward rapids, we were more discriminating.  The jungle portage option was our least favorite, so we ended up walking and lining the boats through many rapids. The difficulty of the rapids slowed down our progress as we had to scout and assess the river at every turn. After the first few days, we estimated we had advanced only 20-25 kilometers. After the first week, though, the frequency of the rapids abated and we eventually arrived at more flatwater stretches where we occasionally came across a remote ranch. 

We saw giant anteaters swim in front of us, giant river otters (up to two meters), local fishermen whose second question was inevitably, “Have you had lunch yet?”, monkeys, macaws, parrots, capybara, hoitzin, marmosets, a controversial “sighting” of a live tapir (we definitely saw a dead one), coral snakes in our campsites, frogs that disguised themselves as dead leaves, toucans, herons, over 100 species of birds, and a few caiman. We did not see the anaconda that ate a capybara (a farmer told us about it), nor the elusive three-toed sloth — some day!

The descent had been hot and tiring, with few incidents. Jon Kempsey had fallen out of his and Jim’s tandem canoe while catching an eddy to avoid a large wave train. As Jon tried to climb back into his canoe, he was shocked three times by an electric eel. He reported the sensation as “quite pleasant really,” and pondered other ways to augment his next “electrical” encounter. 

During night floats, we’d all slump into our canoes exhausted, but we were determined to keep pushing on to our final destination, the Transamazonica Road, which still lay 200 kilometers downstream. The rapids had begun to pick up again on the last stretch of the river, although they were now high volume, multichanneled rapids, not the tight technical rapids we had seen on the upper stretch.

A week and another exhausting night float later, we snuck past the last big rapid through a side channel and caught sight of a ferry crossing the river. Quickly our thoughts drifted to what we had just accomplished.  A complete second descent of the Amazon’s Roosevelt River, paddling through three Brazilian states and finishing on one of the greater “boondoggles” of progress in the Amazon: the Transamazonica Road. 

We hitched a ride through this clay ribbon that cuts through the jungle in the back of a pickup with a family. The eight-hour ride consisted of five people, three canoes, a ton of gear, and about two tons of mildew. We were helping push a car out of the mud within 10 minutes of being on the Transamazonica — a road that is rendered useless for half the year by the rainy season.

Four NOLS Instructors with over 800 plus weeks in the field combined had just completed the trip of a lifetime, and we felt like we’d just scratched the surface. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Atila Rego-Monteiro, a NOLS Instructor since 1992, has more than 1,000 river miles logged, including a trip into the Brazilian Pantanal, expeditions down the Grand Canyon, and a crossing of the Gulf of California.

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