Swamp Thing

First of all, my name aside, I do not love a swamp. There is the challenge of walking through muck and water and gluey muck, and more water, and then over bridges of fallen almost supportive trees and dodging super prickly palms and underwater tangly vines -- and sure, that can be fun. But yesterday, I was almost killed by a tortilla (yes, the edible kind) in the swamp. And I did not love it.

Ivan, my Super Guide from Mato Grosso, and I were going out on a regular survey that included setting up a camera trap. Normal day on the Rio Gregorio. We thought we were going to terra firma, but we went to a riverine trail to a barrero -- a salt lick where animals in the night, and sometimes the day depending on the lick, come to eat clay minerals.

Almost everything does this: tapirs, peccaries, deer, porcupine, opossums, rodents, paca, birds, bats (for the insects there) -- and monkeys -- especially spider and howler monkeys, but also "Cayrara" (Cebus) and "Macaco Prego" (Sapajus). The barrero we placed our camera in was really amazing--a huge trail for tapir and other large mammals, and exposed roots of trees where small things could cross the mud and still get a taste of minerals.

Tasty mud for rainforest animals!

Tasty mud for rainforest animals!

That morning before we reached the barrero, we saw a group of Vanzolini sakis. I am generally really excited to see them even though on the Rio Eiru where we were in February, they seemed "abundant" compared to the lack of primate community there because of intense hunting pressure on all mammals, but especially primates.

But I was not excited to see them. And here's why: On the night of the 24th we had a celebration for my two-month anniversary of being in Brazil. Alejandra and I cooked Mexican food--her student Gerardo brought tortillas from (old) Mexico when he came two weeks ago, so we made burritos New Mexico style (The tiny kitchen on the houseboat is absurdly small. I became more impressed with Luis our cook who is the biggest person on the boat, for his skills in making our daily meals from that cubicle.)

Anyway -- I had some powdered Chimayo red chili to make sauce, I cooked black refried beans, and Ale made red rice. We had ham, eggs, cheese, onions and tinned crema. Perfect! Ale had been saving some chocolates with tequila inside for dessert. Viva! I have been doing so well not eating wheat (because in the last year I have become sensitive to it), but thought, "One tortilla can't hurt!" And ate my burrito folded in floury deliciousness.

Then in the night, I paid for it. In the AM, after a sleepless night and some gastric difficulties, I mentioned it to Lisley who wisely said, "You don't have to go. Ivan and the guide can go." But, it's me! So I said, "It's only a tortilla. I'm sure I will be fine." And then there was the swamp. I felt woozy and yucky the whole day, slogging for 9 hours on a trail that was 90% inundated with hidden traps and deep mud so thick my boots kept slipping from my feet -- but I kept up with the guys and was a good sport.

After lunch I felt worse and realized in this habitat there is no graceful way to have a poo stop, so I literally had to hold it for the next 4 hours until we got back to the boat. Meanwhile, my boot got stuck in the mud and under a vine--we cannot see our feet in this habitat. The submerged trees we walk on are only by feel and the knowledge of placement by the guide. Otherwise, it's jumping from hummock to hummock, slogging along -- you get the idea. Plus, needing to poo. [Oh and -- super mosquitoey. Like, stop for a second and be swarmed hard by your own personal group of mosquitoes. They follow you in a swarm like a tapir and stopping is a meal for them. So walking too close to the person in front of you means double the mosquitoes.]

Yep, no feet!

Yep, no feet!

Anyway, boot stuck. I pulled hard -- and toppled over -- flailing to keep my camera from going into the water, which wasn't super deep, only like mid-thigh. But the angle I was in made my left boot submerge (the right was caught half above water) and make me do a floppy-dippy-flop, which wetted my camera and the left side of me.

I generally laugh at things like this--mostly because I rarely fall or misstep -- hence why I had my camera out. I'm pretty sure footed with good balance. Except--I had a tortilla on board. I howled in US swear words at the top of my voice and burst into tears. Ivan doesn't speak English nor did my guide, but they got it. It was an F-Bombardment worse than anything Ralphie in Christmas Story could have conjured. My howl was one of anger at myself for a stupid move and for dunking my camera and needing to poo and for eating that stupid, stupid tortilla in the first place, AND for thrashing my hand against one of the aforementioned spiney palm guys -- all of that.

Ivan, a calm, kind man who has been an exceptional field professional for this whole project, and the type of man who would fall on a sword for me if asked -- panicked. I saw it in his face as he reached for the camera (!) and helped me. So I quickly pulled my tears together. There is no crying in rainforest: unless you are about to poo yourself in a swamp with a wet camera hanging around your neck.

For Ivan's sake, I mugged for the camera and he felt better. It's scary to see the boss cry!

For Ivan's sake, I mugged for the camera and he felt better. It's scary to see the boss cry!

The guide was watching this whole thing and wasn't too sure. We made it home, and I made it to the bathroom. I skipped dinner and went straight for bed (with some EmergenZzzz Shayna left me).

Today, I am taking the time to rest and sort myself with coconut water (from orange young coconuts!) and macaroni that we bought, especially for me, that has no gluten. I am working hard to get that tortilla out of my life!

Delicious young coconut water from the village here in Mochilla on the Rio Gregorio. Such a big help!

Delicious young coconut water from the village here in Mochilla on the Rio Gregorio. Such a big help!