Going for a Jungle Swim
By Bonnie and Bill Neely
On the second night we were at the Tambopata Jungle Resort in Peru, our guide, Juan, took us for a boat ride to spot caimans. He used his big flashlight to spot the beady eyes watching us from just above the water level. Suddenly he reached over and pulled a 4-foot young caiman into the boat with us. He laughed at his success, tossed the animal back into the water and turned the boat toward the dock.
Morning dawned with beautiful weather for our hike to a lovely swimming lake. The lodge provided knee-high galoshes and a raincoat. Juan assured us the hike was short and he had everything we'd need. We set off down the mud steps and into the boat that had had an unreliable motor the previous day.
We made it across the very wide river in about a half-hour, arriving at the University Research Station for Jungle Research. We expected a modern building but instead walked up the small trail to find a few grass huts. Just behind these was the dense jungle with a 3-foot-wide trail cleared for people to pass through along the same pathway animals use to the lake.
As we walked Juan told us about the flora and fauna we were encountering. He described the plants along the way and told what they are used for, in medicines and for eating, and he also pointed out many lethal ones and warned us not to touch. His main fascination was birds, and many beautiful species live here or migrate here during Northern winters.
The enormous kapok trees formed a canopy so high above us that we could not see their tops. We knew this jungle was filled with such exotic animals as tapirs, anteaters, sloths, jaguars, ocelots and capybaras. As Juan pointed out a tapir footprint on the trail he explained, "The jungle mammals only come out at night, but there are lots of snakes and insects I'll tell you about," he said. "We have seven kinds of poisonous serpents and anacondas that can be more than 30 feet long. You must watch out for these because they are active all the time."
Just then we came to a puddle so large we could not step over it, and the thick jungle prevented our going around it. I stepped into water up to my thighs, but there was nothing to do but go on through, both boots filling with water.
We walked on now with Juan walking backward and talking to us about the birds that make the lake where we were headed their home. We mostly watched the trail for snakes and puddles. Then suddenly he stepped into water he hadn't seen and disappeared below the surface. We stood in horror as he groped his way out laughing.
"This isn't the lake where we are going swimming," he said. "We are almost at the beautiful lake, where we will have a picnic and then return."
"How?" we asked, and he replied, "Follow me."