Jungle Writing

Terrified of the stat that 90% of aspiring authors hit the wall at the ten thousand word mark, I’ve spent the last two days simply typing, eating, typing, sleeping, typing and so on!

Safe to say I’m in a safer place now, but with a literary jungle ahead of me still to cross.

Staying well clear of the dreaded comma splice and split infinitives, I hope to make it out the other side in a fit mental state, with only a touch of cabin fever.

I’m in good company though. The best of the best are sat beside me, providing dramatic prose styles and descriptions for inspiration.

Thank you to my sis for the lovely room in stunning Yorkshire!

Book writing

Home Sweet Home

After a small bout of tonsillitis and two days in a Georgetown hospital, with high fevers, I decided to head home. I was always going to get ill, I was feeling demolished.

I said my goodbyes to friends and officials, and jumped on a plane home last weekend.

Coming back to the cold, clean air of the UK is a delight. I’ve definitely got that post-expedition high, where everything feels very easy and comfortable.

Some pics below to sum up post-expedition reflections:

Amazon expedition

You never knew what the day would hold. From 6am to 5pm we battled our way downstream, towards the Amazon. Every turn of the river held new obstacles.

Amazon expedition

Descending open river, there’s no hiding from the equatorial sun and 38°C heat. We were constantly splashing ourselves and dipping hats in water.

Amazon expedition

Food uncertainty was the biggest challenge for me. I felt on the brink of collapse most days. A black piranha, like the one above, gives you a decent amount of calories. But we were burning some 7,000 calories each day, necessitating 7 large, stuffed crust, Domino pizzas to replace!

Amazon expedition

Soft, city hands! Ear infections, immersion foot and digestive issues made life tricky.

Just before leaving, I went for coffee with Captain Gouveia, a man with 40 years experience as a bush pilot in the Amazon and founder of Roraima Airways. I’m very proud of his reaction below:

“What you did there is the ultimate… This is the hardest adventure you can do in the Amazon.”

I need to crack on with the book writing, before starting work again, in a school, in January. I’ve slowly realised that I have no idea what I’m doing with the book and that my first draft is terrible!

I hope to have a film ready for viewing by Easter.

A Journey With Wai Wai

Writing up this blog from the comfort of an air conditioned cafe in Georgetown, I’m struggling to recall the emotions I felt on exiting the forest. So below is part of the email I sent my family when I hit my first town on the Amazon River:

“Safely out of the jungle after a month of journeying with 3 Wai Wai guides. We´re a little stuck in Oriximina, so ploughing through logistics today but should be on our way to Manaus tomorrow.

It´s been the most intense experience I could have imagined and it took a great toll physically and mentally. Just starting to sink in what we did and it was truly the exact trip I had in mind, so totally satisfied that we´ve battled through one of the most remote regions of the Amazon. We saw no one for 20 days until we hit the villages, which had never seen a Westerner other than the odd missionary before. They were afraid and then loving it.”

Below are pics to help tell the exped story:

Amazon Expedition

Wai Wai guide, Tema, anxiously looks on as we cut through trees blocking our path up the narrow Chodikar River, a small tributary leading to the mountainous border with Brazil.

Amazon Expedition

Andre unloads the dugout after a 10 hour day fighting our way up the Chodikar River.

Amazon Expedition

Our first camp, deep in the Acarai mountains. My 40kg bag, in the foreground, made the 3 day crossing the hardest physical challenge I have experienced.

We were following an ancient Wai Wai trail, which has been employed by Wai Wai people living in Brazil or Guyana for hundreds of years to visit relatives or find wives over the border. An old powis tail shelter, built by a previous Wai Wai team, was there for us to shelter under for the night (if well built they can last for over 6 months).

Amazon Expedition

Having crossed the border into Brazil, we now needed to build a dugout to descend the headwaters of the Rio Mapuera. You have to choose your tree carefully, as some can split when the shaping begins.

Amazon Expedition

3 very physical days later and we carved out our boat. High stakes throughout, because any damage to it meant we’d have to start again and our rations were limited. Busy building the boat and unable to journey down river, we were only able to shoot a monkey and a caiman for much needed protein.

This was a period of great hunger and annoying head rushes, so strong that I thought I would faint every time I stood up.

Amazon Expedition

Nervous times as we heat the dugout to stretch out its interior, being very careful to not split it.

Amazon Expedition

We’re finally on our way down the headwaters and Andre (far left) shoots a tapir (bush cow) with his bow. An expert shot to the heart and we have our first proper meal in 6 days.

Amazon Expedition

The most dangerous day of the expedition. 1.5km of uninterrupted rock falls, requiring very risky maneuvers, putting our bodies and boat in danger. At this point of the expedition, we’re so deep into the forest that any trauma to ourselves or damage to the boat would have been very serious.

Amazon Expedition

A very relieved face as we finish 7 hours of intense concentration and labouring through the 1.5km of falls. I’m tracking our route on my GPS.

Smoked tapir is wrapped up in the green leaves. The stench of it, day and night, became horrible.

Amazon Expedition

After 20 isolated days in the forest, we come across our first village. Having earnt the trust of my guides, they happily introduce me to their Wai Wai relatives and friends in numerous villages that we stay in on the Rio Mapuera. This is a unique opportunity to learn about their little known culture, one which is still completely founded upon living off the land and sustenance farming.

I earn my share of fish in the first village by teaching the kids English and geography in their wooden church building (they are Christians due to the missionaries contacting them in the 1950s, the only Westerners they have ever had contact with).

Amazon Expedition

After a 5 days of motored transport by boat, staying at villages down the Rio Mapuera, we finally reach the town of Oriximina, where I’m able to buy food for myself and the guides. I eat a whole 250g tub of margarine with salted crackers in 20mins!

We have a lovely boat journey up the Amazon to Manaus, eating plenty and relaxing in our hammocks. From Manaus we take a taxi back to Lethem, Guyana. Crossing the border at 7am on a Saturday morning, we exit Brazil and enter Guyana without facing any checks. A good thing as I had no entry visa for Brazil and the guides had forgotten their ID documents in their village where we started the expedition 5 weeks previously! An immigration issue that had caused me much worry and had led to multiple phone calls to the British High Commissioner in Georgetown, on the sat phone, for advice.

All in all, this journey blew my mind and I’ve never felt so vulnerable. It’s an interesting experience to put your life in the hands of 3 people you’ve only met the day before and share their company every minute of every day in such an intense fashion for 5 weeks.

They spent much of the time bantering away in Wai Wai and there would be whole days where I would only chip in the odd comment or gag in English or in the limited Wai Wai I learnt. I met my ex-SAS officer friend in Georgetown two nights ago and it was weird to speak freely and fast again!

For now, I’m spending some time in Georgetown writing up an example book chapter for a literary agent in London and organizing the film footage, of which I shot plenty on 3 different cameras (Canon 60D, Gopro and waterproof Fujifilm).

I look forward to catching up with family and friends in November xx

(I look stressed below but actually greatly enjoying a coffee and some casava bread for breakfast in Mapuera village, the capital of Wai Wai country in Brazil, with some 1,000 people living there)

Amazon Expedition

Amazon – The Final Plan

“What the hell am I doing back here?” is a question going through my head upon arrival at Georgetown airport. The last trip was so intense, do I want to revisit those emotions?


Day 1, I go to immigration to try extend my 3 month visa to 4 months. Too complicated so bail. Seeing and remembering how friendly people are out here, I find myself falling back into the swing of things.

Time to get the expedition sorted and contact the Wai Wai, Guyana’s most isolated community.

First port of call Roraima Airways, they know the right people. They ring the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. Perfect news. The Wai Wai Toshao (head) is in town with another elder, Yokkie, for Amerindian heritage week. Massive stroke of luck!

The Toshao, Paul Chekema, is a legend of conservation and has spearheaded the effort his village, in collaboration with agencies, have made to ensure the Wai Wai were given full control over their forest lands. They’ve said no to lucrative logging and mining contracts, so their land remains pristine and totally wild!.

Paul Chekema

The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs have been brilliant with sorting permissions and, after 2 days of plotting, I’ve formulated a plan with Paul and Yokkie over long lunches in sweaty lunch venues, with lots of comfortable silences (Wai Wai may pause for 5 minutes mid-story, so you have to hold your tongue!).

Essentially the expedition is looking very hardcore and everything I was hoping it to be. When Wai Wai elders are excited by the challenge you know you’re on to a winner. They’ve both made the journey over to Brazil to visit other tribes and said it’s pretty special and tough.

So exploring the Rio Mapuera is a green light. The logistics are pretty complex. I have to cut down my kit to the extent where I can carry all of it in just one bag and we’re ditching my fancy folding canoe (too heavy to carry over the mountains). My two Wai Wai guides and I will look for an abandoned dugout or we’ll make one when we hit the Brazilian side.

Feeling pretty nervous and many unanswered questions still. How can I carry a months worth of rations in my bag, with camera kit and the rest? How do I get back after the exped, the Wai Wai are so remote. The cost is adding up, is my budget sufficient? I’m meant to be leaving Tuesday on a Cessna 206 if my permit comes through and the weather is clear. Plenty to work on before then!

Cessna 206

Only two western people have ever done this journey before (Holden, 1937, and Guppy, 1958) and this was when Guyana was a British colony and they had full support from agencies and months of planning. On the upside, there is no-one more skilled than the Wai Wai for throwing myself in the deep end with.

Sorry for lack of real pics, grabbed those off the internet, been to distracted.

Amazon – Expedition Kit

Tomorrow is departure day! Lots of packing to be done.

Due to the remoteness of the upcoming journey, there will be no resupply points, so everything I need for the 3 months must be packed at the start. I feel I have too much so trying to get rid of items before tomorrow.

I also took the opportunity yesterday to spray my clothing and mosquito net with Permethrin to help keep mosquitos at bay. There are 2,500 different species of mosquito in the Amazon and it’s crucially the female Anopheles and Aedes species that create problems. Bite avoidance is key!

Expedition kit

Amazon – Medical Kit

Medical kit

After much research, planning and advice, my medical kit is finally complete.

In the remotest section of the upcoming Amazon expedition, my two local teammates and I will be some 4 weeks away from the nearest medical centre. Being too remote for emergency evacuation (we’re out of helicopter range) I need to be able to manage any potential traumas, both minor and severe.

It breaks down as follows (from right to left in the pic above):

  • Day boxes for foot treatment, malaria prophylaxis, painkillers, plasters, body washing
  • Thermometer and antibiotics covering infections of digestive system, skin, lungs, throat, ears, eyes (neatly stored in urine sample tubes)
  • Allergy and anaphylactic shock treatment (with pre-filled adrenaline shot)
  • Pain management pills
  • Bag of dressings for any woundcare
  • Creams for burns, fungal infections, bites
  • 350 alcohol wipes for cleaning wounds (you end up using plenty in the jungle)

Just waiting on a mini dental kit and iodine bottle for washing wounds.

It’s great to know your med kit inside out. Hopefully I won’t need to use 90% of it. It doesn’t come cheap (especially malarone). Total bill just under £600. But can’t put a price on safety.

Thank you to the awesome Doctor Russell Hearn for his invaluable advice and help in the design and procurement of the above. The highlight was practising self-injection into the buttocks… no better way of curing a fear of needles!

Bring on the jungle!

Amazon expedition