After getting to a point in my life where I was fed up of the same old town, life and situation, I decided to go and volunteer in the remote Brazil – Atlantic Rain-forest. That was it – 6 months living in the Brazilian rain-forest to help re forest a much needed area in Brazil. So much rich vegetation had been lost over the years so I wanted to do my little bit to give back so off I went.
I have so many stories of the place in which my ‘travel bug’ was born. On this particular night, one of my worst fears (at the time) came true.
I had gotten to know a very keen wildlife expert called Chris Knowles who had a huge passion with getting up and close to wildlife. His traveling resume is something I totally aspire to as well as his fearless attitude, determination to get close to anything regardless of danger and the fact that he had unbelievable knowledge of how to handle such dangers. I had already witnessed his knowledge relating mainly to science, nature and biodiversity. What really impressed me was his lack of fear when handling highly venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, frogs and an array of dangerous wildlife lurking everywhere in this remote rain-forest of Brazil. I had seen his actions many times during our countless full days trekking in the jungle but doing this at night was going to be a huge step out of my comfort zone.
On this sunny Saturday afternoon, myself and Chris were cruising around (Chris was driving) in a yellow, old school ‘Volkswagen Beetle’. We were in the local village of Guapiacu, when Chris mentioned going up into the remote rain-forest to stay overnight as there was a small hut deep into the forest that some rangers used from time to time. So, I didn’t think twice about any consequences when agreeing immediately.
I was slightly nervous so of course so a little trip to the local shop to get some beers and wine for this Saturday night mission seemed the right thing to do. It wasn’t too long before we got permission to go as far as this ranger’s hut later that night as Chris had been once before but with experienced rangers, so this was surely going to be an experience for the both of us.
We were soon as packed as we could be and made our way to the start of the trek. It was the late afternoon when we started our mission which began near the base of a local mountain. This is the mountain I used to take tourists up on day tours. This was a long days trekking to the summit and back. However, this time we were due to go over half way up the mountain and to the point of the waterfall which was around a 2-3 hour hike. We would then chill at the waterfall before taking a right turn and continue for another 2-3 hours to get to the hut.
The main route was not used much so the forest trail was at times uneasy but after the scheduled right turn, there was apparently not much trail at all apart from dense jungle.
Time wasn’t exactly on our side as we wanted to hopefully get to the hut before dark but it was already around 2 pm with the sun due to set from 6 pm. As much as the sun was shining brightly on this beautiful day, the ground was still a little slippery as well as being boggy in places.
With both our bags on our backs, necessities and camera traps, we were on our way. I was soon sweating about 20 minutes in as it was all steep from the start so we sat down just for a few minutes to drink some water. We were in puma territory too which added to the excitement especially as a few days prior a puma had casually strolled across the main forest trail, exactly where we were currently resting. It was on this night we were going to set up 3 x camera traps targeted for catching images and videos of puma. It was not just the puma that could be attracted to out fresh bait near our camera traps as this rain-forest is also home to some dangerous wild cats such as the Jaguar, Leopard, Ocelot and Margay (there could be more).
The abundant wildlife of the Atlantic rain-forest in Brazil (which we were in the heart of) has the 3rd largest biodiversity of wildlife known on earth. With over 2,200 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians of which over 200 can only be found here which felt amazing. This was another reason why I wanted to volunteer in such a place. It felt like an opportunity of a lifetime to camp so remotely with nothing but a couple of head torches, a sleeping bag each, a floor mat each and over 2,200 species of life in this very rain-forest. Raw, rugged and right in the midst of who knows what that could be crawling, prowling, slithering, walking, flying or climbing. This was exactly how I wanted it to be. I just felt the elation of realizing that if I am going to do it properly then do it, and that was precisely what I was doing (despite some obvious nerves).
It was soon time to carry on and it wasn’t too long before we saw the puma’s favorite meal (a sloth) hanging up alone and out of danger in a nearby tree. The sounds of the rain-forest were brilliant and I just knew that at night it would be so loud and like a natural orchestra from all the different species being heard.
The air was soon getting a little cooler as we trekked higher up with the afternoon slowly coming to an end. We walked passed some lush rain-forest, a stream and plenty more wildlife as we ventured on getting closer to the waterfall. As the photos show we came across 2 x venomous snakes (coral and lancehead pit viper), a toucan and a crazy looking grasshopper.
It was very clear that this forest was teaming with everything and everything, it was just a matter of keeping our eyes peeled and ready. They say the wildlife really does come out at night and we could clearly see this happening right in front of us as the day was drawing to an end.
We were soon listening to the sounds of water as it sprayed down from the stream above and glided down leaving tiny refreshing particles all around which cooled us down well. It was time to have a bite to eat, a drink of water and to lay under the flowing water fall as the last bit of sunlight reflected onto the free-falling water.
Unfortunately, my right foot was in a lot of pain, was extremely sore and was starting to get swollen, but I was not sure why. It was soon time to get changed again before continuing on as the darkness slowly set in. This was soon to get much worse. The pain was getting more severe but due to the dark, wet and slippery terrain along with the danger of snakes I had to keep my boots on.
The next couple of hours were tough but it was so nice taking my boots off as I sat on my Mat with the sounds of the rain-forest being unbelievably loud. As I sat drinking my local (not great tasting) red wine, I soaked up the environment and felt quite differing emotions in this dark and unknown place. The fact I had no real idea as to what was out there ensured I was regularly quizzing Chris when hearing certain noises, distant howls, rustlings along the forest floor and sounds I never thought existed.
The hut that was going to be a sleeping option had no door and just a small glance with the head torch was enough to light up all the spider’s webs, crawling army ants, frogs and bugs so it was out in the open for both of us on the mats we each had.
Chris was just so into all the wildlife of all sizes which made sure we both knew we had a few things just in the few square meters of our small camp area (which was tiny but raw). Here are just a few of the creatures we could see next to us:
One of the main reasons we were going camping was to see what creatures we could find in this pristine and untouched part of the wild with just each other for human company. It took plenty of convincing by Chris and a few more wines before I eventually agreed to put my boots, socks, waterproofs and other clothing back on but I soon did. We had occasionally sat in complete darkness just listening to the vibrating forest so we both knew how dark it was but we had a small head torch each so we were now ready to go.
It was very late in the evening, I was a bit tipsy and my foot was in awful pain but I knew that, not only did we have to go together but I would spoil both of our fun and would waste the main reason of coming if so. On our journey through some of the most dense forest I have ever been through, we soon started to realize exactly what was sharing our close space when Chris found and picked up a snake. I was just amazed he still managed to safely grab it so quick with just his head torch for light. This snake was literally a couple of feet from us.
It made me remember just a few days before when I was inches from stepping on one of the most deadliest snakes in Brazil – the lance-head pit viper when walking through the rain-forest in daylight. Luckily for me, my ranger grabbed me just as I was going to step on it so I soon moved back. A few weeks prior to that incident and among many other similar close calls, I had the infamous ‘Brazilian Coral Snake’ enter my bedroom at night (thank god I wasn’t in there). I got a lovely photo of both occasions, with a third photo of when my ranger taught me how to hold the Lance-head pit viper that I had just nearly stood on. I just can’t help myself, so I asked him keenly if I could hold it but it was such a great ‘face a fear moment’ (see below).
It was actually letting the snake go part that had my heart in my mouth. Just one bite from this snake and being that high up in the mountain with a less than 2 hour time frame to get the lifesaving anti-venom meant that following my instructions was completely vital. It was 2-3 hours to walk to the bottom of the mountain let alone the other hour or so to drive to hospital dependent on traffic so there was no room for error. When given such instructions in this in particular circumstance, I felt so naturally focused that my mind took over and followed every instruction fully, despite my adrenaline fueled heartbeat. This highly venomous snake soon slithered off calmly with myself left buzzing with excitement from that point.
Anyway, after Chris had his fun with the snake during our night walk, he let it slither off back into the forest. Every step was still such a mission for me as I had no clue what was wrong with my foot but it obviously wasn’t good. The slippery forest floor, occasional streams, rocks and constant alertness to my path and footing was doing my nut. One of the most memorable moments of my life was still to come in an unexpected way but there was so much life still all around us. Here are some photos from what we saw on this little midnight adventure which include an amazing photo of an owl above us, frogs, spiders, a strange bug and another snake. Many eyes were on us that night but they made for some great photos. It is amazing what could be seen out here when your in total darkness (apart from your head torches).
The constant questions I was asking Chris was engaging my interest which helped me try not to think about my foot. I learnt so much that night but I was soon to have a piece of knowledge that I will never forget.
We would often turn our head torches off to not only soak up the loud differing sounds but Chris also said there would be more chances of getting close ups of spiders. Just knowing we were so remote, the darkness, the sound of the breeze gently gliding through the canopy above and that fresh scent of pure nature and wildlife was so unforgettable.
Little was I to know that I was just about to have a close encounter with a creature I have always been scared of. I can remember this like it was yesterday and the information that followed makes me cringe to this day. So, I was stood a few meters from Chris with both of us listening to the different noises as Chris would usually tell me which noise belonged to which bug, bird, creature, monkey, mammal, lizard, frog or whatever else was around.
I stood in pitch darkness when all of a sudden I felt something land on my right shoulder. I instantly reacted by brushing it off and screamed like a girl before telling Chris to put his head light on so I could check my shoulder. Whatever it was, it had jumped or fell on me and it was not small at all. Chris checked as did I that there was now nothing on my shoulder. He and I checked the area after I told him where I had swiped my shoulder towards.
Then, just like that, we both caught eyes with my culprit. It was one of the biggest spiders I had ever seen and the fangs, eyes and huge hairy body was enough to make me feel sick. I have a few things in my life that I just can’t help but be afraid of and unfortunately, no matter how hard I try – spiders are without doubt, one of them.
This spider was much bigger than the span of my open hand and I was honestly so shocked that this monster had just been on my shoulder. Once Chris had taken this photo of him, he began to explain why this spider had jumped on my shoulder, how he kills his prey, why he was above me and what type of spider he is.
As we took a slow walk back to our camp, Chris explained what had happened. At first he mentioned the ‘Brazilian Wandering Spider’ but I think he was joking as we both knew that not only could this spider could be found exactly here but it is the most deadliest spider in the world. The fact that this spider had actively jumped from a tree meant it was not the feared Brazilian Wandering Spider which hunts from the forest floor and not from trees.
The wandering spider is the only spider known to man to give it’s male human victim an erection. This no is no ordinary erection either. It is a good 4-hour long agonizing one that is said to be excruciating. This is also if you are not killed by that same bite as on one occasion, a single wandering spider killed 2 children. As bad as it is at least if you are in shock when you are rushed to hospital in Brazil and you can just say spider then I am certain you will get treated immediately. An erection poking from your trousers would be such an obvious clue so despite the pain, at least the wandering spider will be the clear culprit so you can get the rapid anti-venom you need. The jokes on this really could go on forever. If this wasn’t more of a story through experience then there would be some but feel free to share any jokes in the comments section.
Back to the story. The Brazilian Huntsman Spider lives up to his name as he catches his prey through detecting warmth (warm blood) beneath him. When he feels that he can strike from above on his warm blooded target, he then times his jump accordingly before then penetrating his huge fangs into the prey. In this case, the warm prey was me – my right shoulder. The Brazilian huntsman are also known for penetrating their fangs so quickly after landing on their prey. Lucky for me, my instant reaction to swipe my shoulder prevented me from a painful right shoulder to go with my painful right foot. The bite of a Brazilian huntsman can also be very painful and can last for days.
All in all though, it is a great story looking back and I am just glad I swiped him aside. I never forget the feel of him as I instantly swiped my shoulder and am glad further that I didn’t swipe near his fangs as that bite to my hand or fingers would have hurt. I was very impressed with such a hunting tactic especially in such a remote place but then that is certainly biodiversity for you and that evening proved to be one of the best of my life.
I love true nature that is up close, real and raw and hunting tactics is all part of it so being prey even just for a split second was a great occasion. Being prey to a Huntsman would be much more satisfying than a jaguar or leopard but the night wasn’t over. However, it is a large forest so we would be really lucky to even see a footprint of a leopard or jaguar let alone seeing one. Chris just told me to act big if we do see one as they may just run off anyway but a photo would be one to treasure. We had camera traps for that. I soon changed clothes again, before setting the last camera trap with Chris not too far from our camp.
We were soon back and just laid chatting along with appreciating such strange but loud sounds. My senses were certainly heightened that night as some of the rustling in and around the forest floor was so loud that my imagination was going wild. I just kept thinking ‘what if’? – ‘what if it is a big cat’? as the reality was that there could be one near us especially as they hunt mainly at night and we were so deep into the forest too. I just hoped that the smell of mosquito repellent may not be so appetizing for a large cat.
These noises happened on and off all night and I was woken up with the nearby noises quite a few times. There was so much action around us that night but I will never know what was near us but there was plenty going on that’s for sure.
It was soon morning and time to get up. That fresh feeling of waking up in the open air is really hard to beat and I still swear that this is how we all should live. Who needs an enclosed room, a roof and the same old circulating air. We had a bite to eat before washing at a nearby stream and then soon heading off. By this time my foot was hurting so bad. As I knew Chris wanted to take photos, look for snakes, monkeys, spiders and whatever else, I decided to go off ahead as all I wanted to do was get to the waterfall so I could swim and soak my foot as it was now dark blue, swollen and had horrible patches all over that just looked disgusting.
There was still time for me to have yet another close up experience but this time I did not see exactly what it was. I was about an hour into my trek when I really needed a s**t. I had tried to hold it in but it was now impossible so I found a place that was a little bit open near a rock but with plenty of leaves around to use. I have never done a bush s**t before so it was another experience. The problem came when I was going for my bush s**t that I felt uneasy. I then saw something move several meters from me but the forest floor was too dense over there but I hated the feeling I had and just wanted to get out of there, so I did. I soon arrived at the waterfall again and swam in the small pool near that bottom in an attempt to heal my foot.
I waited for about an hour for Chris but he did eventually turn up and he was buzzing. He had found one of the biggest (if not the biggest) tiger snake of his time and probably in the area. He was so excited as was I and I couldn’t wait to see his photos. I told him about my bush s**t and laughed off the fact that if he saw and grabbed this huge snake then I must have walked straight passed it or even been near it when I done my bush s**t.
He then explained the exact area that I had stopped at including the opening, nearby rock, dense forest on one side with it being more open on the other side. Suddenly, I remembered the movement I had seen as well as my really awful feeling teamed with the fact I wanted to get out of there so quick at the time. I was eagerly anticipating seeing his main photo as he mentioned that he had placed his camera down to get the perfect shot and then timed a beautiful photo. It was explained to me as if he had set the camera on the small pieces of dry grass and straw that were about a meter from my bush s**t. I had to see it to believe it as it just felt far too coincidental. Well, this one photo was to catch my attention more than anything imaginable.
When Chris then went on to mention exactly where it was, I then realized this was the exact reason I got out of there so quick. I had already had a tiger snake jump out at me lower down the mountain as well as having another one puff up near my face from a bunker within a meter from me but if I had been not paying attention or went for a bush s**t a meter or two over, I could have had a nasty bite or two, that’s for certain. Chris also told me how aggressive this tiger snake was and that he was surprised it didn’t attack. Total respect for Chris for sensing the snake, spotting it and then grabbing it as he was just so vigilant and could sniff out snakes or other stuff with ease.
We joked about him not stepping in or seeing my b**h shit. It was also very interesting that this snake had given us both a sense that something was lurking nearby.
I soon forgave him for taking so long before jumping back into then fresh water for one more soak before we planned to venture back down the mountain. It felt great swimming in such natural, pure and fresh mountain water but there would still be a few more things to see on the way back. As we both continued it was nice to be climbing downhill opposed to uphill and I just knew that sooner or later I could stop, sit and rest properly so I could take care of my foot as it was becoming really concerning. It freaked Chris out when I showed him back when I was swimming but it was soon to get worse.
It wasn’t too long before we were confronted by another tiger snake but this time it was smaller and not quite as aggressive as the one that me and Chris had experienced in differing ways. Chris had pointed out so many birds I just couldn’t keep up and soon enough we were getting close to sitting back inside the yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Just as I was thinking about the warm food, rest, hot shower and just being in comfort I noticed a snake of my own. It was a small green snake which was sliding along just in front of me as I walked so I asked Chris if it was venomous. Chris acknowledged that it wasn’t so I had my first attempt of grabbing a wild moving snake, so I did exactly that. It was only a baby so I soon put it down before his mother appeared.
After a nice country drive home through this lush, rich, green and beautiful part of the world it was finally back to our voluntary organisation where we could eat, drink and rest.
This is a photo I took just outside my room (left photo below) which shows the clear track that led to the wetlands (right photo below) about 80 meters from my room.
It really was an eventful afternoon, evening, night and day and one which I will never forget. When parts of the earth are left untouched the true wildlife can thrive in abundance and if your lucky, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open then they can and will give you experiences that are often so great they are hard to explain.
As for my foot I had the start of what the doctor described as ‘trench foot’ on my left foot and worse ‘trench foot’ on my right. I was off work for a few days as I could hardly walk on my right foot which had swollen, blistered with the blueness turning to red soon healed. I finally got both feet back to normal but my right foot looked disgusting at the time but it was all part of the overall experience.
Here are some more photos of the rest of my time in Brazil
Thank you and enjoy my site,
Face Fears. Travel Far. Dream Big.