For some, it’s a Greek isle or a mountain in Tibet. For Hastings, 31, a free-lance producer for the CBC, adventure has always meant a tropical rain forest.
WEARY OF THOSE endless beaches full of gritty sand? Appalled by sun that glares all day with second-degree burns? Bored with Hiltonian luxury, scuba diving, romantic tropical nights and all those girls in bikinis? Do the interminable castles of Europe and all that dead, dead history leave you jaded, tired and happy to get back to the rat race in the Canadian winter?
Then try the only really ne'w holiday experience (beyond being a spaceship stowaway) — go stay with the headhunters (retired) in the gloriously steamy jungles of South America. Go hunting with blowpipe and poison dart. Paddle among the man-eating piranha. Dine on broiled monkey and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Feel the thrill of wondering whether you’ll see Canada again. Really get away from it all. I did last year, and herewith the world’s first authoritative primer on How to Holiday With the Headhunters:
CHOOSING YOUR TRIBE: The neotropical rain forest extends through northern Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and even juts up into Central America. Despite the genocidal efforts of sundry Latin American governments to exterminate the natives, you can still choose from among tribes speaking more than 1,000 languages — a new one was discovered as recently as September. Some of these tribes have rarely seen a white man — they may be considered fortunate. Others will greet you with the offer of an ice-cold Coke. However primitive the tribe of your choice, remember you are probably in more danger from government social worker-murder squads.
If you are a poison-arrow fan, you might visit the Pawumwa, who live around the Guapore River in Brazil’s Mato Grosso region. For blowguns, try the Taulipáng in western Guyana. The Apinayé, near Carolina in Brazil’s Maranhäo, are singularly prudish, whereas the Palicur on the Brazil-French Guiana border believe in premarital license. Disenchanted husbands might try the polygamous Bororo in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz state. For their wives, I suggest the polyandrous Yaruro in Venezuela near the Colombian border.
Don’t rule out tribes with a reputation for cannibalism, such as the Parintintin: they usually eat only their enemies. The same goes for headhunters such as the famed Jívaro of Ecuador north of the Maränon River. Avoid tribes at war with their neighbors, those chronically short of food, nomads (unless you’re energetic), and those embroiled in land-and-resources disputes with white carpetbaggers. The Cinta Larga and Tapaiuna tribes of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state were totally exterminated over a 20-year period by members of the Brazilian government’s Indian Protective Service before the scandal was publicized in March 1968. So watch it.
Stay away from missionized Indians. They tend to have a lower standard of living than most, and are often caught up in alcoholism and degeneracy. Don’t be surprised at pious missionaries who sell American CARE-aid goods instead of distributing them free.
I was guided by a friend, Lars Persson, with whom I flew to Bogota, and Alicia Reichel-Dolmatoff of the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Andes. In Bogota, she suggested I visit the Noanama people of the Choco forest, west of the Colombian Andes. This is one of the world’s densest, most luxuriant jungles and the Noanama are a peaceful, dignified, beautiful people. They know something of white culture but maintain their own customs. I spent three weeks with a Noanama, Anaserdo - Kaveson, and his family. It took a week to reach his jungle home from Bogota and another week to return — a mere 200 miles as the ICBM flies.
ATTRACTIONS: Once in residence, go hunting with the men and marvel at their skills. Along the way you may see bat caves, brilliantly colored frogs, gigantic multi-hued spiders, and vegetation and insects with the most astounding colors and shapes to be found on this planet. You will see incredible fungi and weirdly intertwined multiple trees parasitized by twisting lianas (jungle vines), which are parasitized by smaller vines, which in turn are parasitized by mosses, all hanging together in an eternally moist, dripping mass. Exotic birds will pierce the silence with intricate music.
Drink the astringent water from the stem of the wild banana. Savor the acid fruit of the Boodachon and the sweetsour Tungho. Learn to paddle a canoe standing up. Try the larger ones first.
Watch the Indians shape a canoe from a tree trunk. Practise with the bow and arrow. Learn to skin a wild boar. Sip Chicha, the potent jungle juice Colombian governments have unsuccessfully tried to outlaw for 300 years. If you’re reckless, turn on with the hallucinogenic Banisteriopsis caapi. Try a bit of friendly wrestling with the Indians. Teach them to play tic-tac-toe. Night after night I played it with the Noanama amid waves of laughter and excitement, but only one man finally got the hang of it. Discuss the nuclear balance of terror. I outlined the international situation to my host and he said he thought mankind was doomed.
At night, relax. Watch the flashing of a thousand fireflies and hear the chirruping of bats nesting in the roof. Fall asleep to the music of the Indians’ voices and the eerie bellows of howler monkeys echoing across the wilderness.
DINING OUT: The cuisine is not exactly Escoffier. Eat moderately for the first few days. Staples are usually manioc, plantains or maize. Manioc is a root-like potato, but less palatable. Plantains look like bananas but are dry, starchy and rather tasteless. They are boiled or roasted. In Noanama country almost all food is boiled, and you add salt to taste. Rice is plentiful. Noanama chilipepper is much like Tabasco. Sugarcane is refreshing, but watch those loose fillings: you’re a long way from a dentist.
I had some small bananas with a superbly perfumed flavor, far surpassing any you can buy in Canada. The pineapples are superior as well. Fish, shrimps, snails, turtle, venison, toucan and anteater are always tasty. The casque-headed iguanid lizard is an unforgettable delicacy.
PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY: First, do a lot of studying. Read about the flora and fauna of the region, about the
tribes, their customs and language. A few Indians speak some Spanish or Por-
tugúese, and you should learn one or both. Brush up on your tropical medicine. Learn first aid, including how to set a fracture and dislocation.
Get a copy of How To Survive On Land And Sea, by F. C. and J. J. Craighead, published by the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Maryland. This tells you how to signal a rescue plane with a mirror, how to extract water from a liana vine, and how to tell the difference between quicksand, muskeg, bogs, quagmires and mangrove swamps.
GETTING THERE: Fly to the main university city of the country concerned (perhaps Lima, Bogota or Rio) and find out how to reach your tribe by consulting the university department of anthropology. The map of the neotropical forest is dotted with airfields. A hired seaplane can land you close to the Indians only if the local river is sufficiently broad and deep and free of rapids. Otherwise, fly to the most convenient airport and from there go as far as you can by train or bus, then continue up any convenient river in a canoe paddled by one of the locals.
You may have to be satisfied with incomplete or vague directions. Find out as you go. This may produce surprises, especially if the tribe is nomadic, but it adds to the fun. The most hazardous part is the trip through the fringe areas between relatively untainted jungle tribes and medium-sized towns. I spent one night of sheer horror sharing my sleeping bag with giant cockroaches because the floor of my borrowed native hut was littered with garbage. From the town of Istmina, where the road ends, I followed
the river San Juan by motorboat, courtesy of the government Anti-Malaria Serv-
ice, to the mouth of the Docordo River, where I hired a canoeist, a black Columbian named Uldarico, for the 11-hour paddle to the mouth of the Jerocito. The last time they saw a white man in those parts was eight years ago.
Don’t bother about arranging the return trip. If the Indians are at all friendly (and they’d better be), they will canoe you back. If necessary, they will take you to the next village downriver, where the locals will take you one step farther, and so on. To set out in the rain forest without someone who knows the way is suicide. Before you leave the city inform a responsible person about how long you expect to be away, in the hope he will arrange a search party if you don’t return.
When you reach the tribe, introduce yourself, ascertain who the most influential person is — the power structure might be complex — and say you would like to learn about their way of life. You haven’t come to teach them anything. Ask if you may visit for a while, and specify how long. Distribute some gifts. The best gift goes to the chief, but if possible have something for everybody, including the children.
ETIQUETTE: Respect your hosts and their customs. Show common courtesy. Remember that Amazonian Indians are human and react as such. Be cautious about friendships with women. Unless they fling themselves upon you, it is best not to speak to them except when they speak to you. Give them gifts only via their husbands. If you are a girl, don’t speak to the men. If you are a hairy male, don’t be offended if your hosts explore your anatomy in detail: they’re just curious — mainly because their body hair tends to be sparse.
Work if you possibly can. Tribesmen will respect you for trying. Fish, help gather crops, sweep the floot, help cut a jungle clearing, or work the sugarcane press.
If you are moved to doctor someone who is sick, be sure to tell him that you cannot be certain of the outcome. Of course, if you do something silly, such as administering penicillin and cause an anti-penicillin reaction, you deserve to be roasted. Never insist that the patient try your medicine even though he is at death’s door. Wait for him to ask. Strictly supervise ■ill consumption of pills. I gave the chiefs wife four half-grain codeine pills in one day. She saved them up and took them all at once.
JUNGLE HAZARDS: The jungle is much safer than most people think, but perfect comfort is unattainable. Resign yourself to the stings of countless insects. There are only four seriously dangerous fresh-water creatures in South American rain forest: piranha, fresh-water stingray, candiru fish and electric eel.
Enter the water only where and when the Indians do and you will be safe from piranhas. To avoid the stingray, drag your feet along the river bottom. Ele will whip you only if you step on him. The candiru enters the urethra and might have to be removed by surgery, though few attacks on humans have been recorded. An indignant electric eel could zap you with a punch as powerful as 300 volts and knock you out.
Keep yourself covered by night. The blood-sucking vampire bat is capable of infecting you with rabies. Don’t worry about snakes. Just watch where you put your feet. Four times the Noanama drew my attention to snakes, but only once did I catch a fleeting glimpse. A snake attacks either with venom or constriction, but never both. If it bites a limb, apply a tourniquet between the wound and your heart (pretest your trouser belt for this purpose before starting out), make one or two cuts over the wound parallel to the muscle fibres and apply strong suction. If the snake wraps around you, try to get hold of its tail and unwind it. If this fails, try to cut the snake. If you’re near a fire, burn it.
Be on your guard in crocodile country. Fortunately, the eyes of crocodiles can be spotted a long way off at night, glowing like red-hot coals when you beam a light at them.
WHAT TO WEAR: The best-dressed men-about-the-jungle wear loincloths, though in some tribes the men wear a simple string-and-pouch and in others they go naked. At its most elegant, the Noanama loincloth consists of a rectangular strip about 10 inches wide and 100 inches long. Make a few simple knots at one end of a thick 40-inch string and a small loop at the other end. Place it around your waist and hook the loop over a knot. One end of the cloth passes over the string at the small of the back. The other end continues between the legs, passes under and over the string at the abdomen, sweeps in a graceful arc a few inches below one knee and finally passes over the string at one of your sides.
If you are a woman, you either go nude or wear a jungle miniskirt — a large rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist and reaching just above the knees. Breasts are bare. I wore a loincloth about one week; by then, because of accumulated insect stings, my skin felt as though it had caught fire.
DON’T FORGET: Before leaving home write your will, just in case. Observe at all times the golden rule for all amateur Indians: never antagonize your hosts; you may spoil the game for others. Total cost of my sample trip: $1,000. And I’m heading for the southwest Amazon next vacation.
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