The Clemson Co-eds

I stood on the dock as they loaded provisions wondering to myself how this adventure would turn out. Ten five gallon jugs of water, a huge cooler full of food, tents and two Clemson co-eds and off we went. I’m wondering why we need 50 gallons of water since we are only going for one night? These guys have vastly overestimated or they are anticipating a longer trip, either way we are off to the jungle.

Annalise and Mary Vaughn were recent additions to the Iquitos landscape and my first attempt at leading a couple of visitors on a trip up the Amazon River. Annalise is the daughter of one of my friends and co-workers, Kathy Watkins. The two girls came down for spring break to experience Iquitos. I had additional stress of making sure these two got back safely or face the repercussions from their moms.

I was a little concerned because Annalise was having a lot of trouble with allergies and Mary Vaughn is petrified of spiders. Hmmm camping out on the Amazon with someone who is afraid of spiders?

We headed up the Amazon to a little village called, Yanaycu, two co-eds, a translator (Brian), our boat driver (Anderson) a cook (Betty) and myself. Four hours later we arrived at our destination still wondering how this was all going to work out.

The village seemed a bit surprised that a small expedition of gringos had just landed on their shore. Brian found the leader in the village, (Roger) and asked if we could pitch a couple of tents for the night. Roger offered for us to stay in his home.

The generosity and kindness found in Amazon villages is unparalleled. Roger already had dinner on the stove, a little alligator and some fish and a couple of geese roosting underneath the kitchen table but within minutes we find ourselves setting up camp with our little entourage in his house, Betty taking over the kitchen and the rest of us making ourselves at home pitching our tents in the “living room”. Roger was pushed right out of his own home but he seemed perfectly content that he was hosting the gringos. We were the talk of the town.

The entertainment for the evening would be alligator spotting. As darkness set in we loaded up in a small canoe and headed out. I don’t think I grasped what was involved in alligator spotting. The water is rising in the Amazon creating a vast swamp and quickly we found ourselves slipping into a dark and spooky jungle. Not the best place for an arachnophobic or allergies.

With the canopy of the rain forest just above our heads we started our search for gators. At times we found ourselves surrounded by reeds so tall it felt like you were floating through a corn field or lily pads so thick proceeding in the boat was impossible.

The boat was leaking so Annalise took of the job of bailing water in between sneezing and shrieks from Mary Vaughn, the mosquitoes were as thick as thieves. The thought entered my mind more than once, “What if this boat sinks?” We were in the middle of an Amazon swamp, alligator and piranha infested water in a boat that is leaking in the pitch dark. Hmmm. It was a surreal experience. I was really proud of my co-eds not a single complaint although I know they were petrified.

We all hoped and prayed that Roger knew his way home. He did. Two hours later we were back, no alligators spotted but quite an experience. I fell asleep listening to the girls laughing and playing in their tent like two little school girls. Really cute.

The next morning started at 5:30am with trekking through the swamp again, this time on foot with boots. After spending some time in the jungle you realize how quickly you can get lost and be in real trouble. More than once during our stay I wondered if Roger knew where he was but each time he led us back to safety.

On the way back to Iquitos we stopped on at an island home where the proprietor ran a small petting zoo. The girls got to play with monkeys, a toucan, sloth, anaconda, alligator and some turtles.

I think Iquitos and the Amazon left an awesome impression on the girls from Clemson and they will have stories about their spring break that will resonate around the Clemson campus. Thank you Annalise and Mary Vaughn, I had a great time showing you guys Iquitos and a little slice of the Amazon rain forest. My first expedition was a success, I think…