7am. We sit in the canoe waiting to leave camp like grizzled army vets about to be extracted from the theatre of combat. “Man, the things we’ve fuckin seen here! Life will never been the same,” says Menna, hands trembling as she rolls a cigarette.
“We ain’t the same people who came into this jungle five days back,” mutters Arthur, his blue eyes emptily staring into space from under his bandana. Matilda scowls and twitches, tests the edge of her knife with a thumb, snarls at her reflection in the water.
It’s true, we’ve been deep. Those sunset swims with anacondas. The swirl of bats overhead. That boat trip after dark where we shone torches down into the water and found ourselves floating right above a giant black caiman, silent and menacing; as long himself as our ten-man canoe.
We’ve stood our ground to marauding monkey troupes. Our blood has nourished more winged and slithering creatures than we can count.
We have floated weightless while the river was lit up like a black mirror in lamplight and every branch reaching upwards had a skeletal counterpart stretching down to a dark sub-aquatic world. We have bared our souls to the shaman in a smoke-filled hut while thunder boomed outside.
As we sit in the boat we are weary, saturated, still processing crazy visions. Goodbye to the Amazon! I am somehow deeply sad. We are leaving this wild crucible that seems like the heart of the world. We may never see such things again. Perhaps in a few decades much of this will be gone. I have my bags by my feet and my poncho folded neatly on my lap.
The Ecuadorian girls behind me start scuffling, they stand suddenly rocking the canoe, their voices go high. We are used to this, they are of a nervous disposition. Diego looks over and his sharp intake of breath is much more worrying. Diego is the most calm and implacable guide you can imagine. This inhalation is the only sign of worry I have ever seen him exhibit in the whole week.
“This, my friends, is the Banana spider that I have told you about” he says, “Also known as the Brazilian Wandering Spider. Will, perhaps you can move slowly away.”
Diego has indeed told us about this spider. Aggressive, fond of humans and one of the most venomous creatures in the entire jungle, it now sits on the gunwhale of our boat, some centimeters from my thigh. It was not there moments before, because it has only just emerged from within my poncho.
(I tuck this fact away for later, promising myself to spend some late nights visualising scenarios of what might have happened had I put that poncho on)
I shuffle away and watch as Diego carefully inches forwards, places a paddle underneath the beast and flicks it away.
In balletic slow motion the spider tumbles in a low arc, turning two or three times in the air before executing a perfect landing with all eight legs on the river surface. It them proceeds to run lightly over the water back to the boat, where it disappears from our view, climbing somewhere up onto the underside of our hull.
We have now pissed off a highly poisonous spider who is hiding, biding its time, waiting for revenge somewhere on the boat. None of us is going to relax much during the three hour journey downriver.
And this is our jungle farewell. The Amazon breathes and moves and whispers all around us. “You see,” it sighs, “I could have taken you at any time. Run away back to your civilisations now, you foolish mortals. But be sure to dream of me.”
“Symptoms may appear within 10 to 20 minutes after the bite, and death within two to six hours, where severe pain radiates to the rest of the limb, systemic effects include tachycardia, increased blood pressure, vertigo, fever, sweating, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and paralysis.
Death is usually caused by respiratory arrest.”Brazilian Wandering Spider. Wikipedia.