Welcome To The Jungle

Continuing on a theme of looking back, (mainly due the fact that nothing too exciting is happening at the moment).. The year was 2001 and a long planned holiday/adventure in January. We all have that one holiday we look back on, for whatever reason, maybe we met someone, saw, felt or learned something individual to us. The holiday that we will repeat one day although we subconsciously hope we won’t, just in case the lights aren’t as bright second time around, the excitements perhaps a little less. Some things are best left as great memories. 

I went to the jungle, the rain forests of Venezuela with a friend. I will post up the obligatory holiday snaps but you can simply ignore them and move on if you wish. The reason for Venezuela was my friend, and personal to him, but while we were there for 15 days we decided to make the most of it all. Neither of us at the time were particularly well off and this was going to be expensive. From the first night in Caracas to our return it was a blast. We took 8 internal flights during the break, went to the Tundra areas, Angel Falls, Marguerita Island and much more, landing sideways in a  field in a plane full of fruit on one occasion.

The best part though, we arranged to enter the Amazon villages and paid for the privilege and were hosted by some very welcoming locals, who would take us into the Rain Forest and show us around. My friend and I decided being either inquisitive or stupid felt that this was skimming the surface and we asked the organiser if we could pay for a more realistic experience. Unbeknown to us there had been kidnappings locally of Westerners, we were young and immortal anyways…. He made a phone call and agreed. We paid and next morning packed our things into a motor boat and set off. Five hours of winding areas of water , small enclaves and vast openings followed, our new guide spoke no English, it was probably scary but we were just excited. We arrived at a place, desolate and amazingly beautiful, to be in the middle of the Amazon after seeing it on TV was fantastic. Two happy smiling Warou Indian men met the boat and welcomed us ashore shaking our hands vigorously. Wahibaha (Wacky Backy as we Christenened him) and Jimahin couldn’t speak English either so the next 3 days were handled with smiles pointing and sign language. We had a generator on land, and a chest freezer of soft and alcoholic drinks and a cool area of fruit. We slept, Next day we were taught how to catch Piranha with a piece of meat and string, to catch and dredge fish, where to look for Anaconda in the river…..We crashed out exhausted by 7pm, and were woken at around 11pm and ushered to our boat. Wacky Backy up front with a spot lamp, and two helpers rowing furiously with my friend and I in the middle. Now its black as can be at night in the Amazon, there is zero light pollution, when the spot lamp went off we couldn’t see the hands in front of our face, but these guys must have rowed at 30mph round bends twists and curves. We were crocodile hunting ! Caimans, the light was to see their red eyes light up in the dark, fantastic, we caught around five, put them back , returned, being bombarded by bats the size of ducks as we did so, giggling like children, all of us.

To sleep in the Hammocks… To be woken at 5am by Howler Monkeys, then in my case to be bitten by some weird creature ant/bee/ that made me throw up, and led to a visit by boat with Wacky Backy to a sort of Shamen in a small Tepee who gave me some potion to cure me, it worked , whether through placebo, design or luck. We ate and hunted with Wacky Backys family, like a scene reminiscent of I’m a Celebrity, there’s a book in this holiday one day, that’s the short version, we also slept with a Cougar (not as in an older woman Cougar, a real Cougar), we swam with freshwater Dolphin, had problems with people with Sub Machine Guns in our hotels, swam in the dark where the Anaconda were, accidentally. We also cancelled one of our connecting flights at the last minute, only to see on the news a day later that it had crashed killing all 30 on board. We failed in my friends mission but we learned a lot, I suppose the greatest and simplest lesson was that these people have nothing, no money, property, but they have family, they smile, they are at peace with nature. They only hunt to eat that day, no stockpiling, just hand to mouth. We were their guests and the area was theirs not ours to make profit from, theirs from their forefathers, we left Wacky Backy all our tobacco, some clothes and our gratitude but we took away a respect and probably a knowing that we could never be as good a person as they were because we were tainted by consumerism, greed, jealousy.

We did send a donation to a local educational project when we returned and planned to keep doing so, of course, life happened and we failed in the commitment. I hope Wacky Backy and his family are thriving in happiness and have escaped materialism still…They deserve it.

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Bit of a lie there, as it’s the Anniversary of the flood I mentioned in my last post I used dramatic license. It was not a storm, it was rain, incessant rain, day after day and a coming together of factors that caused the flood. But any excuses to play AC/DC.

It was a Friday night, just the same as most Fridays, my two year old daughter was staying over and my friend and next door neighbour came around after she went to bed. My friend being wheelchair bound had said goodnight to Dodo, his fifty year old Amazon Parrot, his friend since birth, passed down from his Dad (more of him later).

I will save the epic version of the day for my book, that book many of us plan to write one day and never get around to. My then house overlooks the river and the castle you can see at the back of these writings. At around 11pm, my daughter fast asleep I popped onto my balcony for a quick cigarette, and noticed the water was high, this in itself was not unusual, it often reached a high level but this seemed eerily different. There was men around the car park, yellow jackets and torches glinted across the way on the railway track and the water was traveling at a ferocious pace, I could see trees in the river instead of the usual branches or debris.Jokingly I said to my friend that it was going to flood.

At around 1am the water breached the top of the wall, it had never done that before, and it crept along the grass outside, just twenty or so feet from my door and the rain still fell, no, surely not ? Time to put local radio on, sure enough, weather warnings, flood alerts were transmitted but still no automated warning from the Environment Agency, the one we were reassured we would receive in the literature we were delivered, that would give us prior notice. The weather and nature were relentless, at 3am, the water entered my house, preceded ten minutes earlier by my cat as she meowed her way up my stairs, living in a 3 story house I was lucky, my utility room and toilet being on the ground floor, living area on the first. The cat looked puzzled, I am sure she shrugged her shoulders and pointed at the door in a WTF manner, but I cannot verify that 😉

Once in that was it, there was no way that water was leaving. I found my old waders and popped outside, there were firemen out there, I chatted with one, he told me to open my doors front and back and let it take its course, he asked me to knock on as many doors as I could and warn the neighbourhood, especially the elderly. I did, and popped back inside, my daughter still sleeping, my friend incredulous. I made a coffee and heard a noise I had never heard before outside near the balcony, grabbed my torch and shone it below my house to see an otter and young making unearthly noises. I shone the torch on her and around her as she seemed to be swimming against my wall. In my mind I helped them escape the confusion back into the water flow,

What about Dodo ? My friend lived in a ground floor flat, Dodo in a large cage. I had to go and check, now Dodo hated me, nothing personal, he hated everyone except his owner and small children, He would attack and get territorial if I neared his domain. But he was not stupid, The water was now 3 feet high as I entered the flat and Dodo was floating in his cage in the chaos. I grabbed the cage, he seemed to realise this was not the time for a fight, took him out, and laid his cage down in the hallway of the 2nd floor, he was safe.

Back home I waded and suddenly appreciated the true strength of water and respect I should have for it, upstream in that much water is a massive effort. I decided against waking up my daughter as we weren’t going anywhere and we were safe.

The radio stayed on, the electricity lasted until the early morning but soon that cut off too. At around 8am, obviously none of us slept I could see a helicopter winching a woman and what I later found out was a small child from a house just up the road. My daughter was now wide awake and confused as you might expect so I distracted her with games. Then a bizarre sight as a Speedboat came into view from my kitchen, it sped past/around/over the cars outside and one of the rescuers shouted up to ask if I wanted out. I could perhaps have waited but my phone reception had died, house phone too and I knew Mum would be worried about her daughter.

So like a scene from a Sitcom I carried a wheelchair through the water to the boat, I then carried a two year old child while two fantastic rescuers carried my friend, then I jumped in with the inevitable result of water soaked trousers and no belt… It was incredible to see the devastation as we turned onto Caldewgate (locals know where I mean) some pictures here,my area being the third picture.
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I could tell 100 stories of that night, of neighbours, of animals of the way seeing your house devastated affects you. But I was lucky, I lost my car, my mobile phone went swimming, I lost master copies of football games I had filmed for years. I lost stuff….. Some people lost things they had spent years building. A lifetime of memories, I eventually was compensated by Insurance, some weren’t, 10 months later my house was fit for proper occupation. Flood defences have since been built, it should not happen again.

And Dodo recovered, and continued to hate me, and I was happy about that !

Closing Time

Well it’s that time of the year when you look back at the last and forward to the next. A time when you make resolutions you will probably fail to keep past January and are probably fairly meaningless anyways. You will plan to travel more, spend more time with your friends and family, perhaps stop smoking and drink less. Then life will get in the way, work and the everyday things we have to address that keep our bodies active and our brains satiated.

Me, I will use this particular post to look at something a bit personal. In January 2005, I had a very busy month, any resolutions were soon forgotten, tonight as it happens, Carlisle flooded and I mean properly flooded, not some large puddles at the back of Brunton Park, or an overspill at Rickerby Park as many locals had seen for years.

The city flooded, it ground to a halt, I was among those locals who did not escape, my house being just 20 feet from the river, at around 3am my house was three feet underwater.

But that is the prequel to this one, I will discuss that evening in my next post. Two people reportedly died in that flood, but to my recollection it was three.

On the Monday after the Friday flood, after two days in Carlisle where many of us had no electricity I received a call from my sister that she could not gain entry to my Dad’s house. He had not been flooded but had been without power for those two days.

Now not one to write a 10,000 word epic I will briefly summarise our relationship…. there wasn’t one. My parents split when I was at infant school, there was bitterness between them that lasted years and I stayed with my Mother, physically and emotionally. We eventually stopped speaking around 20 years before that flood, with the only communication being him sending me Birthday and Christmas cards and me being too stubborn to acknowledge or reciprocate.

I also got asked to listen to one particular record I recall in one letter,, this one…..

My sisters stayed in contact with him, I was too busy with my own stuff, they were older, they had a more solid relationship with him, I had a million excuses and eventually ran out of reasons. A year before the flood I would regularly see my Dad, as I worked in town and I was persuaded by a friend to give him a break and talk to him. I did, I stopped him in the street and he didn’t recognise me at first, profusely apologising  moments later. I went to visit him in his bedraggled old flat beset with his paperwork and eccentric hoarding. And the sweet smell of alcohol which was my abiding childhood memory of him. We talked, I took my young daughter, he fell in love with her. We talked a little more. I last visited on Christmas Eve 2004 and it was cordial rather than therapeutic.

When I reached his flat on that Monday he was already dead, a frail 69 year old man who had slipped away of pneumonia caused in part by lack of heat and in part lungs weakened by a bout of TB in the 1950’s. He had stopped smoking 9 month earlier after spending over fifty years smoking forty woodbine a day……My Sisters cried and I went into practical mode, I had a funeral to organise after all.The undertakers took him away and I set to work, I found his paperwork, will and documentation. He left nothing tangible, no cash, no property, but perhaps things more important. He left 1000’s photographs which I gave to my sisters, his personal belongings I donated to charity. He did though leave me some diaries, in fact, 50 years of diaries, with family details, secrets, and to his credit no disparaging remarks about me or any other members of the family, just the facts as he had viewed them.I realised I did not know him at all, the fault for that ? Mum, Dad, me and my own stubborness, it didn’t matter, no-one would ever agree on that. I could’ve. should’ve, if this if that, it was too late. I followed his instructions in the will, the most important was that he was buried with his own Dad, a Dad he had lost when he was only 5 to be another statistic in World War II, a Dad he never knew, it all felt so familiar. The War Graves commission granted me permission to inter his ashes with my Grandad, for a donation, so long as no extra headstone was added, as if he never existed. Whatever my Dad was he was a gentleman, he left bills, even a paper bill at the local shop, I had to pay them, it was the right thing to do, so people had the right and proper recollections. My Aunt gave a beautiful Eulogy at the funeral, about how happy our reconciliation and bonding with his Granddaughter had made him. His diary is fascinating, maybe one day I will hand it down or start my own, his last entry had been at Christmas with him expressing sympathy for the Tsunami victims.

I closed the chapter, I ended his story with an update on how he died, what my thoughts were and I put the diaries in a box in a corner of my own attic, they will come out again one day, I have no bitterness or regret about what I did or he did, it is what it is, he had his issues and I like you had mine. It was closing time……