I will be the first to admit that I’m not the world’s best swimmer. I can quite nicely lie on my back, I just find it difficult to move. I can even lie on my stomach and make reasonably credible swimming motions by flailing my arms and legs, but I do have trouble with coordination and can’t seem to master the art of breathing, which can be a problem.
Being fairly considerate, I do hate to inconvenience others when I am drowning, especially when on holiday. Instead, I stifle my gurgling screams, struggle to remain calm and try to get myself into the more secure position of floating like a log. It has worked well so far and I’ve only had to be resuscitated once or twice.
This aquatic inability really hasn’t hampered my travels much, however. In South America, when faced with the decision between a 5-hour hike through the dense Amazonian jungle from which I’d just emerged, or a quick swim across a rather wide yet inviting river overhung with trees and glistening in the tropical sun, there really was no choice. Until our guide mentioned that the river was home to “little” piranhas, “small” caimans - and candirú.
For those who haven’t read that 19th century classic “Scary Wee Beasts of Jungley Rivers”, the legendary candirú strikes more terror in a man’s heart than any other creature on earth. Forget great white sharks, Bengal tigers and anacondas, the candirú is a tiny fish that swims ‘upstream’ into the male urethra. Once settled, it buries its spines into its surroundings and sits there. Forever. This results in extreme pain, rather a lot of inconvenience and eventual death.
But I digress.
Really not fancying the juggle trek, and against my better judgment, I struggled my way across the river using a combination of lumber-impersonation, and kicking and flailing on my stomach while holding my breath. After a few minutes of exertion, the river seemed as wide as the Pacific, the current as strong as a tsunami, and the chances of ever reaching the far bank seemed distinctly remote. Quick death by piranha was suddenly quite appealing and I contemplated wiggling my toes like bait - although I still resolutely declined to even consider the candirú option.
I did eventually reach the sandy bank and stumbled ashore, utterly exhausted but somewhat triumphant. I had not only swum the greatest distance of my life, but I’d also dodged a variety of very nasty creatures that likely found me quite appetizing.
Seeing how much I had struggled, our local guide came over to me as I slowly recovered on the warm sand. He knelt down and pointed to an object tied to a tree on the far bank.
“Did I forget to mention the dug-out canoe?” he asked, innocently.
Post and photo by: Simon Vaughan © 2008