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Jungle Jaguar Jeopardy

Jungle Jaguar Jeopardy

I'm about to explain the scariest moment of my life to this date. The moment lasted a whole night and brings shivers to me even now.

Last year I went to the Amazon jungle. I chose to go to the most pristine part of the interior (interior= jungle) in Guyana, to get the full Amazon experience.

I was to first complete a survival course then I'd leave with two Amerindian tribe members for a hunting trip that would take me deeper into the bush.

I was nervous about the nighttime in the jungle. I'd heard horror stories about the nonstop noises that would be so loud you couldn't sleep. It wasn't like that though.

Let me first outline the nighttime sound:

 The noises at night are specific. There's an ongoing insect hum but after that, layers of other sounds make up the total jungle orchestra.

Howler monkeys that sound like screaming madmen go on for hours, huge branches of trees crash down making even the tribe men anxious, thunder cracks, frogs ribbert, fish splash, birds sing and tapirs plod.

All of these you begin to get used to.

I'd lay in my hammock and try to shut off my ears to these sounds.

One sound I hadn't anticipated before I'd left was that of a jaguar. I didn't even know what a jaguar looked like before I'd left.

Thinking back, I was naive.

A jaguar is not a puma (as I'd originally thought) the majority have leopard print but a small percentage are all black. They are the third largest cat after tiger and lion.

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They are unique because of their sound and their killing strategy. They use their sabourtooth teeth to attack from behind. They then rip off their prays scalp or insert straight into the brain. This is unlike the usual cat killing method of going for the throat.

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Their sound is similar to a leopard. A groaning noise (note the image used on here looks more like a leopard I think. (Not sure though):

Scared yet? That sound makes me sweat.

After finding all this out the day before heading out into the bush, I googled the sound to know exactly what they sounded like.

Jaguars are rarely seen and like so many creatures, they are more scared of us than we are of them. I knew that nothing in the jungle was out to get me so I repeated this in my head whenever I got nervous.

The first night came. The darkness was pitch black. I'd drank a small amount of rum with some of the tribe and survival team in the hope that it would help me sleep.

I cautiously made it back to my hammock and on the way passed a snake. I ignored it, just as it did to me.

I got into my hammock confidently. I zipped up the mosquito net, pulled the blanket over me and switched off my head torch.

I heard others stumble back. They'd drank more than me and would for sure sleep well tonight. They slept about fifteen metres away.

Silence.

I began to drop off. Proud of myself being calm in the jungle.

Then I heard it for the first time.

The same sound I had heard the night before on YouTube. The sound of a jaguar.

"No, it can't be" I thought to myself. I was convinced it was my mind playing tricks on me. Then I heard it again. This time, closer.

"It will be a frog" I kept saying this to myself, but felt myself getting hotter and short of breath.

Again. Louder. It was coming closer.

"No way, no fucking way is there a jaguar a few meters from me on my very first night in the jungle. Not. A. Chance."

Again. This time, at a different angle. Was it... Circling me?

I felt sweat on my face as I tried as best as I could to logically think through what was happening.

The sound was not a frog, monkey nor a bird. This was a cat. A big scary saber tooth cat.

My bow and arrow and machete were outside of my hammock. The only weapon I had to defend myself was a small Swiss army penknife in my trouser pocket.

I slowly reached for it, trying my best not to move in the hammock as it would be like teasing a cat with a string.

I opened it up and placed it pointing behind my head. If the cat pounced from behind as I had been told, then maybe, just maybe I'll stab it in the mouth. Ha, unlikely but worth a go.

The sound went on every so often. Making me shake. I couldn't scream. No sound would come out of my mouth. My throat was dry but my cheeks wet from tears. I was terrified of what was about to happen and felt cowardly as I waited to be pounced on.

I held my torch in one hand. I couldn't see anything because of the thick mosquito net. I didn't want to see anything. If I had seen eyes pointing at me, I don't know what I would have done.

I remained still as the creature outside moved around my hammock making occasional growls.

I started to say goodbye to my mum and dad and accept that I had had a good life and that it was about time something bad would happen. It was my turn now. My luck had run out. I just hoped it would be quick.

I shivered for hours. The tears stopped as I accepted my death. My hands still above my head holding the knife tightly.

Then, a kerfuffle. Just meters away. Movement and animal noises. A growl and a loud yelp followed by creatures running into the bush. I waited.

No more cat sounds. It was gone. It had caught something near to me (probably what it had been stalking the whole time). It had ran off. I was safe.

The sun came up just an hour or two after. The leafy floor was disturbed. I had got away... Or just been in the way of a kill.

Either way, I felt so lucky to be alive. I was also absolutely petrified as I still had a months worth of sleeps in the jungle to go.

I later described this to one of the tribe and they agreed that there had been a large cat there.

Never have I appreciated bedroom walls as protection so much in my life.

The rest of my time in the jungle, I slept with my machete inside my hammock, and made sure I was as close as possible to the tribe.

Video of the Amazon can be seen HERE

A moment of panic

A moment of panic

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I was gripped into the ice wall by just the front two spikes of my crampons that were tied as tight as I could get them to go on the outside of my red plastic boots.

At this moment I really regretted not buying my own top of the range shiny new crampons. It was so unlike me; I almost always go for the gear with the best reviews from all of the gear nerds who like to refer to numbers and weight to give their review a little bit more gut than the last nerd. At least if I’d bought new crampons, there was nothing more I could’ve done if I did happen to hurtle down the side of the 6100 metres mountain. Instead I’d decided to save my money and rent out some rusty, worn out and half blunt crampons that were loose at the best of times.

It was freezing. I mean bloody freezing. I’d been freezing before, I’d spent plenty of time in the Arctic before. Arctic Lucy I’m often called. But that’s a different kind of cold to the one when you’re at the top of a mountain, after climbing for 8 hours and unable to breathe.

My body was shivering uncontrollably as the morning sun began to rise which made the crampon-gripping situation even worse. We'd set off at midnight and had climbed all night. Now the ice was warming up with the sun's rays. I could feel myself grinding down the only contact I had to the mountain wall but there was nothing I could do. My feet would move and with it, move some ice below and to the side of the spikes. I was standing up right, about ten metres from the summit. These ten metres didn’t feel comprehensible to me. I was saying goodbye to loved ones in my head. I looked beneath me; hundreds of feet below were rocks sticking out from the snow blanket. Not even the most skilled mountaineer could save themselves with an ice axe arrest here. So I had no hope.

Either side of me were my teammates whom I had come up with. I was roped to Juan but he was half the size of me, spoke very little English and had even worse gear than me. Perhaps I’d fall and he’d attempt to dig himself into the ice to save us.. Then he’d be pulled off and overtake me as I fell, then we’d fall in a chaotic mess down the mountain to our deaths. ‘Think positive’ I thought. ‘You’re Lucy, you can do this like you’ve done everything that’s been thrown your way.’ But what if I couldn’t do it? This thought rarely entered my mind, which some may think of as an empowering attitude, a ‘This Girl Can’ motivational way to live one's life.

At this point, my mind was half on ‘can’ and half on ‘you’re not superwoman.’ My legs and arms were just about to give way when a feeling of desperation to live came over me. I might not be Superwoman, but I might as well try. So I held on.

I used the little energy I had took one foot cautiously out of the hard ice and took one big kick into the ice. The spikes penetrated the wall and stuck firmly. I was secure.

We were stood still chilling our asses off due to a mountaineering traffic jam. Little to our knowledge, there had been a French team who’d camped a little further up from us and they’d left earlier in the night to get ahead. I couldn’t tell if they were pros or just simply tired from the exhausting climb but they were acting like jerks I thought. The wall that we stood on… Well, clung to. Could only manage one person. The French had already summited so needed to pass us in order to get down. They could’ve waited on the summit but instead they had fled down as if there was a clock on the matter. They spoke abruptly and sounded frustrated as they looked at us in the way of their escape. No one tried to pass any word, instead the French were soon coming towards us. My concern was that they’d use us as human steps. One French man had managed to climb above Juan and now I was in the way.

Juan put out his hand as if we were just in the street crossing over a man hole. Juan gestured down. I know now what he wanted me to do. I looked at the French man and he gestured the same thing. They wanted me to take steps down this vertical wall so that he had enough space to climb above. My legs were so weak. Usually I’d be able to rely on my arms to take my weight but even they were numb. I looked at them both. I was probably pale as a ghost with water in my eyes and jaw clenching because then they came up with another solution. The French man took hold of my rucksack as Juan put his arm out again. I was being passed over like a bag of luggage in an airport. My life was in their hands I thought. I didn’t mind this actually; there was nothing more I could do. Why not allow a man whom I’d never met and the other who I wouldn’t even trust to water my house plant. Surely they didn’t want me to die. That would be hassle. So I released my ice axe from the snow then one foot, I felt the rucksack go up as my weight went down on it. Juan violently took hold of the arm strap and dragged me towards him, until I could get my axe into the snow and ice next to him. The French man released his grip as I dug my feet in place as quickly as I could with the energy I had miraculously found in the depths of my body. I looked up and saw the summit so close, gleaming in the early morning sunlight.

Then came the next fear, I had to get down after I’d got to the top. Shit.