Daring Escape After Jaguar Encounter

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Deep into the Parque Nacional Da Amazonia I came face to face with one of the Amazon´s big cats. I had just finished a 12 hour day on the bike. I was trying to make some good distance through some of the most remote part of the jungle on the TransAm. My camp was set up and nightfall was less than 30 minutes away as a thunderstorm was just beginning. Then I heard the punctuated roars.

*After some further research, I most likely saw a Jaguar. Pumas, or cougars, although similar in size, are not part of the big cat family since they cannot technically roar. What I saw that evening could in fact roar.

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I started my day on the bike at 5am using my headlamp to guide my way out of Itaituba. As soon as I left the outskirts of the city I slammed straight into mud. It had rained for a few hours the night before and left the road a sticky mess. After almost 1000miles and over 3 weeks of no rain it comes right when I am heading into the jungle.

As the sun came up the road began to dry out to some degree, however all day I hit pockets of heavy clay like mud. I quickly learn that is it impossible to bike in this muck. The tires pick it up and soon jam against the frame. The only option is to carry the bike through the mud and clean it off from the wheels to un-jam them until you can roll again. Definitely a painstaking process.

As I rode there were some nice views of the Tapajos river. Some of the nicest scenery of the trip so far. I entered the jungle reserve after about 5 hours of riding and gave a quick hello to the armed guards. They shook my hand, offered me breakfast, and off I went.

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The road gradually narrowed after a few hours. There is work underway to improve and widen this stretch of the TransAm. It once was barely passable by jeep but now sees more regular traffic.

I see butterflies the size of my face, all sorts of birds, and little black monkeys with white streaks down their backs. They were much too fast and agitated to get a picture of however. The ants rule the jungle as far as I´m concerned. They are omnipresent, inescapable, and can permeate any container. Truly frustration creatures.

At the end of the day I found a mosquito infested brown pool to pull some water from for the night. I hope my Steripen works like its supposed to! I set camp up fairly close to the road as the first raindrops start to fall from a thunderstorm closing in. Then I start to hear the explosive huffs ahead of me.

At first I think it might be howler monkeys that sound like lions at dawn and dusk. I am hoping it is just monkeys. I have my umbrella out with my SAT phone in one hand and a sandwich of moldy bread in the other. I´m standing in the road trying to get a clear signal for the phone and ahead of me about 50m is a figure.

At first it looks like a calf with its back higher than my waist. But, this is the middle of the jungle and of course there´s no livestock here. Then my heart sinks. It´s a puma looking directly at me grunting deep repetitive barks.

Here is a sound clip very similar to what I heard:

Click to play: Jaguar Roar

This is different from the more hiss like cougar sound:

Click to play: Cougar

I freeze in the road and just stare at it, he stares at me, then turns broad side and walks into the jungle, the same side my tent is set up on. My thought process was:

  • I need to move now
  • I can´t go past him, need to go backwards
  • I have less than 30 min until dark
  • Do I have the time/strength to get out of his territory
  • I´m not going to sleep tonight
  • My machete isn´t going to protect me
  • What are the chances of this actually happening?

By the time I pack up the hammock, throw my sandwich on the ground, and collect my things by the roadside (all the while looking around me in the bush for the cat) I here a glorious sound! A truck is revving its engine up the hill.

I run in front of the truck waving and sputter out in broken Portuguese, “Onça, Onça! Can´t sleep here tonight. Rode my bike, can´t camp. Can I come with you?”

There are three men in the cab of the fuel tanker truck and they quickly get excited as well. The rain has begun and the road will quickly become impassable, leaving us all stuck right there. I throw my bike and myself on top of the truck and we blast off down the road. The rain is getting heavier and heavier, the lighting is flashing blue in the sky, and the truck is sliding all over the road!

After a few minutes of clutching the vent at the top of the fuel container (there is very little securing me atop the tanker truck) I start to think I jumped from the pot and into the fire. One slide into the ditch on the side of the road and I am going to have a fuel truck on top of me. I have to admit though, it was a thrilling ride.

We went a few miles up the road. The driver was very skilled in the mud. On the uphills I was certain we were finally stuck, just sliding side to side and making no forward progress, but he managed it. On the downhills it was like being on an icy slope. The truck would just slide sideways and I could see steep drop off on either side. The men would get out and jam with wheels with logs and metal bars to keep it on the road.

By dark we reached a thatched hut by a wood plank bridge and river. There are 3 other trucks there and two light bulbs run off a gas powered generator. We walk in to the structure enclosed by netting to keep the bugs out and the truckers have a good laugh about my situation.

Evidently this is a work camp for the widening of the TransAm through the reserve. There ends up being almost 15 people in this long hut after a few hours and we all sit at a table and eat rice and whole piranhas boiled in river water. They´re very good but have many little bones.

Everyone sets up their hammock and I get about 7 minutes of sleep that night amongst the loudest snoring and hacking I have heard in my life I think. The rain keeps up all night and I worry about the road conditions the next day.

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17 Responses to “Daring Escape After Jaguar Encounter”
  1. damn, a puma encounter followed by Pirana and rice, sounds like you’re getting the full Amazon adventure! Keep up the great posts, the experience really comes through

    by Aaron
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  2. After no posts for so many days I know you were out there on the edge of things. I am wondering about what changes this trip will have on you? I have to think that these experiences are impacting you in some way. I will be very interested to talk to you in person over the Holidays.

    -Ed

    by ed
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  3. At first I was sad that you didn’t take a picture of the puma…then I thought – hmmm…would I take out my camera in that situation…nope, I’d be passed out on the ground or pissing myself. CRAZY!

    by amy gunz
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  4. OMG Doug,
    Your stories are amazing! Please be safe! You’re in my prayers!
    Lisa

    by Lisa Arvine
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  5. I hope you write a book someday about this. This is the best stuff I’ve read, ever.

    by Pete
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  6. I second Pete. You have seen some unbelievable things!

    by sara
    on 16. Oct, 2009

  7. I need to meet these peoples you speak of….. I think I could pick up some major driving skills from them.

    by john
    on 17. Oct, 2009

  8. Dude, once again more evidence that you’re a bad ass.

    by Tim
    on 17. Oct, 2009

  9. Looking very hansome with that facial scruff….are you attracting many Brazillian women?

    How is the bike/body/mind holding up?

    Keep up the amazing posts. +1 on Pete’s comment.

    by Pony
    on 17. Oct, 2009

  10. What the flip..wow….. How long it took since you saw the Puma till your way out ( truck arrive)?. Even the natives who had the opportunity to see you after this crazy experience admire your CORAGEM ( courage ), most of them wouldn’t know what to do in that situation. Keep up with the great work “Trans-Amazonica man”.

    by idario
    on 18. Oct, 2009

  11. Amazing post! Can’t wait to hear about in person! Godspeed

    by gd
    on 18. Oct, 2009

  12. Cool head in dealing with that Puma, but jumping on the back of a fuel truck in a torrential downpour on a muddy road through the Amazon should like you were playing out a scene from Wages of Fear!

    Glad to hear that people are helping you out along the way, just in the nick of time as it seems. That sticky mud is legendary at Burning Man, as it rained in 2000 and it stuck in layers to anything that tracked across it.

    Despite the adversity, it looks as though you are rolling or slogging along at a good pace.

    by Ken
    on 19. Oct, 2009

  13. Unreal! Keep doin what your doin! Best of luck. Keep the posts coming! Cant wait for the next one.

    by Matt Yost
    on 23. Oct, 2009

  14. Thanks man!

    by doug
    on 27. Oct, 2009

  15. I can´t argue with that Tim.

    by doug
    on 27. Oct, 2009

  16. Now if I just stumble on the Lost City of Z I can call it a wrap.

    by doug
    on 27. Oct, 2009

  17. Congrats on the great escape!

    by Gouri
    on 04. Jan, 2011

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