*Disclaimer: I know all of my pictures here suck. The humidity wreaked havoc on our camera...
When most people imagine the Amazon Rainforest, they envision wide chocolate rivers, vast swathes of impenetrable jungle, raging hoards of insects and vibrantly coloured tree-frogs. At least, that’s what I expected before I travelled into the Bolivian jungle of Madidi National Park on a recent Semana Santa vacation.
Although we did encounter the expected hoards of insects, several deceptively attractively coloured tree frogs (“our helpful guide kept saying “you touch you die”) and the rivers were chocolate (to look at, not so much to the taste…), oddly enough, none of these remain the dominant memories of our trip. You know what stands out most? Mushrooms.
The fungi of the Amazon are fascinating. They are majestic, and I do employ that word unironically here! The mushrooms and fungi I encountered in the jungle compelled me to closely examine the subtle colors, unique shapes and fragile textures that they presented. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.
And they were everywhere! Mushrooms dotted the detritus of the damp forest floor. Fungi sprouted from every possible nook and cranny of fallen trees. They rooted themselves into living tree-bark. Everywhere!
Every jungle-hike we took morphed into an eager scavenger hunt for mushrooms. I circled trees in search of new species of fungi, pestering our guide with questions the whole way. On one night-hike, a patch of bioluminescent mushrooms glowed so clearly in the dark that I felt like I was the sci-fi world of Avatar rather than a place on earth!
I’m not sure our guide (or Dani for that matter) fully understood my mycological enthusiasm but, at least for now, when I think of the Amazon, one of the first things that will spring to mind will be….mushrooms!
When we first arrived at our lodge in Bolivia’s remote Madidi National Park, we were briefed on the variety of fauna that occasionally frequented the grounds. We were warned to watch for snakes in the grass and encouraged to shake our boots out each morning to dislodge any nasty critters that may have snuck in overnight. We were forbidden to feed any animals that came sniffing around apart from a friendly male tapir who returned to the lodge so frequently he had earned an endearing nickname: Tonito.
I had never seen a tapir, not even in an online photo or a zoo. I envisioned some sort of cross between a capybara and an aardvark, which now that I’ve been enlightened, I suppose isn’t that far off!
The excitement and busyness of our Amazon adventure quickly took over. Tonito faded from memory as we went for jungle hikes each morning and relaxed him hammocks in the afternoon.
One morning, however, after a particularly damp and sweaty hike along a jungle trail, I opted for a shower. After gathering my implements, I entered the hut through a swinging door, carefully examined the shower curtain and shower for tarantulas or other nightmares, and began rinsing my body of mud, sweat and who knows what else.
It happened in one of those perfect moments when my eyes were closed, and the water was streaming over my face obscuring my vision: I felt a furry nudge on my leg. (Barely) resisting the impulse to scream and tear in a naked panic out of the shower, I frantically wiped water from my face and looked down to see what jungle terror had invaded my personal space.
It was Tonito.
Apparently, Tonito likes showers. I truly believe that I am possibly one of the only people on earth to have showered with a tapir!
Tonito stayed with me as I finished up and sat contentedly by my side for twenty minutes or so and indulged me with several selfies. I think he was somehow attracted to my beard. He kept nibbling at it in a manner that reminded me of a goat. His tongue and breath smelled like mashed potatoes. Somehow.
Then Tonito trotted into the forest. I never saw my tapir-friend again. Although my encounter with Tonito was brief and I am far from the only person to have befriended him, my tapir surprise in the shower will remain a highlight of my travel for a long, long time.
 This was, thankfully, before I had seen scarring footage of mating tapirs. Never Google: mating tapir or tapir penis. Ever.