1. Water level may rise unexpectedly
2. Choose campsite wisely, pay attention to details like sediments on supposedly save dry land
3. Have a plan B and observe how the situation changes
Lesson in more detail:
Amazonia. Rainforest. Rain. Rivers. Oxbow lakes. Swamps.
Water is omnipresent in the rainforest. Besides the already mentioned challenge that wood is often too moist to be simply ignited in a few seconds (read here), rivers and creeks may play a crucial role in different ways.
1. They often are the only means of transportation, and provide us with valuable protein (mostly fish).
2. They may affect the campsite in an unsuspected way.
I (Wito) witnessed it for the first time in November 2017. It was my first wild camping in a tropical rainforest and, although I had spent more than two years doing ecological research in tropical lowland rainforest of Costa Rica, I was pretty naïve with respect to jungle camping.
In Ecuador I wanted to spend some time alone camping, jungelcrafting, tree climbing and photographing along a small tributary of Río Napo. After I had found a river bank that I was able to ascend I heaved my three rucksacks onto firm ground. The water surface of the river was approx. 1 or 1.5 m below this firm ground. It was already relatively late in the afternoon and I was eager to set up camp before the night would take over so I did not pay much attention to my surroundings. Well, I managed to set up my hammock, the tarp and the rest of the camp. I ate dinner and after resting a little bit I explored the rainforest at night and took some nice pictures. Satisfied I went to “bed”, I felt like a hardcore adventurer. YEAH. The sounds of the rainforest helped me to fall asleep. Some hours later I woke up. A strange sound of soft splashing of water came from the river. It was dark. I wondered what that might have been. At first I thought someone came and tried to steel my canoe, than I thought a large animal was approaching the river bank. I decided that the splashing intervals were too regular and lasted too long to be caused by a living creature and hence it could not be dangerous nor interesting enough to be photographed. I fell asleep again.
Next morning I was curious. I stepped out of my hammock and wanted to check whether my canoe was still there. Yes, it was still there, no signs of any human or game. BUT: the river bank where I had sunk until my knees while heaving my heavy backpacks onto firm ground the previous afternoon was no longer visible. Only water. Ahhh, so the regular splashing in the night was caused by the rising water level. Nice. And I gloriously had ignored it. It was hilarious. Standing at the edge above the river I had time to observe my surroundings more thoroughly. I looked down to the leaves of the plants just before my knees. Hmm, why were they rather cream-white than green. I scratched their surface. Oha, covered by sediment. The rain had no chance to wash the sediments on the leaves. So apparently the water level had been even much higher than now just a few days before. I realized that I had to observe the water level and be prepared to change campsite if the water level should again start to rise. First I marked the water level at the point of time on a small tree trunk growing on the submerged river bank. Then I investigated the terrain away from the river in hope of a hill. But it was completely flat and even 50 m from the river bank the leaves in height of my knees were covered with sediment. I inferred that the water level had been so high that the nearby Río Napo and its tributary had been connected by the high water level. Thus the entire forest here may turn into an igapó, a temporarily inundated forest. This might turn out dangerous. Luckily the water level started to fall slowly and I could relax. Another lesson: learnt.