Do not panic.

Tomorrow morning I am leaving on a trip, the planning of which has alternately elated and terrified me. I’ll be landing in Bogota tomorrow evening. From there, a girlfriend and I will fly to the southern tip of Colombia, where it meets Peru and Brazil, to a small town called Leticia. We’ll take a boat for a couple hours down the Amazon to a smaller tributary, the Javari, to an eco-research lodge on the Brazilian side of the river where we’ll be exploring the rainforest for three days. The area is famous for the only fresh-water dolphins in the world, which are, if you can believe this, pink. That’s right. Do people already know about this? I didn’t already know about this. It’s the kind of deal that really sends me.

I have been vaccinated against yellow fever and I am taking anti-malarial drugs that turn my pee orange. I bought a headlamp and a cheap fake wedding ring. I registered my travel with the U.S. State Department in case of emergencies. I blocked my ATM card from accessing most of my money. I have traveled a lot, mostly alone, but not like this, ever.

After our rainforest excursion, we fly back to Bogota to hook up with Trixie Honeycups, where she’ll be waiting to care for our bugbitten, sunburnt, dehydrated, transformed and ecstatic selves in her swanky hotel after her several days there of lounging and getting in-room massages. The three of us fly the next day to Cartagena de Indias, a Colombian colonial capital on the Caribbean coast where we have booked a balconied triple room in a sweet little hotel and several days of cocktails and girly time.

Here are the directions my guidebook gives for surviving an anaconda attack in the jungle:

• Do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
• Lie flat on the ground, put your arms tight against your sides and your legs tight against each other.
• Tuck your chin in.
• The snake will begin to nudge and climb over your body.
• Do not panic.
• The snake will begin to swallow your feet first.
• You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
• When the snake has reached your knees, reach down, take your knife, slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg.
• Quickly rip upward, severing the snake’s head.
• Be sure you have your knife.
• Be sure your knife is sharp.

As absolutely astonishing as this advice is, this somehow seems much less scary (and much less likely) than being kidnapped in a city taxicab and held for a few days to withdraw my daily ATM maximum. Last spring break, we went to Mexico City, where the same crime is prevalent. No, not prevalent—rampant, apparently. It didn’t happen to us despite some ill-advised and blurry carousing in the late hours. I fervently hope I am not pushing my luck.

My next post is scheduled for April 22. If this space is blank on that day, please call the American embassy in Bogota and describe me. Otherwise, on that day I hope to be able to show you the proof that pink dolphins really exist, and monkeys look cooler in the jungle than in the zoo, and girls can travel alone through narcoterrorist-ridden South American countries and have a glorious time.

18 responses to “Do not panic.”

  1. trixie says:

    but what if the anaconda starts by swallowing your head?

  2. Wow, this sounds like the funnest trip ever. Looking forward to the pictures.

  3. (Trixie, are you not familiar with the song, “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor”?)

  4. Rachel says:

    Wow, wow, wow. This is so amazing. I am the type of person who occasionally sleeps on the living room sofa bed and calls it “camping.”

    Happy adventuring! Trixie and Stephanie, take good care of one another! Pack (sharp) weapons!

  5. Robert says:

    Wow, this sounds awesome. Way to be a real adventurer. I did a student exchange program in Colombia when I was in high school. I was in Cali, but we did get to make a side excursion to Cartagena, which is a beautiful city. There are some really gorgeous islands a short boat ride from Cartagena that have the classic Caribbean beaches, white sand and crystal clear water, teeming with life.

    Cartagena is also home to one of the world’s biggest cocaine cartels, as well, of course, so be sure to get a kilo to bring home with you! Makes for great party favors.

  6. jeremy says:

    You are a bad-ass. And I wish you the safest (and funnest) of travels. Please be careful, though… (Also, you left out some of the best parts of the story, didn’t you?)

  7. Dave says:

    This sounds amazing. Good luck, stay safe, and I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the pink dolphins.

  8. Tim says:

    So cool!

    The anaconda attack instructions are amazing. I love how you’re supposed to make yourself into, like, a ready-to-eat hot dog or something. Man, that anaconda won’t know what hit it. Just remember to carry your ultra-sharp knife at all times.

    But seriously, have lots of fun and be (a little bit) cautious. I expect many pink dolphin photos come April 22.

    Also, fly carefully!


  9. Ivy says:

    There are lots of great stories/myths about the pink dolphins. (I know about them because one of the things I do is write non fiction for children.) What could be cooler than a pink dolphin? They are hard to photograph as the water is the colour of tea and they aren’t bouncy in the same way as bottlenose dolphins, but I hope to see some pics. I believe they are a sign of luck. Or maybe it is just that they are rare, so it is lucky to see them. Either way: awesome… much envy…

  10. LP says:

    Those are the most wonderfully impossible instructions ever. I believe they left out a few, though:

    • Quickly rip upward, severing the snake’s head.
    • Be sure you have your knife.
    • Be sure your knife is sharp.

    …and then:

    • Jump back into your Austin Healey coupe and head to the nearest casino.
    • Order a martini, shaken, not stirred.
    • Win $10 zillion at the roulette table.

    All in a day’s work.

    Have an excellent trip, Swells! What an adventure!

  11. Scotty says:

    I’ll miss you.

  12. Tim says:

    Hold it! Hold it. That anaconda attack advice might just be fake.

  13. J-Man says:

    What Jeremy said. Have a great time! And don’t waste time worrying while you’re on your trip – leave that part to me.

  14. Stephanie Wells says:

    No way! I can’t believe that advice is fake! I’m totally not going now.

    No worries, lovely friends! I’ll be back soon with love for you all!

  15. tracy jane says:

    Eargerly awaiting your arrival with an OFFICIAL taxi and an icy cold caipirinha. Viva Colombia!

  16. tracy jane says:

    eagerly; that damn rum.

  17. Scotty says:

    I’m gonna write a post called, “My bummed out week of pacing around the house, drinking too much so I can fall asleep, and worrying my self sick while my wife is in Colombia.” It’s gonna be a really great post too!

  18. But it probably will not have as many anacondas in it. Advantage: Stephanie.