Would Percy Fawcett and his companions have returned from Brazilian jungle hale and hearty had they had one of Josue Basilio’s forefathers as a guide? Well, given the Basilio family’s ability to find its way around in the Amazon that might well have been the case.
Fawcett was a retired British army officer-turned-explorer who spent a lot of time in Brazil in the early 20th century, eventually becoming fascinated with tales of an advanced but abandoned city hidden deep in Brazilian jungle. Fawcett, who first arrived in Brazil after being asked to map a sparsely populated Amazon region, eventually set out to find the city that he labelled Z, returning in defeat more than once.
Undaunted, Fawcett sent off on another expedition with two companions in 1925 and none of the three were ever seen again. His story was told in the 2016 movie The Lost City of Z, which starred the likes of Sienna Miller and Tom Holland.
Basilio, a guide with Amazon Brazil travel company Katerre Expedition, which is based in the Amazon community of Novo Airao, reports that he never gets lost in the jungle, and his father and grandfather were equally at home in the world’s largest expanse of rainforest. “This is my house,” Basilio says of the wilderness.
The adventurous Basilio routinely leads Katerre Expedition guests into the jungle, happily demonstrating his wilderness skills, which are often dependent on his ever-present machete.
A recent Amazon waterways cruise on Katerre’s Jacare-Acu vessel had Basilio showing visitors how to make rubber, with his region once enjoying great affluence during the rubber boom. Basilio cheerfully made an incision in a rubber tree, then had a container catch the sap (area monkeys like to tip the containers so sap gatherers should keep a watchful eye on their area, he confided) and then quickly turned that sap into rubber.
Other tours had the multi-lingual Indigenous guide coaxing a large tarantula from its nest while cautioning his group to get somewhat but not overly close to the venomous creature; luring some bullet ants — known for their fearsome stings — into view; skillfully imitating the sounds of jungle birds; plucking a a smallish but carnivorous caiman from the water and then showing it to the tourists he shared a boat with before releasing the seemingly relaxed reptile unharmed into river water; and using his machete to fashion a vine into a type of rope that he used to quickly scale a branchless tree trunk.
“The machete is very important in the jungle. If I have my machete, I can survive,” says Basilio, who dubs his machete a “pocketknife.” Basilio’s sprawling, untamed backyard is home to many creatures, some seemingly cute, and others which likely wouldn’t earn that description from visitors.
“On one side you have alligators. On the other side you have piranhas,” the affable Basilio jokingly told those he was recently sharing a boat with. Basilio says the jungle serves as his pharmacy, providing plants that can be used to successfully treat a variety of ailments.
Those at home in the jungle will certainly find food if they know what to look for, says Basilio, who notes that he’s eaten bullet ants, which he describes as lacking in flavour; and hearts of palm, which were delicious. Basilio’s own jungle track record leaves him to believe that an individual can learn adequate wilderness survival skills within six months and after two years be totally okay wandering deep into the Amazon unaccompanied. “They can throw me from a helicopter (well, into the jungle). I will survive,” Basilio confidently states.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY IAN STALKER