With a group of 10 people through a program called NOLS, I had to the opportunity to live in the Brazilian Amazon for 3 months, with only the bare essentials to survive. There were four sections of the trip: first a month of whitewater canoeing, second a week of backpacking through the rainforest, third a week of living with a native Amazonian family, and fourth a month of backpacking through the highlands. Ask me anything!


Comments: 256 • Responses: 77  • Date: 

PanamaAzul30 karma

I live by a very dense jungle, which I have traversed many a time. A question I have for you is have you ever ran into pockets of such dense air that you couldn't breathe? During the building of the Panama Railroad in the mid 1800's (and again during the building of the Canal here) there were reports of deaths of workers not being able to breathe. I experienced this first hand (pretty near death).

melten7721 karma

That's crazy I've never even heard of that. Do you know what causes it?

druccsula20 karma

What was the most usefull tool you brought with you into the rainforest?

melten7727 karma

Chlorine for water sanitation was definitely one of the most necessary tools, as we took drinking water straight from the river which is loaded with parasites and harmful bacteria. My knife was also incredibly useful for a wide range of tasks, from chopping up vegetables for dinner to toe-nail cleaning... Soap was also pertinent for protecting from disease and infection, bathing twice a day was mandatory for this reason.

fenixoutofash6 karma


melten7714 karma

I had a swiss army knife and Buck hunting knife. Sadly I had to throw both of them out in the airport on the way home because I forgot to take them out of my carryon.

JudahMaccabee5 karma

How often do Amazonian natives bathe?

melten776 karma

everyday before dinner. It's more of a dumping a bucket of water over yourself and then washing with soap type deal, but it still gets the job done..

datwestcoast17 karma

Did you ever get bitten / close to coming in questionable contact with a dangerous animal/plant species?

melten7719 karma

I was terrifyingly close to stepping on a poisonous snake, thankfully I looked down before I planted my foot. I believe it was a Bushmaster but I didn't get a very long look at it.

bwleung8915 karma

What was the most unexpected piece of technology you saw the locals using?

melten7721 karma

The Brazilian government actually built houses for all the natives, which look like this : http://imgur.com/gHBf1UZ They were also given detachable boat propellers, many of which were installed onto dugout canoes. The family that I stayed with actually had a fairly large tv which was very surprising, but I don't think that is too common.

confuzious6 karma

What kind of information did they have access to? Do they know about most of the important things going on in the world like the latest news on Mila Kunis, Jennifer Lawrence and such? What kind of channels do they receive and what books do they read?

melten7741 karma

From what I observed, they really didn't have any exposure to much American pop culture or anything like that(except for Justin Bieber, I cringed when they said her name), they had american sitcoms dubbed over with portuguese, but other than that the channels were brazilian.

Legato89515 karma

Not sure if typo

melten7715 karma


Electroniktherapy15 karma

What native use of hallucinogenic plants did you witness and what tribe(s) specifically?

melten776 karma

I didn't witness any personally, I've heard stories of them but the natives I met were mostly native fishermen living in villages along the river, not the typical perception of a native tribe, with loincloths and spears and performing rituals.

alvaroqueso14 karma

What is the wierdest animal you saw? any picture?

melten7725 karma

I think the tailless whip scorpion was the strangest, of the bugs at least. http://imgur.com/CRdbCNn

melten7720 karma

Another crazy species, though not quite as weird as the whip scorpion, were the leaf cutter ants. These things travel in groups of MILLIONS, it literally looks like the ground is moving. More nights than I can remember we woke up in the middle of the night with these fuckers eating our tent and walking of with the pieces. All you can do is brush em off, quickly pick up all your shit, and find a new spot, otherwise all your stuff will be shredded by the morning.

hornyak3 karma

please don tell me that was next to your hammock!

melten772 karma

yup. right fuckin there.

fightingforair14 karma

I've heard sleeping at night is quite difficult as night is a very active time in the rain forest. How was sleeping in the rain forest for you?

melten7731 karma

It was pretty difficult to get over that actually, the jungle is an eerie fucking animal symphony at night, and nighttime is when all the predators are out and about. The hardest was when we were sleeping in hammocks because you feel incredibly exposed, all that's between you and the forest is a bug net and you're just hanging a couple feet off the ground. But you gotta sleep so you man up and get over it, and after a while it becomes almost soothing once you convince yourself that you're safe


Wooo! fellow NOLS grad. Was John Kempsey one of your instructors/did you meet him? he was a teacher for a course I did in Patagonia in 2011.

Also, as a person who suffered through a 90 day NOLS semester as well, and who has personally been to the peruvian amazon, I would never do what you did. I was in the jungle for 4 days and by the end of it felt like I was going full kurtz. So many bug bites, so much sensory overload, got a cool skin rash that dissolved the flesh on my left arm. Good times.

What would you say the most personally challenging part of the environment was?

melten7718 karma

Yea! He was the program director at the base camp, really awesome guy. I think the most challenging thing was the bees. The africanized honey bee(or "killer") bee was created by crossbreeding African honey bees with european honey bees by scientists to try and make a less aggressive bee that would produce more honey. They fucked up though and made an even more aggressive bee that produced less honey, which accidentally got released into the wild and then spread through south America. These little bastards eat salt, so anything that had your sweat on it(Backpack, clothes, skin) the bees would flock to. Being overly aggressive, even the slightest agitation would elicit a sting, so we had to deal with getting stung between 3 and 10 times per day which was just horrible. Luckily we didn't stumble onto any nest's ,as they will chase intruders for over a mile and getting stung too many times can be fatal. What about Patagonia?

HelpImSurrounded10 karma

How did you guard against Malaria?.

melten7714 karma

We had to take malaria pills daily, as well as multiple vaccinations before the trip, not for malaria but for dengue and yellow fever.

thelordofcheese12 karma

The malaria pills are antibiotics that are also used to treat chlamydia.

EDIT: Source - I used some pills left over from India to treat chlamydia that one time I got it.

melten7721 karma

That's coool..

DaysJustGoBy2 karma

You take Doxy or Malarone?

melten771 karma


HelpImSurrounded2 karma

Yeah, I've had the Yellow Fever Shots, but not yet done my dengue fever vaccine.


Man when I had my yellow fever shot within 6 hours I had spiked a fever, felt swollen and sickly, and had terrifying nightmarish fever dreams for 13 hours. fuck that shot.

melten773 karma

damn that sounds god-awful


Honestly it was nowhere near as bad as when I was on Malarone for malaria- took it for 3 weeks and could barely sleep at night, on like 6 occasions I woke up flailing and screaming in the depths of some kind of awful night terror, unable to be woken by my friend without them shaking me awake. must have been awful for them, but fuck that medicine. not that I would rather have malaria....

melten773 karma

Yeah I had some pretty fucked up nightmares as well from Malarone, not to that extent but that shit fucks with your head, especially when your trying to sleep in one of the most dangerous rainforest in the world...

Jackandahalfass1 karma

I had no problem with the Yellow Fever shot. Did you cover yourself with mosquito spray at all times? And did anyone in your group get ill with anything?

Or were there any medical emergencies? I imagine over the course of 3 months, something's gotta go wrong for someone, and I wonder what you do when you are out in the jungle, far from medical help.

melten773 karma

the mosquito's really weren't that bad actually, maybe it was that i was there during a low mosquito season, or maybe because we had shirts pre-treated with strong bug repellent. Everyone had small cuts, ingrown nails, andinfections here and there, but no one was seriously injured. One guy got really bad ringworm and he almost had to be evacuated but he pulled through. If some needed to be evacuated they would either fly a pontoon plane in or if theres space a helicopter.

firelf939 karma

Are Amazonian spiders tougher than Australian spiders?

melten7718 karma

I dont know much about Australian spiders, but theres one called the Brazilian wandering spider which is pretty interesting. If you get bitten you get an uncomfortable erection for hours, and if the concentration is high enough it's fatal. It's venom is actually being studied for medical use to treat ED.

smirfy84739 karma

How was the pooping situation?

melten7720 karma

Kinda rough. Toilet paper wasn't aloud because it doesn't biodegrade very well (one guy almost got kicked out for having it) so we had to use water, a hand, and soap for wiping. It was pretty gross at first but you get used to it.

Perfectly_Anonymous9 karma

What was the scariest thing you saw or was a part of?

melten7737 karma

The scariest thing really was just the fear that something could happen to you at any time. I think probably the scariest thing though was waking up in my hammock in the middle of the night and shining my flashlight into the forest and seeing a pair of glowing orange eyes staring back at me. Also, at night if you shine a light over the river, you can see like 30 pairs of Caiman(alligator) eyes glowing, which was pretty unsettling.

Vaez9 karma

What was the total expense of the trip? Was it expensive to fill up food and bring or did you live off of the forest itself or what did you do? Is it legal for anyone to do?

melten7725 karma

The cost of the program itself was $15,000 , which was steep, but it includes insurances such as body retrieval should you fall off a cliff or get carried off by a jaguar , food which we carried in our packs and restocked at farms that the program had made arrangements with beforehand, gear, some transportation, wilderness first aid training, and college credit. On top of that it was about 600$ dollars worth of gear that I bought myself, plus airfare. Anyone over 18 can do it.

altum7 karma

How did you sign up for that program? What was the process like leading up to your trip, and now that you're back, how does it feel? Would you do it again?

melten7718 karma

I signed up for the program through this website:http://www.nols.edu/courses/locations/amazon/semester_in_the_amazon.shtml It was a little overwhelming preparing everything, I had to buy a ton of gear and a plane ticket, as well as get in good physical shape. It was seriously a shock coming back to civilization, it definitely changed my perspective on the way most of our society lives, taking everything for granted and feeding our addictions of pointless consumption/consumerism.
Things like coffee and fruit were a luxury there, and such small things were so much more gratifying because of that. Plus, the importance of taking care of you're few belongings was paramount, because you couldn't just go to the store and buy a new tent or new boots, things that essentially keep you alive. As to if I would do it again, I think I would but for shorter time and not with the program, probably with just 3 or 4 of the guys who were on the trip. Of course I could not have done any of it without the program, but at times the instructors were restricting and overbearing, but they were responsible for keeping us alive so I can't really blame them for that.

ebjay6 karma

Biggest/scariest bug you saw?

melten777 karma


Chipware5 karma


melten7717 karma

Got some pretty nasty foot fungus, and I had to pull a tick off my balls...

thelordofcheese5 karma

How much did you masturbate while there?

melten779 karma

Actually only once or twice. Theres always something that needs to be done around camp so you dont really think about it to much, also for half the trip i slept in a tent with three other dudes.

thelordofcheese11 karma

I have no idea what the last part had to do with your answer.

melten776 karma

there wasn't really any good place to whack it with privacy...

lumpking691 karma

Did you tap the spank bank or did you have the hots for one of your fellow rainforest ladies? I mean did you just rub one out cause you were bored and needed to get to bed or were one of the girls just way to fucking hot and you had to release some steam? lol

melten772 karma

Well there was two different groups only 3 girls, so they put all the girls in the other group so that they wouldn't be overwhelmed with testosterone.. so i was outta luck in that respect

bipin565 karma

How was it returning back to 'real-life', emotionally? were there times you said that living in nature was more worthwhile than in modern day society?

melten772 karma

It was quite a shock coming back, making such a drastic transition of lifestyle was overwhelming to say the least. It definitely opened my eyes though to how ridiculous the amount of time we spend in 'real life' to accumulate possessions and money which we try to pretend makes us happy when in reality they just make people blind to the things that are truly beautiful and fulfilling in life. I would definitely say the simple and rugged life has its mental, spiritual, and physical benefits, but it's definitely not suited for everyone and a lot of people would just be miserable in that kind of lifestyle.

Golden_Funk4 karma

Did you find any rare or new species?

melten7712 karma

No that wasn't really the point of the expedition. The wildlife was incredible though, saw capybaras, black caiman(alligators) , tons of exotic birds, howler monkeys, spiders monkeys, barracuda, electric eel, and many more. Never got a glimpse at a jaguar though, they are sneaky bastards.

Golden_Funk5 karma

Awesome! I'm pretty jealous. What was the point of your expedition?

melten777 karma

Really just to explore a place that very few people get to see, and also learn how to live minimally and operate efficiently in a small group through a challenging environment.

[deleted]3 karma

What did you miss the most?

melten775 karma

Definitely music. I'm a guitar/saxophone player and music is my biggest passion, so going for three months without so much as an mp3 player was pretty difficult(no electronics were allowed on the trip). Also my family of course, and fuckin cheeseburgers man. Rice beans and salami for every meal got pretty dull after a while.

confuzious2 karma

Did the locals have instruments or have any interest in music?

melten772 karma

The family I stayed with had a guitar, and they listen to music on the radio, other than that i'm not sure.

Miss_Sheep3 karma

What was the thing that most impressed you, that struck most in your memory?

melten7721 karma

Camping on top of this waterfall was simply incredible. The view was just surreal. http://imgur.com/rgUSqa9 If you look closely you can see one of our tents to the left of the waterfall. This is the view from the camp: http://imgur.com/TDvWmfr

inquisitive_thinker3 karma

Did you take any cool pictures?

drewbyzinho3 karma

felicitaƧƵes! I completed the NOLS Amazon course in 2010. It's so hard to explain to people how incredible of an experience it was. I miss the Juruena River and Jatoba Falls every day! I'm sure we know a bunch of the same people haha!

melten771 karma

Awesome! Do you live in Brazil? Were you with Dalio, Brooke, Claudio and Kurt for the course?

tpiddles1213 karma

How did you prepare for this trip?

Do you regularly go hiking/camping etc.?

What time of year were you there?

Finally, did the NOLS program fund everything or just set up the opportunity?

melten774 karma

Honestly it was just a spur of the moment thing. 1 month before I started college I decided I wanted to take a gap year and then signed up for the program. I had hiked semi regularly beforehand and I biked alot, but nothing really could have prepared me for that kind of hardcore backpacking. The first week was painful, but after the initial physical strains it just becomes part of the daily routine. The program starts in september and ends in december.

Needmo3 karma

Did you have any experiences with piranhas?

melten777 karma

I caught a couple of them fishing off the canoes, scary little fuckers, but pretty tasty. Fortunately nobody got attacked by any, they generally only attack if they smell blood and the potential victim is solitary.

konaeyb3 karma

Did you ever wake up to huge spiders in your tent or on your face or body?

melten775 karma

We found a pretty horrifying spider in the tent one time, but as long as people kept the tent door closed it wasn't really a problem

ishouldbe_studying2 karma

I would like to do this too. How do I get into a program like this?

oldspice752 karma

How was the food?

Did you get tons of insect bites?

If you hardly masturbated while there, did you have any sex there?

What was the native family like?

melten777 karma

We mostly ate rice, beans, salami, dried fruit, and biscuits. Got old pretty quickly but it did the job. I got more insect bites and bee stings than I can count, it just became a part of everyday life. I did not get to have sex, all the girls were in a different group. Living with the natives was very cool, but it was very hard to communicate with them because my portuguese was awful. One of the cousins of the family was attacked by an alligator when he was younger, and it left a huge scar on his head and took one of his eyes out. One of the coolest/nicest guys I met though. http://imgur.com/FOLbBVQ

benniebearcub1 karma

Did you have to do any of the hunting to get the meat for salami?

melten773 karma

haha no we weren't allowed to hunt. Seriously though, i will never eat another slice of salami as long as i live got so sick of that.

Frazapple2 karma

How much do you hate the Belo Monte Dam?

melten771 karma

I never saw it

dudesimple2 karma

flashaholic here! what flashlights did you use?

melten772 karma

Black Diamond spot headlight

freyfreyfrey2 karma


melten778 karma

It was really hard to get a good picture of the birds since they were either flying by or flying away from us, so, sorry but dont have any

fenixoutofash2 karma


melten775 karma

I got a parasite from the water which was pretty awful, I was shootin out both ends for a bit, but it passed in a day. One guy got a systemic ringworm virus, so he had big red rings all over his body and got super skinny because the virus leeches your nutrients so you don't get enough for yourself. No I did not get to take part in ayahuasca the natives are pretty wary of foreigners, that would have been awesome though.

Oshers2 karma

Plan on going back anytime soon?

melten773 karma

I'd like to but it's a big commitment mentally and financially. maybe at another point in my life though

mrsecretsanta2 karma

Did you run into a tribe of natives there?

melten771 karma

Not the common image of a 'native" with a loincloth and a spear, but there were some native villages along the river, mostly fishing villages.

people19251 karma

What language did they speak? Did everyone in the group get along?

melten771 karma

All the natives I met spoke portuguese. Our group was great, we were basically a family, but naturally living in such close proximity with the same 10 people for 3 months there was plenty of drama.

[deleted]1 karma

What kind of drama?

melten771 karma

Mostly just conflicts about food, or if someone wasn't doing their share of the work.


Where in Brazil were you, exactly?

melten771 karma

Amazonas and Mato Grosso mostly


Were you at any moment outside Brazil?

melten771 karma

For about 5 minutes we were in bolivia, why do you ask?

Soldier4Christ821 karma

What is your favorite animal from the Amazon?

melten772 karma

maybe the pink river dolphin, but the monkeys were also awesome to see

everyonepulls1 karma


melten772 karma

hot, thick, and humid

netizen211 karma

How many mosquito bites do you have on your body ?

melten772 karma

The mosquito's really wer'ent that bad, the worst pests were bees

FourCounters1 karma

What is the biggest snake you personnaly saw?

melten771 karma


infected_goat1 karma

Does it rain a lot?

melten772 karma

It rained practically every day at almost the same time each day, so it's predictability made it pretty easy to prepare for

umasstpt121 karma

What did you bring for clothing? I would imagine you probably had Under Armor-type shirts and shorts that dried quickly. What about socks and shoes? Did you ever have a chance to resupply on clothing if needed?

melten772 karma

Lots of long sleeve shirts treated with a chemical to repel insects, long pants with zip off pant legs, a sun hat, quick dry underwear,sandals, long socks, and hiking boots. That's about it I think. For each section we could put anything that was specific to the area we were going to be in(long underwear and fleece for the highland section, extra headlamp batteries) and put it in a bag that we could pick up before each section. BTW are you at Umass Amherst?

umasstpt122 karma

That all makes sense. And no, I'm not at UMass Amherst currently but I did graduate from there last May....why do you ask?

melten772 karma

I'm a second semester freshman at umass now

umasstpt122 karma

Oh, that's awesome! So I assume you did this program over the summer? Did it count towards anything at UMass?

melten772 karma

It started in september of 2011 and ended in december. Over the summer I actually went to France and did another program called WWOOFing where you work on a farm in return for room and board. And yea I got a few bio credits for it

foxytidbits1 karma

I am so scared of spiders that I won't travel to places where I know they are abnormally large/exist in large numbers. This excludes several places I want to go, like the Amazon (and Australia). I have been trying to get over this fear so that I don't limit myself in the long run, but it's pretty much a phobia. A friend recently told me just to go for it and I'll likely never be afraid again if I do encounter the devil creature I so fear. True or false?

melten775 karma

I mean it's different for everybody, but I think once you're there you will see them as just another part of the beauty of the incredible environment you are in rather than a threat. Just remember that almost nothing in the world smaller than you wants to hurt you unless they think you want to hurt them.

kuj4k1 karma

Did it have free shipping?

melten773 karma


Kemokinley0 karma

What is NOLS and if I wanted to drop everything and go live in the Amazon how would I go about doing that, like making contacts and transportation.

melten771 karma

All you have to do is sign up on the NOLS Brazil website, get a brazilian visa, and arrange your own transportation to brazil.

weckliz-4 karma

Have you ever ejaculated on yourself?

melten773 karma

Yes. Yes I have.

down_with_whomever-9 karma

That album is cool but admittedly, it isn't proof

melten777 karma

well i'm not really sure how else I could prove it honestly