For a trip with a twist in the Amazon jungle, travel company Large Minority have come up with an idea that challenges travelers through some of the least-visited sections of the rainforest. We get the scoop from co-founders Juan Paredes and Julian Carnall.
Self-proclaimed ‘purveyors of impossible adventures’, Large Minority –an adventure travel company founded by Juan Paredes and Julian Carnall–specialize in Amazing Race-style trips which pit teams of adventurers against each other in an attempt to gain points and be crowned overall winners.
The company’s flagship trip, the Lanka Challenge—a 1,200-kilometer self-drive tuk-tuk adventure around Sri Lanka—hit the road in 2008, and since then they’ve added more departures, more destinations, and more challenges. They launched the Philippines Sailing Challenge to great acclaim in October 2016 and, in March 2017, took a group of pioneering travelers on the first-ever Amazon Challenge.
The trip itself took place over eight days and, according to Large Minority’s social media accounts, looked nothing short of incredible. We reached out to Parades and Carnall to find out if it was, indeed, incredible.
Adventure.com: How was the first ever Amazon Challenge? Did everything go smoothly?
Juan Paredes: It was an awesome trip, truly epic. We had an amazing group of travelers from all over the globe who were totally up for it and really enjoyed being immersed in the Amazon Jungle. I know I’m biased, but they all loved it. One of our travelers, Mike Corey, told us that the Amazon Challenge was the most authentic trip he’s ever been on, and he’s traveled a lot.
What were the toughest aspects of the trip, both for you as an organizer and for the challengers?
JP: It’s tough enough to survive the Amazon on on your own, never mind looking after 15 people while doing it. Communication is always difficult as there’s no phone network in most places. We had radios for internal communication and emergencies, though. Organizing our supplies is always a mission, from buying, to transporting, to handling waste. And for the challengers, participating in physical activities while dealing with the heat and humidity was tough. Spending nights on hammocks with basic toilet facilities is not for everyone, but this bunch did well.
This whole trip sounds amazing. Where did you get the idea for the Amazon Challenge?
Julian Carnall: The idea came from when we used to run a few local trips in Colombia. The Amazon was always a place that people would come back from and wouldn’t be able to stop talking about, so it seemed obvious to create a trip with the Large Minority twist.
If you’ve ever been to the Amazon, you’ll know what an amazing place it is. It’s probably one of the wildest and most beautiful places on earth, and a destination that has all the ingredients to make for a good time.
Without giving too much away, what did the trip consist of, on a day-to-day basis?
JP: So much. We welcomed our challengers by crossing over by tuk-tuk to Tabatinga in Brazil for some sunset caipirinhas by the Amazon River. Next day, we kicked off the challenge with a four-hour trek to visit an indigenous Huitoto (also known as Witoto) tribe. En route, participants learned basic jungle survival skills and completed their first challenge, which was to eat a few Mojojoys —slugs —which are a great energetic treat for a long hike.
Upon arrival at the tribe’s maloca, an ancestral ‘long house’ used by Amazon natives as a type of community center, the teams completed two challenges. The first was the Mambe challenge, which consisted of picking and collecting coca leaves, toasting, smashing, and mixing into a powder which is traditionally used by the Huitoto tribe for energy and concentration. A natural Red Bull, basically. Then we had the Casabe challenge… Yuca is a staple food in the Amazon, and through a process of peeling, grating and drying the yuca, a fine flour is obtained, which is then used to make a giant pizza-type base. Participants had to make their own flatbread and the elders decided on the best-looking and best-tasting one.
In the evening, we chilled with the elders in their circle of trust (a small ceremony inside the maloca) and shared stories, tried Rap’e–a mix of coca, tobacco and chilli–which is blown up your nostrils by the elder through a bird bone. We slept inside the maloca that night on hammocks. And all this was only the first day…
To your knowledge, has anything like this ever been done before?
JC: I don’t think so, no. So anyone that does the Amazon Challenge will become a pioneer and an instant travel legend. This is a pretty unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Did you have a favorite day or experience from the trip?
JP: The Indigenous Olympics challenge was great. We kicked off with a canoeing competition from our campsite to the Ticuna tribe community of San Martin. It was a head–to–head race, and one of the teams sank their canoe. Luckily, they were right next to our support boat. They were given a back-up canoe and finished second.
We hung out with the community and continued the Olympics. In the football court, surrounded by locals on the stands, participants tried the blowpipe, chopping wood and spear-throwing. In the afternoon, we donated 115 kits of school equipment for the local children.
At night, we hit the local bar–which was basically someone’s house–and drank cachaca [a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice] and beer. We all stayed overnight with the community and the next morning, we closed off the Olympics with a swimming competition in the river. In the end, there was a draw for first place which was decided by a good old arm wrestling face-off. Team Kick the Grind (Canadian and Dutch) won the Indigenous Olympics. Those couple of days were amazing.
It seems there’s a lot of local, indigenous contact…
JC: Yes, there’s a lot of interaction throughout the Challenge. Our challengers have the opportunity of spending time with various indigenous tribes from Colombia, Peru and Brazil. Juan has mentioned some of the stuff you can expect. Doing some of this on your own would be nigh on impossible.
What are the main modes of transport for the trip?
JC: A combination of speed boats, long boats, canoes and kayaks. And, of course, your own two feet.
What do you think travelers need to be most prepared for when tackling the Amazon Challenge?
JC: The heat, the humidity and the mozzies—Amazon-sized mozzies, that is! Travelers will also need to be ‘jungle-ready’, which basically means putting up with pretty much everything Mother Nature can throw at you.
JP: They’ll need to pack light, too!
Who would you recommend the trip to? Do challengers need to be tough-as-nails?
JC: It’s pretty much open to anyone who’s not a couch potato and is willing to sweat it out for a few days. That said, there will be physical activities such as trekking, canoeing, kayaking and swimming, so a basic level of fitness helps. Anyone keen on getting their hands dirty and experiencing a part of the Amazon Jungle should do this.
Large Minority have a responsible travel commitment too. How does that work on the Amazon Challenge?
JC: As always, we donate ten per cent from team registrations towards our responsible travel flagship projects. In the Colombian Amazon, we’re supporting a community called San Martin by donating much-needed resources for their school and community center. We’re also supporting a conservation wildlife project, and our challengers get to to visit both of these projects on the trip.
Fancy giving the Amazon Challenge a go? Find out more on the Large Minority website.
Oliver is the Australia editor of Adventure.com. Originally from the UK, he's lived in Melbourne since 2011 and writes for a range of international travel and music publications.