I braved horror 500-mile Amazon trek where bugs laid MAGGOTS in my skin & world's deadliest snakes eyed me up for dinnerApril 7, 2022
CURLED up in the foetal position in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, for a moment Hazen Audel doesn't look like one of the world's toughest TV survivalists.
Ten minutes later he crawls to his feet, having just about recovered from the 'warning shock' of an electric eel. A second dose, he explains, could easily be fatal.
It was one of countless times the 48-year-old risked his life while making a perilous 500-mile trek through the Amazon rainforest during its "wildest time" in monsoon season.
Crossing caiman and piranha-infested rivers, Hazen comes face-to-face with the world’s deadliest snakes and panics as gruesome bugs attempt to lay bugs under his skin, leaving painful blisters.
The heart-stopping voyage is part of his new docu-series, Primal Survivor: Escape The Amazon, which even commissioners at National Geographic advised him against doing.
Going weeks without medical care and phone signal to call for help, Hazen admits he made peace with the likelihood that he “may not survive the journey”.
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He told The Sun: “I was in that part of the world during its most inhospitable time for humans.
“But for the animals, it’s a time of life, the jungle is flourishing and you see things no one has ever seen before.
“I came close to death so many times – all it would have taken was one slip in the wrong place, not spotting a poisonous snake or even parasites.
“Even National Geographic said they would not advise us going at that time of year because it’s impossible to cross and they didn’t want to be held liable.
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“I survived but I wasn’t cavalier or naive enough to think I would make it to the end of the journey. I wanted to spend days and nights pushing myself to my very limits.
“While I don’t take my life for granted and do prepare, I would rather know that I died being eaten by a caiman than being run over by a taxi.”
'Snakes were very beautiful… but they're killers'
Hazen’s trek started in dense jungles near the bottom tip of Guyana, South America, where it was a literal race against time to beat the monsoons.
Not only was he trying to flee the fast-flooding jungle, but he was also trying to beat the countless beasts also on the hunt for drier land.
At one point, Hazen turned around, only to realise he was inches away from an emerald tree boa, which he described as “one the meanest snakes around”.
“A lot of the time, I was right in striking range of poisonous snakes and while they are very beautiful, they have the ability to kill you,” he said.
“One of my most dangerous encounters was with a Fer-De-Lance snake that kills so many people that it’s relatively common. I don’t fear it but I am very cautious.”
Hazen added: “One of the biggest surprises, which could have been life-threatening, was getting shocked by an electric eel.
“I didn’t know what it was and got a really bad warning shock up to 220volts. I was lucky because they can release up to 700volts and that would have killed me.
“You definitely only do that once in a lifetime. I was in agony lying on the floor in the foetal position for between five and 10 minutes.”
To survive the varying terrain and weather conditions, Hazen had to employ a variety of skills when building shelter.
He selected giant palm-tree-like leaves to shield himself from the rain and scorching heat, which had been bound to broken branches with vines.
Of course, one of his most immediate challenges was finding food.
As his hunger grew, Hazen resorted to climbing up a tree to steal honey from a bee's nest. Predictably, that meal came with a sting in the tail.
Hazen said: “It was a very painful way to satisfy my sweet tooth, I had to fight off hornets below that were stinging my armpits and knees and then the stingless bees too.
“They get on to your head and bite your hair off – if you wipe your hand across your scalp you could easily be bald.
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience but I got a few handfuls of honey and then could jump into the river – but even then the bees clung on to my hair.”
How to survive the Amazon rainforest
HAZEN Audel had his fair share of hairy moments in the jungle but was able to survive thanks to skills he had honed over 27 years. Here are some of the ways he made it.
Choose the right time to travel – The monsoon season is an especially dangerous time to be in the Amazon rainforest and it's not advisable to go then.
Always beat the flood – One of the ways Hazen survived during this tricky time was always being one step ahead of the bursting river banks. As Hazen said: "All that rain brings life" – and that often meant deadly snakes, bugs and caimans.
Finding freshwater – You can never be certain that floodwater is safe to drink due to waterborne parasites so finding other sources of water is vitally important. Hazen kept an eye out for big woody vines, knowing that if he hacked into them, "precious freshwater" would be inside.
Trust local knowledge – Hazen learned a lot from the indigenous tribes, including the best routes to travel along to avoid flooding and how to catch different types of animals.
Unusual food sources – Tribes often hunt and eat monkeys during the rainy season, but without poison-tipped arrows, which paralyse the prey, they will have a 'death grip' on a branch and not fall from the tree.
Using nature to help you hunt – Learning about stupefying plants can come in handy when trying to catch your next meal. When some vines are smashed up and put into water they release chemicals that can stun a fish, which forces them to surface and makes them easier to grab.
Be cautious of your catch – Hazen fell foul because he didn't realise he had caught an electric eel rather than a fish. Fortunately, it released a warning shock, around 220volts, but could have killed him.
Preserve your fish – It's important to cook fish before eating it. Unlike a sushi counter, raw fish in the Amazon could contain bacteria and parasites, and if you don't smoke it, more could develop, as well as your feast falling victim to flies, insects and maggots.
Making a fire – Even for the most adept survivalists, it can be nearly impossible to make a fire. Hazen was able to do so by fashioning a small cog shape out of a piece of wood, putting a stick through the centre and then twisting it against kindling. The friction will eventually create fire, but it is no easy task.
'Jungle stitches' use ANTS to close wounds
Hazen also came into contact with scorpions and numerous spiders, including the world’s biggest, the giant Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula.
But in fact, it was the smallest pests that proved to be his biggest enemy while making his way through the jungle.
On one occasion, he crossed paths with a huge group of army ants, which latch on to your feet so tightly the pain "almost makes you pee your pants".
The bugs have such a powerful clench that locals even let them bite their wounds to clamp them together and prevent infection – they are referred to as “jungle stitches”.
Perhaps Hazen's most shocking experience, though, was when he lifted his arms to “see thousands of bug bites” that made him look “severely diseased”.
He added: “Day and night you’re surrounded by continually biting insects but one, in particular, called a botfly, lays an egg that develops into a maggot underneath your skin.
“It survives off your meat unfortunately and normally you have to let it live out its life cycle and endure the painful wound, while the bug eats your flesh.
“In such unsanitary conditions, I knew I would die from infection if I tried to dig it out from under my flesh but fortunately the indigenous people helped me.
“They noticed the big gnarly wound on my hand and applied a medicinal band-aid from a bunch of plants, which pulled out the worm.”
It wasn’t the first time Hazen had been saved by local knowledge – often those who live in the Guyanan jungle came to his rescue including the Wai Wai tribe, Wapishna cowboys, the Arekunas and Warau people.
During the trip, he was taught about a special vine that could be used to paralyse fish and warned off certain flooded routes.
They also taught him to make poison darts with plants and techniques only known to them – but sometimes not even that was enough.
Hazen knows he’s lucky to have made it despite having learned to survive and navigate in some of the most extreme environments on the planet over the past 27 years.
Surprisingly, the most dangerous thing for him to overcome was not any creature but the threat from mother nature herself.
Hazen said: “There are a million things that could happen and if one of them goes wrong you could die but the most dangerous parts were swimming through the rapids – things can get hairy fast.
“It was the heart of the monsoon season, when nobody dares to go into that part of the world because it’s so unpredictable.
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“The main risk was that we were so remote, out of range from any sort of communication and would be weeks away from any medical care.
“As dangerous as it looked, we were very cautious and relied upon indigenous knowledge – but sometimes you have to just do it and see what happens along the way.”
Primal Survivor: Escape The Amazon airs weekly at 9pm from Thursday 14th April on National Geographic.
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