The day was bright. In fact, you couldn´t see a single cloud in the sky. "They go out to warm up under the sun, so you must look where you´re stepping at".
After that, every rock on the trail could conceal a dangerous snake; every fallen branch was a sneaky snake, holding still, prepared to launch an explosive and precise jump. It´s mouth would open wide, showing of it´s teeth. The bite would sting hard. I imagined it would be in my ankle. I regretted coming to a snake crowded trail without longer boots. If something like that happened we would be helpless, for we were some 40km of the nearest village, Urubici. We just wanted a relaxing trek along the Canoas river, but the prospects of a spasmatic death in the middle of nowhere changed the nature of it.
The guide was still excited and went on:
"Also, is my duty to inform you that there are here different plants from what you´re used to that might give you some kinds of rash or itch. In fact, last month I made a trek with a tourist that had an anaphylactic shock. Her throat was closing in. She had to go to the hospital. One could die in this fashion, you know".
I though the guy was going a long way to make his point, because we would trek for only about 12K. I figured he grew weary of careless tourists and wanted to make an impression on us so we would toe the line.
The day was beautiful, and the higher Canoas River Valley is a marvel to look at. Certainly the quietness of the place didn´t seemed to indicate any danger - rather the promise of a lively day at the woods. The Canoas River begins at 1.800m height, and about only 70Km from the Atlantic Ocean. But, as happens with many brazilian rivers, it runs towards the hinterland. It joins the Pelotas to form Uruguay river, which flows into River Plate. If you throw a paper boat (albeit a strongly built one) in this stretch of the Canoas River, it would run more than 2.000km before reaching the sea.
My fiancée and I went to the high village of Urubici in Southern Brazil with two objectives: to discuss our domestic situation, as we recently moved together and needed to address some issues (which I nominated The Urubici Summit) and this short trek to Canoas River Canyon. I figured the trek would help me develop my fitness in preparation for my next bike tour. The hostess at the guesthouse recommended our guide as "young but very experienced", noting that he was used to make 7-day crossings in the highlands alone.
Jorge was walking ahead of us. He did that all the time. I wanted to believe that he did so to let us have some personal space, but when he looked up to see the landscape I felt he often wandered lost in his own thoughts. This suited a lone 7-day trekker. He didn´t speak much, but when he did it he delivered interesting information in a calm voice, like how the racoons trot - and showed some footprints to prove it, as if we had doubted him. I liked this, because talking too much or too loud in a quiet place like this would hurt the silence. It didn´t seemed right.
The mountains around the river were stunning, and the walking upstream was easily paced.
Jorge suddenly stopped and looked at the ground. He was alert, like a bloodhound who finds a looked-for scent. We walked towards him.
He was standing with his trekking pole pointing a turd.
"Puma feeces", he said. "You can tell it because of the long continuously shape, like a domestic cat, only bigger".
This was an animal I knew. Pumas aren´t dangerous. They avoid human contact and are rarely seem. They´re probably one of the most reclusive animals. I made the guide know that.
"Well", he started, "usually yes". I though this time I had won, but I was wrong. "The other day I saw a documentary about big felines who approached settled areas because of the diminishing forests. These big cats started to prey domesticated dogs, who happened to be contaminated with some form of parasite. The dogs were only hosts - the parasites didn´t attacked them. But when the big felines started eating them, the parasites thrived. They went to the big cat´s brain and changed their behaviour, making them deliberately prey humans. There was a case in Colorado where a guy was attacked and nearly died. He saved himself by pressing the Puma´s eyes with his thumbs".
That got our attention, but I felt the guide was paranoid. It was as if he wished those dangers to happen.
Although I knew the probability of meeting a psychopath Puma unlikely, the guide seem to emphasize that everything here could kill us - in short, like we were in Australia.
We arrived to the mouth of Canoas River Canyon without any danger arising. The guide failed to deliver his previsions.
Once I read somewhere that high blood pressure is caused by having an inner fear of a danger that won´t materialize. When the trek was over, I remember thinking that maybe this trek could be wonderful if we had not spent so much time taking account of all bad things that could happen and how we would react to that - and that it´s something we should consider doing in our lives, too.