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Matt Norman

False alarm

Posted from: Parana
After the log ceremony we recouped back at our portakabin for a break. Pete was feeling a little better but I was feeling terrible with headaches and sneezing. In these types of village locations we have to be especially alert to malaria symptoms so I had this thought in the back of my mind. Luckily there was a small health hut in the village so it was decided that we would all give blood samples for testing. As I was still feeling bad Rob took over shooting duties to film some nice long lens shots around the village while Pete and I lay on the floor of the hut.

Everything turned into a bit of a whirlwind. A few hours later my test results came back positive for malaria. We were all very surprised at the result. If the Marubo contract malaria they have no such luxury of evacuation but as I'd tested positive I could easily pass malaria onto one of them if a mosquito bites me and then another person - so leaving the village immediately was the only ethical option.

Due to our very remote location an aerial medevac was sanctioned and a light aircraft would land at a nearby missionary post within a few hours. It was all quite surreal but I felt very matter-of-fact. While waiting I did start giving away some clothes and personal items to friendly Marubo that I had clicked with. Laura was to come with me and I felt particularly sorry for her as she had really bonded with one special family and had no time to thank them or say goodbye.

Laura with her friend, before having to make a hasty exit
Laura with her Marubo friend

Laura was handed some emergency malarial treatment medicine in case things took a turn for the worse and suddenly it was time to go. There were a few quick hugs, a camera in my face for the website and it was onto a small boat being driven at speed down the windy river by the ever smiley Mario. It was a real shame to leave this way but I was also very lucky to have such an evacuation.

Jo and Emma back in the UK, along with Amazonas Films in Manaus, had worked miracles and within two hours of the positive test a light aircraft landed on the makeshift clearing in the jungle. The pilot was very concerned that he would not have enough light to make the flight out and Laura noticed that we had been given the wrong medicine to treat malaria and instead had headache pills. Stood in a small clearing it felt like things couldn’t get much worse until the pilot gave the thumbs-up and decided that it was OK to fly.

Matt prepares to leave the Marubo village
Matt prepares to leave the Marubo village

Onboard it was strange to fly back over the Marubo village and out across the dense jungle into the sunset. It was very surreal thinking about the differences in our differing worlds and that because the Marubo village is so remote and the access to it highly controlled by FUNAI (the indigenous protection agency) we would never go back there.

Later, Laura and I spent a very strange night in a small town of which I didn't even catch the name. I'd left with my bags but she hadn't had time to pack a thing so was donated very funny hotel branded t-shirts by the manager. On arrival in Manaus we were met by Dudu and Chicau who are great old friends of mine from another BBC series called Amazon Abyss.

They have been organising the logistics of our Amazon expedition and it was great to catch up with them despite the circumstances. With their amazing contacts they took us out of hours to the tropical medicine hospital and within minutes had smoothed the way for us to both have Malaria tests. Several hours and a steak dinner later we were handed the results and both were negative.

Obviously pleased, Laura and I were both stunned as we were now stood in a modern city and the costly evacuation was looking like it had been undertaken on a false alarm. The next day I had two more negative tests and the lads arranged a consultation with the top tropical expert in Manaus who signed me off as being clear and attributed it to a contaminated test and a light head cold. After months on the road and in the jungle I spent the next two days in my posh hotel room channel-hopping trashy TV and ordering room service, while waiting for the insurance company to sign me off as OK to return to the field. Then it was a couple of flights back to Tabatinga on the Brazil-Columbia border for Laura and I to meet up with the guys again.


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