I slept with Electric Eels
Alone in Cook Island Jungle Stream
A simple half-of-a-day hike results marooned in jungle stream overnight with electric eels
The Cook Islands
Cook Islands consist of 15 islands in the heart of the South Pacific spread over an area the size of India with a population no bigger than a small country town, 13,200 souls. These unique and friendly Polynesians have their own language and government and enjoy a vigorous and diverse culture with significant differences between each island.
The Cook Islands are a paradise to explore. There is something for everyone. I wanted to explore the lush tropical jungle and climb the tallest mountain called “The Manga,” which is 653 meters, or at 2,140 ft (658 m) above sea level on the largest Cook island called Rarotonga.
It was a simple, half a day hike
I began to follow the directions and instructions I had been given. The instructions were to follow a given path, climb the established trail, and hike up and over the tallest peak to the other side of the island. There was a road that circled the island. I could hitch-hike back – all in half of a day!
When I struggled up the trail, I should have realized this was much too difficult for the average hiker. In places, it required grabbing vines and getting down on my hands and knees to get up the very steep trail. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, I immediately was struck by the awesome 360 degree views. After resting and enjoying the spectaculars views, I began to explore the “path/trail” that would take me down and to the other side of the island. There was no path. This was the end. Going back down the steep path/trail was not a pleasant option. It was very steep and difficult trail.
I could see across the valley to another peak that had a radio antenna on the top. I assumed there must be a road to the antenna! Wrong! I plunged down the mountain I was on into the steep jungle, looking up to keep my distance reference with the sun. I could not see the other mountain with the radio antenna; now that I was deep into the jungle, sliding down into a narrow canyon. It felt good. There was no dangerous critters on the island. I felt I was in the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It felt good to fall, roll down the lush green, wet jungle.
When I reached the top of the next mountain with the radio antenna, it was very jagged with a knife-edge peak only 3-6 foot wide with very steep sides that descended into the jungle. I located the antenna. There was no road. Now, I am in the middle of a very dense jungle and it is about 2pm in the wintertime with short days. It gets dark around 6pm. Every Boy Scout knows that the first thing to do was to locate a stream and follow it out to the ocean where there would be a road. I had difficulty finding a safe place to begin my descent. It was very wet, muddy, and slippery.
Sliding, grabbing vines and tree limbs I located a small stream. In a short distance, I came up onto a waterfall. No problem, I climbed back up the steep, tropical canyon wall and crawled parallel to the stream and back down to the steam. The stream was very rocky and covered with dense “Donga” (hardwood tree) limbs criss-crossing the stream. It was slow going. I detoured around many waterfalls. It was getting dark. I came to another waterfall detour when I stumbled across a large mudslide that took out a section of the mountain. The mud had nothing to hang onto. I had to cross this barren stretch of steep, muddy, and slippery mud. At the bottom of this canyon, I could see the rocky stream, a long way down…
Tumbling Downhill – Out-of-Control
My worst fears were realized when the root I was hanging on to assist my crawling across, broke! I tumbled head-over-heels, out-of-control. I tried to remain flat to no avail. While I was doing cartwheels, summersaults and rolls gaining speed, I located a small tree between me and the jagged rocks below. I managed to grab with my left hand a “death-defying” grip and hung on just as my body was speeding past it. It jerked the hell out of me. I hurt all over. I heard the rocks hitting the stream below that I had dislodged. I could not see out of my left eye. Yet, I was hanging on with my left hand.
I slowly did an inventory of my body to check what worked and did not work. I was OK, but bloody. With my right hand, I swiped at my left eye to reveal a smooth curtain of varying shades of moving red flowing across my eye. I felt no pain. I did not move. While I was mentally recovering from the “free ride,” I noticed I had knocked the bark off the tree with my eye. I thanked God for my hard head…
Slowly it began to dawn on me, I had a serous “challenge.” How do I manage to cross this very wet, slippery, and steep mountainside with nothing to hang on too? I felt alone… A sense of apprehension tried to ooz down from my brain. I refused to relinquish control to it. I was surprised that when desperation calls for solutions, you create solutions. After carefully digging around the mud, I located either a rock or a root and crawled on my stomach s-l-o-w-l-y across the remaining bare mountainside and back down to the stream.
It was now dark. I stumbled and fell often. The stream took up all of the canyon space. Both sides of both mountains made a sharp “V” and the stream was the only way out. I could hear another waterfall coming up. I proceeded cautiously. Mostly crawling, I explored ahead of me. I swung my legs over the waterfall and listened. I could not see the water, or anything else. It was pitch black. The water sounded like it was about 25-30 down and with the water landing in a pool. It was important to have the water land in a pool. I would be seriously injured if I jumped over the waterfall and landed on jagged rocks. This hike had turned out to be not for the faint-of-heart!
Jumped Over a Waterfall in the Dark
It is difficult to brace for the fall when you cannot see the bottom. Timing is everything. I remember as a child my neighbor and I had taken turns jumping off his house. First, a simple jump. Then I would make more of a challenge by turning a flip the second jump. He would do the same thing. Just like follow-the-leader. Then I put on a blindfold and jumped. No problem. He did the same thing. Now, it was time to turn a flip with the blindfold on. We both successfully did it. It was time to jump over a waterfall in the dark hoping I land in a deep pool of water. I could not go around. It was either set all night in the stream, or jump and hopefully get out of the stream… I landed in a pool of water.
After about an hour of jumping over the waterfall, stumbling with unknown “things” slapping me across my body and stumbling in the dark and crawling forward, I felt a sharp rock just inches from my jaw as I picked myself up out of the water. I knew I would seriously injure myself if I continued in dark. I had to stop. I felt a large flat rock that if I curled up, I could lie on, just out of the stream. It felt good to rest. It had been a long, damn day…
Electric Eel Discharge with a Blue Flash
I took out my underwater camera and took a self-portrait (pictures in storage). I thought I was OK. My pictures indicated otherwise. I was haggard, muddy and bloody. As I rested and reviewed the possibilities, I saw a blue flash next to me in the water! At the same time there was a blue flash in the trees above me. I knew what that was… An Electric eel! I had been crawling around a stream with electric eels. My fate was sealed. I was not getting back into the stream that night. I was concerned about the possibility of rain. Rain would force me off the rock to cling to something to avoid being swept downstream. The blue flashes continued most of the night. When dawn arrived, I was shocked looking at the ruggedness of the jungle and how the stream forced its way through it. It took hours to walk alongside the stream – not in it!
The sound of a chicken crowing never sounded so good. I knew I was nearing “civilization.” Eventually, I located the single road that circled the island. I flatbed truck stopped and the driver stared at me with a blank look. I did not know how scary I looked. I crawled onto the back and hung on as he drove me back to civilization, where there were people…
Two months later some of the same people saw me struggling to walk with a large backpack walking alongside a rode in Fiji after I had failed to sail to Sydney, Australia on a 50’ bamboo raft I had constructed… They were ‘dumbstruck” with the coincidence…
More Life Exploration Where I Did it, Rather Than Wishing I had Done it!