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Amazon with Bruce Parry

Nicola Mostyn adores BBC2’s affable adventurer

Published on October 6th 2008.

Amazon with Bruce Parry

Bruce Parry used to be in the Marines. Now he’s an explorer, seeking out remote tribes and strange customs in corners of the world untouched by modern life. Having first appeared on our screens in the BBC2 series Tribe, where he met cannibals, underwent endurance tests and dined on rats’ intestines, he’s back with a new series, tracing the Amazon river and all the rich life it takes in as it winds through South America.

I missed Tribe, but am enjoying getting to know Parry during this series. He’s not what I expected from an adventuring ex-Marine. He’s not tough. He’s not burly. In fact, he’s a bit of a wally, a word I have resurrected from the 1980s purely because it describes him so completely.

In the last episode, Bruce went to revisit a tribe, the Matis, who he met filming Tribe. Unfortunately, since that time they’ve been badly affected by hepatitis, a “white man’s disease”. Not Bruce’s fault, you understand. It’s been spread by the loggers, via the prostitutes, to the tribesmen and so to their many wives. Very sad stuff. Still, they greet Parry with great warmth, ask him to draw attention to their plight, inform him that they’ve named a child after him and, when he leaves, send him off with what look like a pair of tiny Mickey Mouse ears strapped to his head, as is their tradition. Being a wally, Parry can carry this off no problem.

Such illness is catastrophic because the Matis are small in number and the shamans, the men who would traditionally heal the sick, are a dying breed. So Bruce goes in search of the Marubo tribe: “We’ve been told that this village is home to the most powerful shaman in the region,” he explains.

I was rather hoping it might be Mr C – well it has been a while since we’ve seen him– but no. In fact, the great shaman was a rather ordinary looking guy in trackie bottoms. If these are the shamanic traditions that are so in decline on the Amazon, I reckon we can restock the Matis from the Arndale.

If the Matis were sombre, the Marubo are a giddy lot, and Bruce’s silly-ears send off was nothing compared to the greeting these guys give him, “When a brother comes from afar we must greet him repeatedly, each time more loudly,” says the chief and does so with gusto. This could get a little wearing if you tried it at Christmas.

Then they pick him up and walk round the longhouse with him a couple of times. “We are happy to have you Bruce that is why we are carrying you.” Of course. Makes perfect sense.

The Marubo’s, being great ones for ceremony, also have a cracking traditional dress, a tassley affair which looks like cooked spaghetti or those curtains your auntie used to have on the kitchen door. They show him their shamanic tradition, a sort of tassley congo, and then get down to some series business, chanting and singing through the night to draw the illness out of a sick child.

Soon enough, it’s everyone’s favourite: endurance test time. This particular ordeal involved ants, which didn’t sound too scary until you saw the ants, which were as big as Werther’s Originals with evil looking stings. Red plant dye was then daubed onto the sensitive parts of the men’s bodies – faces, necks, inside of elbows, I dread to think where else – and then the ants were applied with a stick. This went on through the night, a test of the tribesmen’s manhood, the Marubo equivalent of downing a pint in one or eating a really hot curry.

Bruce did rather well, wincing but not actually fainting. He did rather less well when invited to share snuff with the chief, which involved the latter blowing it into his mouth through a coily contraption. This was a momentous and serious moment, or it would have been had Parry not coughed at the wrong moment and sent a cloud of snuff back into the chief’s mouth. Honestly, it’s like Mr Bean does Brazil.

Eventually Bruce had to tear himself away, and went on to pay a visit to the loggers, who did not initially endear themselves to me, not only because they are contributing to deforestation and Hepatitis, but because one of them arrived lugging a great big monkey back for lunch as though it were a chip barm. But as Bruce discovered, the loggers aren’t really bad guys. They could have been any workmen in the UK, making a living the only way they know how and having a laugh while they’re doing it.

Never one to stand back from the action, Bruce got stuck in, helping with the delicate dance of floating the cut logs down the river by leaping on them, and even having a go at chopping down a tree himself. Well he would have done except that as soon as he was about to start, he broke the chainsaw. Ah! Perhaps Bruce’s bumbling Brit is all an act and this was just a cunning way of saving the planet, one tree at a time? No. He’s just a goon.

But we love him. You just can’t help it. Tune in tonight where Bruce will be going in search of the Amazon’s largest fish, the Pirarucu. Odds on he hooks it and then it drags him halfway down the river like something out of Some Mothers Do ‘ave Em. Bless.

Amazon with Bruce Parry, Monday, 9pm, BBC2

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

RebeccaOctober 6th 2008.

Big respect to Bruce. Anyone who can get up at the crack of dawn every morning for a week, drink a vile jungle juice concoction and then throw up for the next half hour has earned my admiration. I would willing have his babies...if he wanted any.

Mascara AddictOctober 6th 2008.

Hahaha i'll get there before you Rebecca...

Mascara AddictOctober 6th 2008.

Oh :o(

RebeccaOctober 6th 2008.

Drat! My passport is out of date. Looks like it's you and me for a little while longer, honey. Any chance of you going topless with a few feathers in your hair and grinning inanely for me while drinking muddy rain water? I'll get the home video camera out. You know you want to...

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

You're crazy. Thank goodness I don't have any rabbits at home. I think I'm going to alert the police in Ibiza and perhaps give Bruce the heads up...or maybe not. Serves him right plastering his pasty face all over the TV pretending to ride bulls, dress up as a lady and chew coca leaves (not all at once, of course). Have a good trip!

RebeccaOctober 6th 2008.

I've got something to tell you, James. There's no other way to put this: I'm leaving you. I'm going to Ibiza and I'm going to find Bruce and I'm going to throw myself at him and let him ravage me and I'm going to have all his babies. And I don't care if he doesn't like women - I'll make sure he likes me. Have you seen 'Misery'?

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

I think he lives in Ibiza with his partner and their pet piranha fish, Judy and Liza...

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

My girlfried, Rebecca, thinks he's amazing but I think he's a fraud, staying in hotels and eating McDonalds when the cameras are turned off. When not filming he lives in Ibiza - need I say more?

RebeccaOctober 6th 2008.

Not if I kill you first...ha, ha, only joking...well...

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

Rebecca still likes him, though. I think she sees him as a challenge. He did seem to get used to the pungent smell of the coca plant very quickly, didn't he?

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

Off you go, Rebecca. I'll pay for your new passport and drive you to the airport. I've just bought Mel B's Dualit toaster in an online charity auction. She's ten times as cool as Bruce and doesn't bat for the other side. I'm going to follow her to LA to see if she'll sign it for me. Not that I'm a stalker or anything...Have you seen 'Misery'?

JamesOctober 6th 2008.

Why don't you go and have his babies then, Rebecca! I can drink loads and be sick too - do you want to have my babies (for the sake of argument, just ignore the fact I have had a vasectomy)??

Mascara AddictOctober 6th 2008.

He lives in Ibiza? Does he live there with anyone...? Did you see the size of the fish they caught last night!!

Mascara AddictOctober 6th 2008.

Oh I love Bruce Parry, he is a brilliant explorer. I want to marry him and travel the world with him, eating rats intesines and such...

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