Puma Nava captures a poisonous yellow cobra for us stunned travellers.

Skin of a snake, lungs of a dolphin, and the eyes of an eagle. A man so bad ass you could write a whole list of Chuck Norris facts about him.

Puma Nava, 25, was born of the jungle and knows how to conquer it. His scars, like the two snake bites on his right hand that brought him within five minutes of his death stand as a reminder of the experiences he’s faced and survived.

Puma was my tour guide for the Pampas region along the Beni river in the Amazon basin. He is like no other human being I have ever encountered.

Pampas Region, Bolivia.

Picture a group of gringo tourists floating slowly along the Beni at nightfall, shining their flashlights and dorky headlamps towards the muddy shores for a glimpse of a nocturnal predator. They sit there hopelessly wagging their artificial lights and praying that they are not another group of tourists to get rejected by the mighty stubborn force of jungle wildlife. Then, unexpectedly the 35-foot ancient-looking wooden motorboat edges closer to the shore. Puma, it’s worthy captain, slowly with eyes fixed on the translucent brown muddy water steps out of the boat and into the water. In a smooth, but deadly attack he plunges his bare hands into the water and pulls out a medium-sized alligator by the neck, hauling it into the boat for the stunned tourists to touch and take photos with.

“Classic Puma,” said an English tourist with a cowboy hat.

Captured my first alligator via Puma. Photo by Inge de Graaf

Puma is a member of the primarily traditional hunter/gatherer indigenous tribe called the Tsimané who live in the Beni region of Bolivia. Their tribe has been subject to various anthropological studies over the last decade under the banner of “The Tsimané Health and Life History Project,” which looks into the effects of aging on this traditional population. The Project and the Tsimané made news in 2009 when a study uncovered that Tsimanés are generally exempt from diabetes and hypertension – a worthy discovery in the battle against these two mass killers. Instead, Tsimanés tend to be brought down by the infectious diseases that run rampant in their tropical homeland, which brings their life expectancy to just 42.

Not so for the Nava family, according to Puma. His shaman-healer grandfather allegedly lived to 105 without once attending an infirmary. Natural remedies found in their regional backyard have aided his family over the years.

Lounging on a branch in the Pampas, Puma recounted a story in which his father’s leg was crushed by a large tree. Broken and with the skin around his thigh completely torn off, Puma’s grandfather took bark from a nearby tree and made a skin graft out of it to cover the open wound.

One year later, his father could move his foot just the slightest. Two years later, he could walk. Three years on he was back to leading tours in the Beni region, just like his two sons Puma and Ariel would go on to do as their careers.

Tours are extremely popular in the Beni region. Experience-hungry tourists eager to see the wonders of the Amazon region tend to land in the town of Rurrenabaque and sign up with one of the many tour companies stationed there. Rurrenabaque is also home to Puma’s family.

Despite the influx of tourists from England, the United States and Canada, Puma cannot adequately speak English. “When you come to Bolivia, you speak Spanish,” said Puma in Spanish to a couple of girls from Holland. “If I go to Holland I will speak Dutch.”

“But, you don’t speak Dutch!” giggled the girls.

Puma may not speak Dutch or even English, but he happens to be fluent in one of the world’s newest conversational languages, which is officially spoken in only one tiny country – Hebrew.

After some Israeli-tourists made fun of Puma in Hebrew, Puma decided to become fluent in the Semitic-based language by learning on his own.

“He speaks perfect Hebrew,” said one rambunctious Israeli-tourist. “It’s unbelievable.”

Rurrenabaque and the Beni tours are especially popular among Israelis who tour South America after finishing their military service in the Israeli Defense Force. As a result, many tour guides like Puma and his brother choose to learn Hebrew instead of English in order to communicate with the Israelis.

Learning to communicate with the tourists is an extremely minimal criteria for Beni tour guides. Their greatest worry must be the dauntingly unpredictable rainforest.

Puma feeds a deadly caiman.

For the Pampas tour, Puma is expected to find anacondas, alligators, caimans, river dolphins, monkeys and maybe even a jaguar. The stakes are high for the illustrious recommendation in a blog, travel guide or even a suggestion to some friends interested in taking the trek.

In the morning of the second day of my Pampas tour, we trudged through the swampy Pampas in our knee-high boots staring at the shrubbery for a glimpse of a ferocious anaconda, cobra, or even a poisonous rattlesnake. Many tours don’t get to see snakes and we had no idea what to expect.

Suddenly, we heard a loud grunt and looked over to see Puma swinging a massive poisonous yellow cobra around, taming it with every blow to the ground. The cobra eventually submitted to our Steve Irwin-esque tour guide and was a friendly subject for pictures. Classic Puma.

Later in the trip, Puma whistled down a wild eagle to come eat a fresh pirinha that he caught, teased a deadly caiman with fresh catfish, toyed with troops of tiny monkeys, and introduced us to a number of river dolphins. Just another day at the office for a Beni tour guide.

While the spectacle for us humans is an absolute delight, adventure tours like these are not sustainable for the animal population. Swinging around a rare snake or choking an alligator is not exactly healthy for these animals. Plus, the tourists’ DEET insect repellant covered fingers are poisonous to the animals that they touch.

What the tours bring us is a rattling sense of human capability. No amount of schooling or training could adequately prepare Puma for his daily dangerous bouts with wildlife. It is this feeling that makes us question our sheltered and safe lives in the West and gives us the ever-illustrious culture shock that we crave.

For Puma, a father of two, even if the tourists leave and never come back to visit him, each tour brings adventure and puts a smile on his face.

Classic Puma.

Today I’m launching my new career as a freelance writer. I specialize in writing forewords for books. Any kind of books. If it’s a collection of words printed on paper and bound together in a volume between covers, I’ll write a foreword to it. For fifty dollars. That’s it. Only fifty dollars for a professional sounding, flattering foreword to your shitty book. Seventy dollars if you’re a fantasy writer.

I’ll even tailor how good my foreword is so as to not outshine your book. I mean, I’d be a pretty lousy foreword author if my foreword was the best part of your book. So, if you’re an awful writer and you write an awful book, I’ll write you a foreword of comparable awfulness. But, hey, if you’re a goddamned Nobel laureate who’s written the most staggeringly important work of genius since your groundbreaking debut in 1971, I’ll write you a foreword of such gentle magnitude and unapproachable insight that the foreword itself would threaten to overtake it and win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But, then I’ll dial it back a notch, so it doesn’t outdo your work. I’m not here to steal Nobel Prizes. I’m just here to make you look that much better.

And I have an unbelievable amount of range. I’ll write a foreword to any kind of book. Novels, how-to manuals, memoirs, astrology guides. If you wrote a field guide to historical East Coast outhouses, I’ll produce a foreword that’ll have everyone convinced I pooped in every single one of them. Wrote a collection of outsider poetry? My foreword will totally reflect that I understand it and I don’t think it’s an unreadable pile of dreck. Worried that I don’t know enough about your subject to write an appropriate foreword? Don’t be silly. I have access to Wikipedia and a vivid imagination. I’ll figure it out, don’t you worry about me.

You might be asking yourself right now, because you’re a smart writer: “If he’s writing forewords to all these books, how will he have time to read mine and give it the foreword it deserves?” Great question. Of course it’s a great question, you’re a smart writer. The answer again is: Don’t worry about it. I have my methods for conjuring up great forewords for the books I’ve “read.” Believe me, I can learn everything I need to know about your book just by reading the first page, the last page, and the page directly in the middle. Trust me, you’re in good hands. I write forwards for a living, silly.

You might be concerned that I don’t know anything about you personally, because we’ve never met and all the contact we’ve ever had is through Paypal for the fifty-dollar foreword fee. Well, you don’t get to be a major player in the foreword game without knowing a little bit about faking like you know someone. It also helps that I know a bit about what makes a famous author; I’m a close personal friend of Malcolm Gladwell, after all.

See, the thing is that I’ve never even met Malcolm Gladwell, but you’d never have known that if I hadn’t just told you. You’d believe that I was a close personal friend of Malcolm Gladwell, because I’d have just told you that. So, please, if I can fake being a close personal friend of Malcolm Gladwell, I think I can fake being a close personal friend of yours.

So, at this point, you’re most likely thinking, “Wow! This sounds like it’s too good to be true! You’re hired!” But, for any who may still have some lingering doubt and wonder why you should hire me to write your foreword, I say this: So you can get in on the ground-floor. To be able to look back when your book has gone platinum and know that you were one of the trailblazers who hired me to do the foreword for their book. At this point literally everyone will be clamouring to have me write their foreword, and the waiting list will be massive, if you can even get on it. But you’ll be able to look at your book, your book with those four magical words on it that guarantee best-seller status: “Foreword by Johnny Scott.” All for just fifty dollars. Seventy if you’re a fantasy writer. Oh, also, Hunter S. Thompson wannabes need not apply.

*Photo by karen horton via Flickr

Gentlemen, I’m about to give you some awesome dating advice. That’s right. Do you ever sit back and contemplate your many romantic and sexual conquests? Of course you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be reading an article called “How To Succeed On A First Date”.

Am I qualified to dole out tips on a first date? Let’s just say that I’ve been on a LOT of them. I’m going to presume that you’ve gotten as far as getting a lady to agree to a date. If you can’t get that far on your own, there’s probably not any hope for you at all, and you should stop reading and consider hired companionship.

So, if you’re still with me, you’ve by now gotten that cute checkout girl from the grocery store or that receptionist from the front desk at work you always stare at to agree to a date. What next? Chances are you’ve put so much planning and effort into working up the chutzpah to ask her out that you didn’t even think about what would happen if she said yes. This is where I step in.

First off, don’t offer to pick her up. Arrange to meet somewhere. Offering to pick her up smacks of desperation, and besides, today’s modern woman likes to exercise her newly attained legal right to operate a motor vehicle. A restaurant is a great place to go for a first date, ideally a restaurant you are familiar with, so you know the food will be up to a certain standard. Fact: Girls eat bad food, they think bad date. Like as if you cooked it or something (sheesh). Show up exactly ten minutes late. That way she’ll know you must be a very important and popular guy. Don’t be later than ten minutes, though, because that’s just rude.

A lot of guys make the mistake of bringing flowers. That’s a blunder. Try this for guaranteed results: Instead of a bouquet of flowers, a sticky bun. This is airtight. Just one, not one of those packages of six or something. She may demur, but be insistent. Have her eat the entire thing in front of you. If you get hassled by a server for bringing outside food into the restaurant, start a fight. If there’s one thing girls love, it’s a man who is willing to go to extreme, violent lengths with little provocation. If it’s a waiter, punch him. Don’t punch a waitress, though, because that’s just rude.

Preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to order. This is a crucial point in the date. Make the wrong move, and BAM you’re eating cold Mediterranean chicken in your undies watching the Showcase Revue. Wine is first on the agenda. Be prepared to spend an awful lot of money, because if there’s one thing behavioural science has taught us it’s that women are only attracted to wealthy men. So you have to act like a regular Waldorf P. Rockefeller, and spend to match. Order the most expensive wine on the list, lean back, nibble on your fingernail for just a second and then flick your fingers to the side ever so casually, like you order this shit all the time. It’s essential that you order her food for her. Girls like a take-charge guy who’ll make decisions without regard for the preferences of others. She might object, but insist. And, come on, order hers first, not yours, because that’s just rude.

It’s important to dazzle her with your conversational skills. Talk at great length about your job and your pets. Drop casual but unmistakable hints about how much money you make. Did you meet Hulk Hogan on a plane ride to Tennessee once? Talk about that. It’s pretty simple. Don’t get too hung up about the occasional lull in the conversation. It’s natural that there will be pauses. Take advantage of these by seductively swirling your wine with your finger and slowly raising one eyebrow. This is iron-clad. Make sure you listen to the stuff she says too, and nod, because not listening is just rude.

Pass on dessert. You’re not made of cash.

After dinner suggest going somewhere for drinks. If you’ve followed my steps so far, there’ll be no question she’ll feel like a few cocktails. Go to a bar where you’re known and liked, but not TOO known and liked. You don’t want her to know you’re an alcoholic. Just like with dinner, order her drink for her before she gets a chance. You can’t go wrong with something vodka-based and citrusy. This is failsafe. Bonus points if you get something with a little umbrella or one of those cool tiny plastic swords through a piece of fruit. Make sure what you order for yourself is suitably manly. Like rye or an OV or something. It’s getting late in the evening now and you want her to be assured that you’re no slouch in the arena of manhood. Dance the fine line between drunkenness and filthy drunkenness. It’s a good time now to let the conversation get a little bit risqué. Don’t push it too hard, but slip in a double entendre here and there. Start using French words, like risqué and entendre. Don’t talk about how big your dick is, because that’s just rude.

You’ve basically hit all the right notes at this point and you’re home free. Before you both get too drunk to stand, walk her home. This is both romantic and saves you cab fare. Make grand statements comparing her beauty to that of the moon in the starry sky, or, like, a river or something, if there’s a river there. Lay it on thick, because you’re approaching the crux of the entire first date: her front door. When you get to the front door of her apartment building, assure her that you had a great time and that you’d like to see her again. Don’t be rude and suggest that you come in, but rather just lean in for a nice kiss like you’re a gentleman and that a nice kiss would be the perfect cap on a beautiful evening. This should pretty much ensure that the floodgates burst open and she’ll invite you in. And, while I have many tantalizing tips for the art of sexing, I will leave you to your own devices now. For you’ve made the transition from lowly squire to mighty knight in the realm of love. Go forth and conquer, brave sir. And text me what it looks like in a girl’s apartment. I imagine there’s ponies and stuff?

*Photo by jenny downing via Flickr (under a CC license).

Nature is not something to be trifled with. As human development covers the planet, animal species are being forced to adapt or die. Some, like squirrels and raccoons have thrived, being perhaps a little bit of a nuisance, but generally harmless. Others, like coyotes and even bears, are being pushed into the urban habitat, and consequences are a bit more severe. Humankind has always tried to gain the upper hand on nature, to contain it and make it convenient for us to look at, but not get in our way. But nature pushes back. Nature won’t submit so easily. And many a cautionary tale has played out to continually remind us of the unwavering drive of the natural world. I have a rather dramatic tale of my own that I will share, in the hopes that it may influence others to respect these awesome forces.

A couple of months ago I was surprised to find out that I had a new member of my household. I stepped into my shower to find a very large and very thick tunnel web in the corner of the shower window (A window in the shower?! What a country!). Presumably a spider lived in it. I eyed it cautiously at first, trying to make up my mind on what to do with it, and eventually decided to let it be for the moment. After all, I’d sure be annoyed if suddenly someone just up and destroyed my home for no apparent reason. I turned on the water and began my showering practices, which are quite exciting, but this is hardly the forum to go into detail about that. What happened next was that some water, splashed by me, sprayed onto the web, a spider leaped out of the tunnel, and I very nearly fell out of the shower. It was big. Like, real big. I don’t have a phobia about spiders like a lot of people do, but this thing scared me a little. It was like a prune with legs. I finished showering, giving the window as wide a berth as I could, and the spider stood there watching the whole time.

The next few days I thought a lot about what I should do. Should I kill it? Should I move it outside? Should I just let it be? It wasn’t causing me any harm, so I decided to let it be for the time being. It’s not my place to just kill another living being that’s just trying to get by. In fact, I began to realize that this spider wasn’t so different from me. I mean, we both lived in the same apartment, so there was that. We were both just doing our thing, looking forward to when that next meal came along. We both kind of liked the Eagles, but didn’t really like to tell people we liked the Eagles. I thought maybe we could even be friends.

I didn’t consider the spider a pet. I had too much respect for it to do that. People would ask me what I named it. The ignorance! I didn’t give it a name. I didn’t even know if it was a male or female. It would have been an insult to give it a human name. This noble and elegant creature. This was not some brain-dead hamster I bought at a mall pet store. This was a wild beast. A self-sufficient and cunning nomad who had made camp in what happened to be my apartment. It probably even had a name already, but it would be in a weird spider dialect that I couldn’t understand, let alone pronounce.

The friendship was doomed from the start, though, I think. As much as I tried to find common ground, we were just too different. We might as well have been different species. I mean, we were different species, but we might as well have been, like, even differenter species. Like, what if instead of a spider it was a ‘possum or a salmon or a baby or something? That would’ve been crazy! I think, in the end, I just came on too strong. You cannot tame the wild, natural world. It’s the foolish notion that we humans sometimes have that gets people mauled or killed by animals they assume they can turn into docile companions. I will admit, I fell into this trap. Too many evenings I tried to force conversations about David Sedaris, blatantly ignoring that the spider was clearly more of a Stuart McLean fan. I tried to get it to watch Seinfeld reruns with me, I tried to get it to explain dubstep to me, one night I even, embarrassingly, started talking about Charlotte’s Web.

It’s no surprise to me that the spider turned against me. I just wish we could have parted on better terms. I won’t soon forget that day I got into the shower and it jumped out of the tunnel, like usual. But this time something was different. It was skittering about, jumping side to side, rearing up and waving its front legs at me, somewhat menacingly. It looked like it was ready to leap right at me at any moment. I knew the time had come that I’d have to make a decision. And it had to be the right decision. The diplomatic decision. The honourable decision. I had to own up to the fact that I had tried to tame a wild animal and it was railing against me. The most important thing about the course of action I was to choose was that it preserved the dignity of both me and the spider. So I buried that stuck-up little shithead under an inch and a half of Raid and flushed it down the toilet.

*Photo by nothing via Flickr (under a CC licence).