After we see another beautiful sunset, we go for a night canoe ride where we are looking for caiman (like a crocodile) . But before we spot one, the guide spots a boa in a tree. So, we head toward it. And by head toward it, I mean right into the tree! We have to duck from branches and my friend and I are at the front of the boat, which means in order for others to get a good picture, she and I are directly under the darn thing!
This picture is terrible and you can’t hardly tell what is up there but I feel like I earned a picture simply for sitting under it.
We continue on looking for Caiman. It is so beautiful with a full moon, so the river is reflective and the trees are silhouetted. But we are all shining flashlights looking for little red glows. And we see some! All you can see are the red eyes caught in the light but our boat driver heads straight for the eyes, even thru trees that are coming out of the water at this part. We are stopped. The guide says “there are some caiman back there but we are stuck in this tree.” Ok, fine, that’s a bummer, move on right?! They back the boat up with a bit of effort and then rev the engine and power right back into that tree! We go thru the tree to the other side. Caiman disappears. And we have to get out of the tree!
But never fear, we spot more Caiman eyes on the other side of the river. This side of the river, it isn’t the tops of trees but the branches of tall trees we have to avoid. We see the eyes and head straight for them, everyone has to duck from the branches and this time we get about 3 feet away before the Caiman goes under water. Oh well, but we sit there, in the dark – flashlights off hoping to coax him out, in the middle of the river, in a canoe with a freaking caiman right under our boat for all we knew!
We still swim everyday but it is a little weird now knowing that there are snakes, caiman and piranhas in the water. What happened to my fear of water I can’t see thru?!?
Here are other things we encountered at night:
Oh, did I mention yet the tarantulas in the huts we stayed in?
Yeah, this guy and about 5 others that I saw hung out in the rafters and palm leaf roofs of the huts!
But the topper is our last hike. Me and my friend were the only people who did 5 days instead of 4 so we were merged with another group. They hadn’t done a day or night hike yet but Ania and I had done both. So, I think the guide cranked up the hike so we wouldn’t feel like we were doing something we had already done. This hike was different! I don’t even think there was a real path to speak of!
Walking thru the muddiest swamp “path” that felt like we were off-roading entirely. In the mud we see tracks of a Jaguar he thinks is just a few hours old. We think he was lost at one point. And frequently made these sounds between a guttural cow noise and a dog.
After 1.5 hours or so of hiking it was now dusk and almost time to turn on our flashlights when our guide stops abruptly. We whispers something and we start inch forward which is when we see a large black and green snake in the path. (I took a picture but honestly I was so freaked out it is really just a blurry image of a path with maybe the hint of eyes!)
He tells us this is a very poisonous snake and he nearly stepped on it! After generously staying still for a few photos the snake moves out of the path and assumes an attack position. We are all about 2 feet away. The guide tells us this is one of the most poisonous things in this jungle. And then says “Ok let’s keep moving” which means we have to walk right past this creature! So we do and trott along as though he wasn’t still there! I was second to last. About 5 minutes later the guide says we need to turn around, which means I am now second person in line and the guide is at the back and we are walking back toward the snake! I kept trying to recognize where the snake was and when in saw the spot, I took a deep breathe and walked thru! Nerves!
But there is more fear yet to be had. Later as we were walking silently in the dark except for our flashlights our guide stops quick. We all stop. Then he whispers that he hears a jaguar not far off. Tells us all to be silent and to turn off our flashlights. We are 1.5 hours into the jungle at night standing in the near pitch black! The guide is whispering, “this isn’t a joke, my heart is racing!” I can only see a faint glow of white of the shirt of the person in front of me. The guide continues to make the sound of before as he explains it is the jaguar sound. And we hear it off in the not so far distance. My friend Ania sort of yell whispers “What exactly is your goal with that sound?” He says he’s not sure, to track it or find it but really I think he just wants to see a Jaguar! And then I hear some branches breaking behind me and not far. It is extremely freaky! He hears it too, jumps and turns on his light. We are pointing a different direction than he is looking but I guess that is why he is the guide because he shines the light directly on to something and we are all relieved to see it is a large monkey! We wait awhile and then turn on the lights again and continue walking. Later Ania told me she could see the sweat dripping from the guides face and hear his heart beating and that when she heard that sound it was the most afraid she has ever been!
I keep thinking about the amount of times on this trip that requires trust. In what, depends on the situation, but somehow I am keying into a general sense of trust. I guess the trust is that it will be ok. Whatever it is, it will be ok. If something inconvenient happens, I’ll deal with it, choose not to let it ruin the next thing too and move on. If something dangerous happens, you deal with that too.
I have inherited some…lets call it – “forward thinking” from some not to be named member of my family. This constant planning and considering “what if?” has proved very helpful in many stages of my life…but not in the jungle! You can’t keep saying “what if…the snake falls; we see the jaguar; a tarantula gets in my mosquito net, etc”. I think I am learning to stop asking what could go wrong in every situation and planning for it. I want to trust that I will be able to handle it (whatever it is) if and when it happens.
In the Jungle, I felt a choice frequently, a choice to stay calm or freak out. Really, freak out didn’t actually feel like an option but I kept marveling that we didn’t all freak out more often. Sometimes if felt like if you let fear in, you would drown in it. I don’t mean that it was a terrifying place but when there are tarantulas on your palm leaf roof and you have to shake out your bed to get rid of cockroaches before going to bed at night, you realize there is a mild freak out just behind your calm.
I don’t mean that the calm is false either. Simply a choice. When we were in a small canoe where it is not possible to get in the water due to caiman and boas that nest in the grass, and we were standing and piranha fishing it was truly best not to think “What if…”. As soon as you do the relative safety you feel in the canoe is gone and you feel totally exposed. So we didn’t think about it. And then we were not afraid.
I wonder if this sounds a bit like denial. Possibly, but the truth was, we were in a canoe, there was no reason to assume anyone would rock the boat or that we would fall in, so why spend time imagining that scenario. I believe this is a new life lesson for me. Following the river means trust. Trust that the thing will lead to the next thing. And whatever that thing is, I will be ok.