I drifted in and out of sleep as the hammock swayed the day away. The patter of rain on the tarp a death knell to the reign of the ants, who fled back to their nests, granting us a short respite. The rain also gave me a legitimate excuse to catch up on some extra sleep, which came readily in the absence of the ants.
I awoke the next day and fixed myself some breakfast, getting ready to head out. “You going out?” the guide asked. “Yeah, just a short jaunt”. The guide smiled but said nothing, “maybe later we can go fishing?”. “Yeah”, I said offhandedly, walking out onto the trail or at least where the trail had been…
I stumbled and drenched myself as I fell into nearly waist deep water. “AAAhhhhhh…little help!” I called. The guide waltzed over innocently, “better day for fishing than for walking”, he said, immediately proving his point by fishing me out of the water with a nearby branch. “I can see that”, I replied dryly. “What happened?” “Water level rose”. ” “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s a river out there! Where’s the trail even, I don’t see it?!” “See where the fishes swimming, there the trail” he said casting a fishing line which had suddenly materialized into his hands at a school of minnows. I stared at him a long, hard moment to try and detect the lie in his voice but found none. Sometimes nature conspires to teach us a lesson; I couldn’t help but see a pattern in my leg pain, damaged electronics, incessant bug attacks and now floods of biblical proportions. But I’ll be damned if I let such problems get in my way (apparently I should learn to mind my choice of words)! It was the kind of rainstorm that would have Noah look outside his window – “Really God, again? I mean I just dismantled my Ark for crying out loud…” If this was ‘The Flood’, then I was determined to take a picture of every male and female animal in these bloody mountains! And so I waded off into the steadily growing river, feeling the current like a chihuaha’s tug on my pant leg. However, as I waded on the chihuaha became more insistent, and it wasn’t one of those Hollywood chihuahuas I could shove to the bottom of a purse and zip shut either. Fording on, the chihuahua became a terrier, and the terrier a lab until finally I was in an all out tug of war with a rotweiler. The water which at first swirled around my ankles, had stealthily creeped up to my calves, then when I wasn’t looking, my knees, flooding into my boots with that ‘oh shit’ moment. By this time I had committed myself to my course of action though. It seemed every step brought me a little deeper…next, my hips and finally the water settled around my waist. I cautiously eased my way through floating debris scanning the tree trunks and leaves for quarry. I was kept company by the cautious nibble of fish. My hope was that the flooded floors had sent insects and animals crawling to higher ground on the trees and hills, and so that was where I looked first. Though I was somewhat disappointed in this regard. Perhaps on higher ground I thought to myself (maybe just a little further, maybe they’re all in the deep end (yeah right!)).
I held my camera high above me. Each misstep, every collision with some underwater obstruction and I leapt up with a surge of adrenaline, twiddling my toes like Barishnakov, though this was certainly no Swan Lake. Though the feint and dance of my supporting cast of mosquitoes acted as a ‘wonderful’ accompaniment. However, my greatest fear was the deep ruts carved into the sides of the trail by ox carts, which sometimes dropped one or two feet down. They unexpectedly fishtailed across the trail to avoid the deeper, muddy sections, thereby creating more deep muddy sections. And so, I continued along the trail /stream, tentatively probing the ground like a blind man, easing forward first one foot and then the other when suddenly the slippery edge of the rut gave way and I was plunged up to my chest into the chocolate waters. Such was my desperate flailing that the dark waters bubbled and churned, as though foreshadowing the rise of some dread sea creature. Wrenching myself free from the muddy bottom, I abandoned my ballerina’s grace to flounder for balance. Recovering, I would come to and jerk my head around to inspect my camera to ensure its against-all-odds survival and then inch forward until I hit the next rut.
Getting to higher ground at last I was a little disappointed not to find the mass exodus that I had expecting, but rather all the familiar faces. I suppose that many of those living on the forest floor have developed adaptations to the heavy rains or else I was simply unlucky. However, I did still manage to make my travails worthwhile.
- Dragonfly eyes.
- Spiny treehoppers (Membracidae). Like some reincarnation of the dinosaurs on a miniature scale these membracids blend in amazingly well with the fuzzy plant stem.
- Cryptic slug caterpillar (Limacodidae). Amazing that this caterpillar was spotted, my guide noticed ants surrounding and attacking it, otherwise it surely would have gone unnoticed.
- Pink toed tarantula (Avicularia sp.)
After a time I abandoned my fruitless quest, having seen only a minimal number of species. Maybe at night I thought to myself, the idea of wading through the dark, flashlight in hand, water up to the waist holding a certain appeal. So I waited for nightfall, meanwhile, it continued to rain…
The hours passed and the guide looked at the creeping water level with a hint of anxiety. “Maybe we have to move camp”. I looked from him to the water and sent a fervent prayer to Poseidon to halt the rising tide. The rain had turned to a fine mist, though hadn’t abated completely. He gave the water one last, hard look as though to say “I’ve got my eye on you” and then rolled over in his hammock and went back to sleep. Like shift workers, the moment he went to bed, I rose. The graveyard shift…
Slogging through the chthonic darkness, ripples and eddies flowed around the Stygian landscape. Trees wept the last of the rain from their tortured branches as leaves tapped shoulders, and whispered at my passing. Though when I turned in suspicion, all I met with was silence and my thin beam of light swallowed by the night…
- Falling prey to a scorpion the cockroach is now being torn limb from limb.
- For those who enjoy grisly details