Thursday, 22 May 2014

Day 22 - Fear and loathing in las Piedras.

Suddenly, everything was strangely silent. The sounds of the jungle that have been a comfort to me for the past couple of weeks now sent a shiver down my spine. Sat alone, around 5 kilometres from camp, unable to walk, I started to become aware of every minute little sound and movement that was happening around me.

Earlier that morning, I got on a motorbike with Chiki and one of the other interns Zoe. Chiki had been amazing about my injury, and felt sorry for me being stuck in the lodge all day everyday, unable to do anything. So he offered to take me out for the day on his motorbike. Motorbikes are used in the area for local workers who pick and trade Brazil nuts; they transport their heavy products from deep in the jungle to the river on the motorbike before getting a boat back to their village.

Zoe had come with me for company, it was amazing (even if a little uncomfortable) for the three of us to be on this little bike going through the jungle, using the very narrow and muddy tracks. It was surreal. Chiki was a brilliant driver, and took great care, trying to not ruin our track traps, and avoiding muddy puddles and incoming branches. He took us down the Brazil nut trail, which was the furthest trail that we had at PIE, he carried on further down the trail that the workers take and stopped at the end of the road, now we had to walk. Chiki was telling us all about the different trees, and our surroundings. It was great to be out again, it made a nice change from the lodge, and it was always great to learn a thing or two from the locals.

After a few minutes, my ankle was in so much pain I couldn’t possibly go any further. So I sat and told Zoe and Chiki to carry on and to meet me back here – I hated the though of stopping people do what they want to do just because of me and my lousy ankle, so I told them to keep going.

After around 10-15 minutes after they left, I walked down the trail a little further once my ankle felt a little better from rest. The trail turned into 5, and I had no idea which one they had gone down. So I thought it would be a better idea if I just turned back and sat where they left me.

After around 30 minutes, I thought I could hear a machete being used, and neither Zoe nor Chiki had one. Was I alone? Or was someone else there. A slight panic started to rise in me. I tried to stay calm and reassure myself that Chiki and Zo were on their way back. They’ll be here any minute. That thought repeated through my head a thousand times.

Every so often I would shout to them, to see if they were anywhere near, I didn’t get a response. Another 15 minutes past, and that fleeting panic came back even stronger this time. I would have to rationalise the situation, and again, reassure myself that everything was fine. But with every 10 minutes, I couldn’t help to revert back to panic mode. Every possible situation had ran through my head; what if I went down the wrong trail and they passed me without even knowing? What if they left without me? I could never walk all the way back to camp with my foot! What if they’re lost? What if something bad has happened? What if a Brazil nut worker finds me? What if a jaguar finds me? (Although that last one, I definitely wouldn’t have minded). What if, what if, what if.....

It took a lot of self-control to not allow myself to enter a complete state of panic and worry. I gave them a deadline. If they weren’t here by 12:30pm, I would start walking back to camp. Did I know the way back? No. But I’d have to put my Bear grills face on and get on with it. Survive Ffion - I was very pleased at my sensibleness earlier that day that told me to take plenty of water and some crackers! I told myself I would make it, it will just take time and it’ll be painful. But I assured myself I could do it. It felt like it took forever for the time to pass - by now they had been gone for around an hour and a half - but eventually, it hit 12:30pm. There was no sign of them. I needed to make that awful decision…

I walked over to where the path split in all different directions, I gave one last loud call from them. I waited. Nothing, again.

As I was about to give up, and embark on the almost impossible journey back to PIE, beast mode on, I hear something up in the trees. I look up, and spot a squirrel monkey. I couldn’t believe that there was one so close to me, I made sure to keep as still as possible to not disturb him or scare him away. I watched in awe, and then another one appeared, and another, and another! Before I knew it there was a handful of squirrel monkeys above me, playing swinging on trees, jumping from one to another. It was incredible! I kept observing, and more of them appeared, at one point I must have counted around 9 or 10 of them, they do tend to travel and play in groups. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and they didn’t seem to mind me being there, they were only a few metres away from me, and I made eye contact with one, she looked at me, and with no concern whatsoever, she carried on swinging on the branch. They had allowed me to become a part of their journey through the jungle; I stood in complete peace, happiness. All the worry had completely disappeared from my mind and body. I relaxed, for the first time in hours.

Time was now playing tricks on me. It had been moving so slowly, and now I was having a moment with nature, time passed quicker than ever. 15 minutes past in what felt like seconds. I heard some rustling, and so did the monkeys – they quickly darted off into the distance away from the oncoming sound. It was Zoe and Chiki. Overwhelmed with relief, and I’ve gotta be honest, I was angry too "you didn't think to come back sooner?!" Zoe apologised, saying she had no idea how far Chiki was going to take her, and didn’t think to tell him to come back as I could be worried. Above all else though, I was glad to see them. I didn't need to walk to camp. I didn't have to worry anymore. The relief soon overrode the anger. Everyones safe, now we can ride home.

On the way back to camp, we saw some adorable saddleback tamarin monkeys, who seemed curious and happy. I’ve been spoilt for choice of monkeys today. As the gentle breeze cooled my hot face on the bike, I closed my eyes and exhaled a breath of relief and happiness. Even though I had just had possibly the most unnerving experience of my life, it in turn gave me one of the best experiences I have had in the jungle – seeing all those squirrel monkeys in their natural environment, playing, communicating, it was truly incredible. It’s what it’s all about really. Why I’m here. To observe this amazing life that these creatures deserve, and that every other species in the jungle deserves – a happy, safe, environment, where they can thrive. 

Note to self: always confirm a time for when to expect people to arrive. 
And always take your camera, even when on a motorbike, a gopro won't do for monkeys. Rookie mistake. But it did allow me to fully enjoy the experience without worrying about shutter speed I needed...