It was just another day at the MLC. The clouds were heavy with the promise of rain and we started off the morning identifying and studying bird species. Apparently birds are just not my thing because in addition to failing my call test, I incorrectly identified every single bird I saw including the beautiful russet-backed oropendulas which are as common in the Amazon as crows in North Carolina.
Later, Karla and Alcides cooked a delicious lunch which Erica and I proceeded to douse with mayonnaise, and we began to chat away while Tilman zoned out. Did I mention we were the first all-girl group at the MLC?
Hanako was talking about someone back in Singapore when she suddenly stopped midsentence. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “What is it?” someone asked. We turned in the direction she was looking and found ourselves staring into the eyes of a jaguar.
She was stalking toward us from about twenty yards away at the edge of the forest. We jumped out of our chairs to get a closer look. For a split second she looked at us with the terrified eyes of a hunted animal, then whirled around fast as lightning and disappeared into the forest. Maybe it was the distance, how fast the moment passed, or the fact that we had seen her scared-eyed in our garden, but she left the impression of being a very large, spotted housecat rather than a dangerous huntress that pounces on her victims from high in the canopy, breaking their necks before she feeds on them.
Erica, Sarah, and Hanako were ecstatic about the encounter, their faces lighting up at our good fortune. Tilman was so shocked, he put his head between his hands and wasn’t speaking at all. I mumbled something about my pet cat. I still didn’t quite believe we had seen a real jaguar just as someone might experience uncertainty about whether or not they’ve seen a certain celebrity or simply their look-alike.
That night, I told my parents about our sighting over Skype. “What?!” my dad yelped. “What?! Get on the next bus and come home.” “Oooooh lord. Oh lord,” my mom groaned. “We’re the first group to ever see one,” I told them. “There are only about 1 or 2 per 50 kilometers, so we’re really lucky.” “Huh. Did you get a picture?” my dad asked. “Nope. We were eating lunch when we saw it.” “Oh, okay. Are they feeding you over there, Tina?” Ah, Greek parents. Gotta love ‘em.