It’s not fair. Tito never had bug bites.
When I was younger, I had chicken pox twice. The second time around, I tried my best not to scratch, but finally gave in, clawing at spots that left marks in their wake. Laying in my bed awake at night in the middle of the jungle, I felt like that itchy third grader again. I couldn’t help it. After the fifth time of waking up because of the red, angry bites covering my entire body, I finally succumbed and had a scratching free for all that lasted a good ten minutes. Meanwhile, a thunderstorm raged in the background, and for a second I considered stepping out into the rain to soothe my raw skin.
When my alarm rang at 7:00, I was already wide awake, staring blankly at the white mosquito net drooping overhead. I sighed and groaned the usual morning mantra: “Erica, Hanako, Sarah, time to get up!”
We paraded to the restrooms and then to the kitchen. It was our first day without Tilman, and the first day we got to eat with the entire staff in the kitchen so as Tilman put it: we “wouldn’t be lonely.”
I was really happy to be integrated into the group, though it was a little strange not having Tilman to greet us in the morning with his usual milky hot chocolate and itinerary for the day. Nelson was missing too, gone to Salvación because of a toothache. Still, most of the staff was at the table, chowing down on omelets and the ever popular fried bananas. Sarah stealthily transferred her bananas to my plate which I gladly accepted. I freaking love fried bananas.
The bffs: Sarah and Tomas.
It made me chuckle to see the way several of the men including Alcides, the cook, fawned over our “Fearless Leader,” Juvenal, staring at him with adoration and laughing at all of his man jokes. I glanced at Lilia and she smiled. “Now Tilman’s gone and you’re going to do some real work, chicas locas,” she said, giving a girlish giggle. Come to find out in the next few days, she wasn’t kidding.
We spent the day planting and measuring trees as per usual but in a different part of the forest. Expecting a well-maintained plantation like the last, I was surprised when a demolished grove came into view. The trees had been burned down, which unfortunately has become a common deforestation method.
And so we began the long, painstaking process of recovery. Reynaldo had taken it upon himself to teach me as many plants of the forest as possible, so he would periodically test me on the trees we were planting there. He is that rare type of leader who shows the way through kindness, patience, and consideration. Not one to complain or criticize, I never heard him once blame anyone for the plight of the forest.
In a denser spot.
Trying to keep the peke peke from floating away.
Anyway, nothing much else happened the rest of the day. That night I slipped into my old habit of doing my laundry at night. Just as I was putting my clothes on the line I heard growling. I jerked my head up and looked into the dark of the forest. Nothing. Must’ve imagined it, I thought. I continued to place my clothing on the line. Another growl. I dropped my underwear in the dirt. I looked into the canopy again. Probably a potoo bird that sounds like a jaguar I thought. I quickly shook the dirt of my undies and hightailed it out of there just in case.