The Birds and the… horseflies
We didn’t escape going to the clay lick this time. My alarm didn’t go off, but thankfully my internal alarm sounded a half hour later and we made it just in time to go with Dionicio to the other side of the river.
We stood there on the beach with a telescope and a set of binoculars facing a orange-colored cliff. A few minutes passed and there were no birds in sight. Finally, a set of blue headed macaws came into view, and then dozens of birds followed suit. There were macaws, parrots, and parakeets of all different colors and sizes. Again, I couldn’t tell the difference, so others did the identification while I recorded them for some time.
I’ve always considered myself a bird person, but seeing them at that kind of distance isn’t exactly exciting. Within a half hour, we occupied ourselves with other pursuits. I chatted up Dioni- he told me how he had once climbed a 50 meter tree!- and Erica and Hanako took to spying on the tourists who had gathered farther down the river with the telescope. Suddenly they burst into laughter. The group seemed to have gone crazy- whacking each other with articles of clothing, running around like lunatics, and even stripping down in some cases. What was going on? A swarm of horseflies must have descended on the tourists, and as Erica and I had found out from our own horsefly attack not too long ago, those little bastards hurt. Within a few minutes, the tourists had picked up shop and left the vicinity, much to Erica and Hanako’s dismay.
Back at the MLC, there was more work to be done. Juvenal collected us after lunch and took us down to clean and fix the pitfall traps. Unlike the traps we had set before, these were buckets that had been buried in the ground so that small mammals would fall right into the holes as they were running along the trail. Sadly, the only animal we later found in these traps was a large toad that had probably eaten all the small mammals in the traps. So much for that.
We had more success with sewing the butterfly nets back in the project room. Well, some of us did. Juvenal, of course, was the first to finish while I slowly struggled my way through, managing to break a needle in half, leaving the pointy end jutting out of the net forever more. As I got a new needle and continued to relentlessly jab myself, our fearless leader began to tell us the best kind of stories: jungle stories.
In the project room where we sewed our butterfly nets.
Story time with Rambo
Juvenal went hunting in the forest one day. He found a troop of spider monkeys and followed them deep into the forest. By the time he shot one down and flung it over his shoulders to take home, he had completely lost track of the trail.
He didn’t panic. He knew how to live off the forest. He ate leaves and berries off the trees. He made a shelter out of the brush to keep warm and hidden from the night animals once the sun had gone down. He survived the night and awoke the next day hopeful. He tried to find a stream or river to follow back to civilization, all the while clinging to the dead monkey draped around his neck. As he walked, everything began to look the same. Little did he know he was walking in circles. The second day ended and Juvenal once more fell asleep in the brush, his stomach growling and objecting to all the foliage he’d been eating.
He survived another night. He began to trek through the forest, and in the spur of the moment, decided to change course. After a few hours, he heard the sound of running water. He ran toward it and breathed a sigh of relief. He had found a river.
He went downstream until he came upon a barking dog. He laughed out loud from happiness. If there was a dog, there had to be a person nearby. Soon enough, the old woman to whom the dog belonged came into view. In a rush of emotion, Juvenal ran toward her. He must’ve been a frightening sight, dirty and crazed, with a dead animal on his back, because she turned on her heal to go back from where she came. Juvenal didn’t lose hope. He calmly approached her and poured out his story to her. She took pity on him and took him to her town where he was given food and a place to stay until he made his way home. He was saved.
Juvenal’s story reminded me of something Lilia had mentioned during dinner the night before, her face mischievous and grinning in the candlelight. “Chulian Chaki,” she had said “is the spirit of the jungle. I don’t believe this. But. He calls your name and you go in the forest and ‘poof.’ You are gone.” Chulian Chaki: an entity to be feared and respected. While most of the scientists who come to the jungle dismiss such myths, many people who live in and have grown up in the forest adhere to the belief that such a creature exists. “What does he look like?” we had asked. “He has the foot of a deer and the foot of a turtle,” Lilia giggled. We laughed at that. Not exactly a scary combination. “But,” she whispered, “he can change. He can look like any animal. He can look like your best friend. He speaks to you in the voice of someone you know so you will trust him.”
I asked Juvenal to tell us what he knew about this spirit of the jungle. He recounted what Lilia had already told us, but there was more, some other story he hadn’t disclosed yet. “Otra vez. Another time,” he said. The nets were finished, so with that, we left the project room while I pondered what had happened with Juvenal and Chulian Chaki.
As the sun went down and moon came out, I thought about how ambiguous and changeable everything was. Even the moon looked different in this hemisphere- the craters turned in such a way as to give the appearance of a large rabbit or an old man with a mustache. I smiled. Nothing is constant. Nothing is as it seems. At the mercy of nature, I realized how little control we have over our world. As individuals we certainly have power, but at the same time, we are all passengers on the same train moving toward some unknown destination. So far, I was enjoying the ride.