It was finally time for our long-term reforestation project to begin. We took the peke peke down the river and walked along the rocky bank toward the plantation to measure trees for the day.
By this point, my blisters had become almost unbearable, taking up most of the space on the backs of my ankles, and even on my legs where my boots ended and my pants began. I have pretty sizable calves, so I had to trade out boots and cut them at the tops with my knife. This resulted in me being relatively unable to keep water from getting water in my boots when we walked in rivers and puddles, and so I walked around with a constant ocean sloshing around under-foot, leaving my blisters raw and wet. I finally felt like I had the asthma issue under control, but once again I found myself trailing behind. Thankfully, Tomas stayed with me and we passed the time practicing our Spanish and English. We crossed paths with a couple of women with a herd of cattle who jokingly asked if I wanted to watch their cows, and for a second I considered it just so I wouldn’t have to walk anymore.
At the entrance to the forest, Reynaldo, an older gentleman who has lived in Salvacion for the past twenty years or so and is the leader of this project, joined our party and led us to the plantation. Little did I know that this man would become a dear friend to me over the course of our stay. A sweet person with a quiet voice, he embodied patience and kindness like one of the trees he so loved.
Finally, we arrived at the plantation and found ourselves surrounded by banana trees that remind me of ripped love letters and outstretched arms reaching for the sun. We weren’t going to be measuring banana trees that day, but rather cedro and awano trees in between them. Sarah, Erica, and Hanako had the task of measuring the tree growth, while I joined the men in clearing the way with machetes.
Time dragged on in the heat. As I was slashing at the brush, a massive thorn lodged itself in the flesh peaking out between my glove and my sleeve. I yanked it out and thought I had gotten it all, but to this day I still have a piece of it embedded in my arm- a token from the forest.
We were all glad when it was time to return to the MLC. Reynaldo’s son, Tito drove the boat on the way home. He was wearing a bracelet with peccary canines and a McD’s hat that said “I’m loving it.” I think the slogan works for him more than it does for McDonald’s. He’s always smiling.
That night the girls, Tilman, Tito, and Tomas all bonded over our beloved card game, and it also slipped that I had been on the Ellen show before, so the staff and volunteers had a laugh watching my attempt to eat a marshmallow off a string on our slow-loading internets. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJvXJUDWXbM)
Before we headed off to bed, we all went to the bathroom. As we were about to exit, we suddenly saw Tito, Alcides, and Nelson speed-walking toward the building, armed with machetes. They all had a look of excitement in their eyes, and I asked Nelson in Spanish what was going on. “Tito heard the jaguar,” he smiled. Tito had grown up in the jungle and so was adept and recognizing animal sounds. “On top, over there,” he said, pointing upward. “On the roof?” I asked. “Yes!” he replied. My jaw dropped. On the roof?? I translated this back to the girls and we all exchanged eager, disbelieving looks.
We stood there huddled together in between the sinks for fifteen minutes while the men silently waited, machetes poised and ready. Finally, they determined the jaguar was no longer there. “How did it get down if it was on the roof?” I asked. Nelson busted out laughing. “On the roof? It wasn’t on the roof!” Oops. Mistranslation. “I was pointing to the trees!” he laughed again as he told the rest of the men what had happened and I relayed this new information back to the girls. I guessed it didn’t make a lot of sense that we were waiting in the bathrooms if it was in fact over our heads, but common sense kind of escapes you when there’s a jaguar in your vicinity.