Monday, November 21, 2011

A Night Walk through the Jungle

What would a trip to a jungle be without exploring it during the night, when all dangerous animals wake up and your human eyes don’t work that well any more? I would say that it would be a perfectly nice trip, but, again, our travel agency decided otherwise. Did I mention that mosquitos also become more active after dark, and that the ones in the Amazon Jungle are totally and completely resistant to the strongest insect repellents?

I guess it will not surprise you if I add that our guide took a MACHETE with him for the walk (which he actually later did put into action–see the movie below), and, just before we set out for the hike, in a totally cool and as-a-matter-of-fact voice informed us that he did get lost a few times before in the jungle. We should not worry, however–he assured us–as, eventually, he always found his way back. It might have taken him a few days to return to civilization, but he always found it back. (If any of you readers have any theories that could shed some light as to why I always sign up for activities like this, and even pay my hard-earned money for them, I would be very grateful if you would share your insights with me.)

The machete in action:

In preparation for our night walk, and potentially getting lost in the jungle, I packed an ample supply of water and protein bars into my backpack. As I learned later, I needn’t have bothered to take the protein bars. The whole forest was full of termites, which–we were told–are both tasty and protein-rich. I could have probably skipped the water too, as it was raining quite often in the jungle, and the leaves of many plants seemed to be perfectly adapted to accumulating water.

Termites: protein-rich emergency food.

Well, I’ll spare you the suspense–we didn’t need to use any of these survival tricks, didn’t get lost, and had fantastic time. We started the hike around one hour before sunset, as it is the best time to see nocturnal animals–earlier they are asleep, later it might be too dark for our eyes to see anything. In particular, we were told to keep an eye out for snakes, as many of them become active around dusk. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any (which, of course, does not mean that they were not there).

Anyway, here we are in the jungle. It’s night, it’s pitch-dark, not even stars are lighting our way, as we are separated from them by a dense canopy of trees. We have flashlights, but they seem like toys right now, and are barely good enough to light our next few steps. For the most part, we have to rely on what we hear, and what we feel.

It’s humid and still pretty hot. I wish I could remove my long-sleeved blouse but I don’t, as I fear that then I would get eaten alive by the mosquitoes. The air is heavy but also fresh. The jungle is alive with sounds of millions of insects and a few bigger animals. Sometimes I feel like we are being watched, but likely it’s only my imagination. In either case, I’m glad I’m not alone.

I’m not scared, though. The surroundings are too interesting and my mind is too busy analyzing them, as well as processing those new sensations. I feel happy and peaceful, and united with nature. I’m back to my roots: I imagine it’s a few thousands years ago and I’m one of my ancestors–a hunter-gatherer moving through the forest, looking for food, water, and a good place to spend the night. I don’t know if I will find any, but I have to keep on moving, as my survival, and that of my family/tribe, depends on me.

Life is quite different today. Instead of hunting, we go to supermarkets (though sometimes shopping also feels like hunting). Mostly, we do not have to worry where we are going to sleep the next night, and we do not have to fend off dangerous animals from our houses. We have lots of free time and we can spend it as we please, for example, on trips to the Jungle. In that Jungle we can go for a night walk, which might remind us how it was a few thousands years ago, and how much effort and perseverance it has taken for our species to get where we are right now. This realization might make us feel extremely grateful, both to our ancestors for their hard work, and to the Jungle and Lady Night for this unique experience that provoked all those thoughts and feelings.

A bird with a super-long tail.

Other nightly creatures.