Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stuck in the Muck

Big, dead leaves. That's what you need to start a fire in the Amazon. Leaves bigger than my torso with stems more like branches. They littered the area we had chosen for camp. We had enough firewood to cook dinner on; headlights would have to suffice after that. Iquitos was more than half a day away. We were in the jungle.
Let me make this clear. I love doing crazy shit, but I'm not careless. I truly believe things don't go wrong, just differently than originally planned. Going with the flow, assuming positive intent in people, and trusting the universe has given me some amazing experiences. But sometimes...shit's just crazy.
So, anyway, we're in the Amazon at night, and decide it'd be fun to take out this canoe. At. Night. The water levels were pretty low, and the canoe a bit large for the three of us. Caimans surrounded us with their frog-like croaks. Night monkeys called out nearby.
"Keep your flashlight low, or the bats will come too close for comfort."
I think about all vaccines I didn't get as the gossiping mosquitos become a permanent din in my ear. Did I mention how dark it was? Sure, the stars were breathtaking. Whatever. I'd just gotten off a three day cargo ship ride where I saw plenty of stars. Electric eels lived in that water. We kept getting stuck in the muck, using our hands to push off branches, hoping there wasn't a tarantula on them. I sat at the front of the canoe, my headlight guiding us down the narrow path the jungle trees had given us. My hands were shaking when they weren't swatting bugs away from my mouth, eyes, and ears. With only one paddle at our disposal, Alex's exhaustion decided to head back to camp.
Alex and Lindsay were noticeably as excited as I was horrified. Pointing out different critters and shaking the canoe if something begged for a closer look. A few yards away from the dock as we float through lily pads, Alex asks us if we want to see something cool. Of course we do.
"Turn off your lights."
Like fairies tucked in for the night, baby fireflies sat in the middle of each pad. Most were yellow and green, but I swear one was red. In that moment, all of the fear left me, and it all became immediately worth every uncomfortable moment.
I go into the new year remembering what it felt like to let go of that fear. To see the beauty and perfection in it. Cuz you know what? It's okay to be scared. But fuck if I'm gonna let it stop me.

Nikki Portela
Portland, OR

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