The night has ended and isolation is practically over. I’m a little sad. It was fun. Tough too, but mostly fun. I liked the challenge. I will miss this, and the skill drills, and the lectures, and the people in the class.
It’s Thursday morning and in 2 days I’ll be home again. Yeah, I don’t really want to think about that, so I focus on what I want to do before the boat comes and picks me up. Not sure how much time we have. I go and fill my water bottle. Not really hungry today either. Yesterday, I had chopped off the top of a smallish reef palm and taken it with me to see if I could get at the heart of palm. I start shaving and peeling it, but discover that the inside is rotten. Well, no big deal.
I take some pictures of my shelter and really look at it this morning. I count the poles I had to cut to build it – 29 — and the extra cuts I had to make for the Y-forks. It may not be totally up to Amerindian standards, but this is a nice-looking shelter!
And I built it.
With my own hands, and my machete!
In the life I come from, nobody can do this.
I get a little emotional. Then I smile through my tears and say it out loud:
I fucking ROCK!
Soon after, I hear the boat. Rescue!
Ian comes and inspects my shelter. We talk a bit and I ask him to take a picture of me in my shelter. Then he tells me to collect whatever paracord I used and take my stuff and wait for him by the boat: he will take my shelter down. “You know it needs to be done, but you don’t have to be there to see it. I’ll do it for you!” Well, after all the work I did to get this sucker up, I don’t particularly want to see it destroyed, so yeah, I’ll take him up on that offer!
I walk to the boat and O and C are waiting in it, with big grins, and Lionel. Ian joins us shortly, and we’re on our way. Ian throws me a couple of candy bars as a welcome back present and I save them for later. We catch up with the other boat that now has everyone else in it. They loaded up our backpacks and my boat actually has my backpack right next to my bench. Nice job! Not really hungry yet, but I’m sure I’ll want to eat something before we get to the village landing.
We’re all exchanging survival stories. O caught a nice size fish. C had a tapir run right by his shelter (“I could feel the ground vibrating from an 800-pound animal running by, and I was wondering: what makes a tapir run like that?? So, I found myself blowing into my fire to make it flare up so I could see!”). Sounds like they both did well during iso.
I hear stories about some of the other guys. One person tapped out on the night of the storm. Good shelter, but no fire. I wonder what I would have done if I had not had a fire. Would my “sheer bloody-mindedness” have kept me in the game? I hope so, but until you’re in the situation, you just don’t know.
Later, he tells me about the insight he gained that night: “for years, I have been trying to convince myself that I enjoy these kinds of adventures. But I don’t. To motivate myself, I was trying to imagine everybody else coming out of isolation triumphantly, including you” (meaning me), “and I realized that I just don’t care if I make it through.”
That’s a great insight! And a valuable tool going forward. I think most people don’t really listen to their intuition. He may have gained more here than some of us who stuck it out.
Our boat ride back is relaxed. A few times, Ian tries to shoot ducks that fly up out of the underbrush on the banks, but they all get away. Even though we encounter quite a few trees that need to be macheted or chainsawed, even though Ian accidentally drops the machete he’s had for 6 years in the river, we’re all sort of giddy, on an I-survived-isolation high.
I enjoy this last boat ride through the jungle before we get back to Surama. All this time, I have been amazed by the trees clinging to the banks of the river, hanging on with their roots at improbable angles. A lot of these trees look very Fangorn, very Entish.
After two hours or so, we land on a beach near the village, and take all our gear out of the boats, including gas canisters, life jackets etc. We need to gear up one more time, for one last trek back to the lodge, a much shorter trek than the one we took to get to the first camp.
I had a can of sardines and almost a whole bottle of water on the boat ride, so I feel like I’m in decent shape for this trek. — Yeah, I have to laugh at my delusion: I can barely even get my backpack up to swing it onto my back, and past the belt kit.
Whatever. I survived isolation! I’ll survive this last bit too. And I do. Even though on the last 500 meters I think I might not make it. The guys are way ahead of me again, enticed by the thought of cold beers. In the back, Lionel and I discuss the benefits of teaching by letting people make mistakes, in jungle skills and in math homework. Until I can no longer talk because I have no breath left.
Walking through the woods was hard enough, but now we’re on a trail that is in direct sun and I’m slowly roasting in my long shirt and pants. And no hat. And I can’t even get my bottle out to drink.
I count steps. First to 100. Then that gets to be too much. To 20. And to 20 again. And again. I count 20 on each finger of my hand. And then the other. Then I start over again. At some point Lionel says 200 more meters, 600 feet.
No way. If it were 200 meters, you’d see the lodge. I know he’s lying and I appreciate the gesture. 20. Then 20 more. And another 20. How many steps is 200 meters??? Surely, I must have taken 400 steps by now.
Then S tells me 200 more meters. I can now see the lodge. Yes, that might be 200 meters. But can I just take a break? I mean, you guys all go ahead. I can SEE the lodge. There is no way I can get lost now. I just need 30 seconds! I stop and drink water.
And then stumble on until I get up the slight hill to the main building. — I cannot adequately express just HOW nice it is to let the backpack slide off my back into the grass and take my belt kit off, and sink down on a bench in the shady downstairs of the eco lodge and drink a large glass of cold well water, without iodine taste. OMG. So good.
Once we have all had something cold to drink, we gather outside for our “after” photo. – Now that I look at it, our before photo shows us as perky people in safari outfits. In the after photo, we look like escapees from some jungle prison camp.
We all devour the lunch they serve at the lodge. Fresh food!!
We spend the afternoon sorting through our stuff, having our smelly, dirty clothes washed at the lodge (thank you, Ian!!) and returning Ian’s gear to the storage shed. I decide to keep my machete. Even if it means I will need to check my bag. That baby is going home with me!
When I finally get to take a shower, I appreciate the running cold water a lot more than I did on the way out. And the scented soap. And a clean towel. As I survey myself in the full-length mirror, I realize that I have lost a few pounds. I actually look good: trimmer, leaner, stronger.
Younger, I think. Despite the fact that I haven’t used moisturizer or makeup or anything in 10 days, I look better than I have in a long time. Not stressed. Happy. I realize that I have laughed more every day on this trip (well, with the exception of isolation) than I usually do in weeks. I feel energized even though I have had little sleep and little food the last few days. I smile at myself in the mirror, and my eyes smile back.
After dinner, we watch Lionel’s TV program: since Ian is a fixer for the BBC, and Lionel and Roy help out on many of the BBC jungle productions, somebody suggested using Lionel as a contestant in a British program called “Life Swap”: two people from very different backgrounds get dropped in the other person’s life and have to live that life for a week or so. Lionel goes to London and lives with a family and has to go work in an office, writing emails, even though he’s never used a computer keyboard before. The Londoner came to live in Surama, and had to hunt and fish. Not a pretty sight.
A bunch of the villagers come to the lodge where they have a projector set up and the tech guys finally figure out how to connect Ian’s computer to the screen. It’s fun to see this now that we know Lionel, and that we’ve had the jungle experience.
B and I talk to Lionel for a while on the logistics of selling his bows into other countries. It’s an issue because air shipping companies consider the bows weapons and cannot ship them. And anyone taking them personally can only take a few before it’s considered commercial merchandise.
The crux is that Surama is so isolated: no mail, no email, no outside communication unless there is a chartered plane. Or, during dry season, a 12-hour car ride to Georgetown. Sending anything to Surama, like books for the kids, supplies, boots for the guides, is also a problem: apparently, anything nice gets “lost” in customs.
We are all up late into the night, celebrating our “survival” and return to civilization.
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