"Don't touch that tree." warned my guide Nelly as I gingerly took steps along the muddy path.
"What's wrong with the tree?" I inquired. Her one word answer would send a chill down my spine.
Duly noted. On my last trip to the amazon jungle I had been bitten by a piranha and had absolutely no desire to add fireants to the list. Step by step as we made our way through the jungle trails, I always did my best to adhere to the words of my guide on our hikes. One vivid memory that sticks in my mind is when my guide suddenly stepped in front of me and began pressing her boot against the mud as if she were testing it. Nelly then looked up at me and gave me some simple instructions.
"Try to step where I step." She indicated to me that where she left bootprints in the mud, I ought to step exactly in those prints. Truthfully, it was easier said than done. With the ground being uneven, it made it challenging to aim to step exactly where she had stepped. At one point I took a step that was close-ish to where she had left her prints. Within a second I found myself knee high being swallowed alive by the jaws of the greedy mud.
Every single minute of every hour in the jungle there is an ongoing struggle between predator and prey in the battle of life, death and survival. For a few terrifying seconds I got a taste of what it was like as my leg thrashed and fought against the mud the way a fish fights to free itself from the talons of a bird that had just swooped it right out of the water. The tug of war lasted a few moments more before the mud reluctantly relented and my leg came free. After brushing myself off and making plans for a shower, the hike continued without further adieu.
No matter where I am or what I'm doing, there seems to always be some kind of ongoing battle. In the evenings, an endless saga takes place as mosquitoes battle hard to turn my beautiful body into a bountiful buffet. When I'm not battling mud or mosquitoes, I'm battling to get a wifi signal that sometimes seems to be only at its best early in the morning. Early morning is the best time for spotting animals because they feed while it is cool and then disappear into the jungle as the weather warms up; that time of day is turning out to be also the time that I "feed" too on getting connectivity. I guess the early bird catches the wifi signal.
Perhaps my biggest battle of all is the fear of not being able to deliver. Arriving in the jungle, I knew that I was a gifted english teacher who could give decent classes. Teaching english is far from easy and even with being gifted and having experience, I never got arrogant and let myself forget that. Every one of my classes was treated with thought, care, dilligence and preparation whether I was teaching the teachers of the secondary school or holding a session with preschoolers who could barely speak a word even in their own language.
However I must have underestimated my teaching ability because pretty soon word got out in Tahuayo Lodge and rumours were spreading in Chino village about what a great teacher I was. One night I was having a chat and giving a mini lesson with an employee at the lodge and he said to me "They said you are a good english teacher." I inquired to whom he heard this from. He said that he hears snippets of conversation from people talking. It was then that an epiphany swallowed me whole the way the mud had swallowed up my leg during my hike.
I hadn't just delivered......I had over-delivered