The rain had woken us up during the night. A sudden torrential downpour and howling rain, punctuated by the sound of cracking trees.
When we woke in the morning, the rain had not stopped. It was not uncommon to have rain here, this time of year saw frequent showers, but nothing yet on this scale.
This didn’t bode too well for us, we were supposed to leave, but this weather I didn’t know if we could.
We decided to grit our teeth and make our way to their centre, what else could we do?
By this time we were six, another two volunteers had arrived. Not only that, but deliveries of building equipment had begun days earlier; a collections of wooden beams, corrugated sheet metal, and bag of cements, slowly grew under a makeshift shelter outside the centre. All these supplies needed to be carried through the jungle for two hours, so it would be some time before they were ready.
The intention was to build a investigation centre where students and scientists alike could stay for periods of time and observe the monkeys in their natural habitats. From what I gathered there was a lot of excitement over this, as it allowed for a level of intimacy with the animals that most researchers could never achieve.
Orlando seemed somewhat indifferent to the scientific implications of this, though it was clear that if it helped him continue to run this reservation and help animals, he would support it completely.
We six made our usual trek from the house, downhill and towards to river where we would cross. The rain pounded down, instantly soaking everyone.
The river, for as long as I had been here, had always been calm. Clear waters and a mild current; every day we bathed in it, washed our clothes in it, even drank and cooked with the water without any problems.
The river I saw now had broken her banks; the stepping stones we used to cross were completely submerged in roaring mud-brown water. Coupled with the sound of rain falling all around, the noise was almost deafening, we need to shout to each other to be heard over the din.
We conferred, debating whether or not to attempt to cross here. After some time, it was decided that we would move along the river and try to find a safer place to cross. None of us were willing to risk ourselves in an attempt just yet.
We walked for what felt like hours, and probably was hours, clambering over slick rocks, up and down muddy banks, testing the depth of the water with branches as we moved along.
One of the monkeys, Jacinta, had joined us, easily leaping from tree to tree hanging over the river. She was taking shelter beneath Anabel’s jacket, only her head poking out, wide eyes watching. Unfortunately, we soon passed a beehive, which Jacinta immediately leapt to and broke, grabbing a chunk of honeycomb. The resulting cloud of bees attacked us and stung Anabel. I panicked, I had never asked if she was allergic to bee stings, and if she were to go into any kind of shock, there was nothing we do to help. My racing heart calmed as it became clear that she was not allergic, though the sting left a large welt and a lot of pain.
The rain had not let up at all, and each of us was beginning to shiver. It seemed the safest place we could ford the river was back by the house.
With a collective groan, we trudged back towards the house.
When we arrived again at our usual river crossing, we were relieved to see Orlando on the far side, waving and beckoning.
Valentine began to cross, using a long thick branch to feel out his steps before he made them. The river bed was rocky and the current was treacherous. It was slow going and at times the river was rushing around his shoulders and it seemed like he might be swept away, but eventually, after much bated breath, he made it to the far side.
Anabel began to make an attempt, at the area where our crossing usually was, but the current brought her to her knees and threatened to pull her downriver. I grabbed her outstretched hand and helped her back to solid land, she was visibly shaken, and told me that as soon as she had lifted her foot to take a step, the strength of the current took her balance almost immediately.
We would go back to the house, this was simply too dangerous. Valentine was across and would help Orlando, staying at the centre for the night if needed. We agreed to meet back in a few hours.
Back at the house we stripped out of our soaking clothes and changed into dry ones. The rest of afternoon was quiet, with everyone rubbing warmth back into their hands or simply going back to sleep to pass the time.
When we met with Valentine and Orlando at the riverbank once more, they threw bags of food across to us, enough to sustain us for the rest of the day. The rain had died down, but the river was still impassable.
The rest of the day was spent talking and eating, spirits had lifted considerably once we had warm food in our bellies.
As we lay our heads down for the night, I wondered what the days to come would hold. We were due to leave soon, and although I had no problem with staying longer if we needed to, I had begun to miss civilization and felt that I had learned all that I could here.
It seems I don’t have the strong will of Orlando.
The following days the weather calmed, but the problem was that no one was coming up to the reservation because the river had become too dangerous to cross. We would need an escort back to Tarapoto, and we planned to follow some of the people delivering building supplies back down to civilization.
So we waited.
It took another four days before we were able to leave. Those four days were listless, the newest volunteers had already taken over our duties, and the weather meant we weren’t able to work outside. Those four days were long, all we could do was wait and eat our three meals a day, heading back to the house when it was plain that no one was coming that day. During those four days I read three books, it had gotten so quiet.
Then, all of a sudden, one morning just after we had eaten our breakfast. The deliveries began again. Our departure was speedy and unceremonious. We didn’t know if any more would come today, so we had to follow these now. We grabbed our backpacks, which we had been keeping at hand for this very situation, and after hugs and goodbyes, we made our way out of the jungle.
We struggled to keep up, and even though the water level had dropped in the river, it was still high and needed extreme care. After two hours of hiking, once again soaked through with sweat and riverwater, we were back in Tarapoto. Back in civilization.
I like the idea of telling people that I spent time in the jungle and came back a changed man, this is somewhat true. I am not suddenly a grizzled survivalist, but I am changed in that I have more respect than ever for what people like Orlando do, I have more understanding of the animals of the jungle and of the obvious personalities of each of the monkeys; Kucho, who was wild and aggressive, Chico, who was friendly and roguish, and my favourite, Tina, who was quiet and shy. I’m sure some may think that this is projecting human traits onto an animal, but having met and spent time with these creatures, I know that each one is a unique individual, no different than a human.
I cherished the quiet and solitude, the disconnection from society and abandonment of social amenities, and the people we spent our time with will always be in our hearts, our having been connected by this shared experience. It was an experience that I will never forget, something that I will visit often in my memories.
And who knows, maybe some day I’ll make my way back through that two hour hike, and spend some time again among the animals, and enjoy the solitude that only a jungle can provide.