I wasn’t nervous about the night hike until Romero spotted a snake.
The main problem with this is that he saw the snake before we even left on the hike. It was on the path leading to the bathroom, yet another clue that I should under no circumstances use the bathroom in the dark.
“Viper,” he said, only he said a different word because it was in Spanish but we had a look in his Amazon snakes photo encyclopedia and it said ‘viper.’
Before my heart could even skip a beat, Romero was brandishing his machete and with one swift chop, broke the snake’s neck.
I was stunned. It wasn’t exactly the ‘live and let live’ mantra that I thought jungle guides were supposed to showcase. But then Romero explained that these snakes could be deadly, especially to children, and damned if he was going to let his seven-year-old daughter, Evelyn, be bitten.
I was a tiny bit relieved anyway, and reminded myself to always check my rubber boots before putting them on.
“Vamos,” Romero said, wiping snake blood off his machete. Let’s go.
What. The. Heck.
Romero led the way with his machete and a flashlight, followed closely by Evelyn, who carried a small wooden sword. I was right behind her, with nothing but my wits. Jared brought up the rear with another flashlight. Despite the two flashlights, the jungle remained dark, with the light from the stars blocked by the thick canopy.
Romero and Evelyn strutted confidently into the trees. I trailed them tentatively, trying to stay in the beam of Jared’s flashlight. After one too many dangling leaves brushed my head, I pulled up my hood and wished once again that I could apparate.
My thoughts were clear: This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done. I don’t care what the nocturnal animals get up to. That’s their business. Why am I here? Seriously, why?
A few minutes later, Evelyn handed me the wooden sword, sensing that I needed it more than she did.
Romero stopped abruptly and told us to turn out all the lights. We stood in the darkness, tiny human pinpoints listening to the jungle breathe around us. I felt Evelyn’s little hand slip into mine and knew that she was offering me comfort, not seeking it.
I admit it. Holding the hand of a seven-year-old jungle princess did make me feel better about being in the middle of the vast blackness.
Nothing happened, except for my fear nearly consuming me whole.
As we walked, I tried not to think about the snake. I tried so hard not to think about the snake that I stepped over a log and directly into a hole in the ground.
Snakehole! My brain screamed. This is how I die!
My leg was in the hole all the way up to the top of my knee-high boot.
“Are you okay?” Jared asked.
“I think there are termites in my boot,” I said.
There were no termites in my boot.
Romero showed us what I can only describe as a glowing fungus. I took a picture and pretended to be impressed, but really – it was a glowing fungus. Hardly the monkeys and sloth bears we’d been hoping for. (That was a joke. I was totally not hoping to run into a sloth bear.)
After half an hour of defying death in the terrifying jungle, the canopy thinned and familiar outlines started to take shape in the distance. It was the camp! Our building! The kitchen area! Were were almost safe!
I tripped over a branch and tumbled to the ground, grabbing Evelyn’s boot and taking her down with me. Let’s say that again: I took down a seven-year-old-girl. The shock was too much and she started to cry.
Her father whisked her away to console her, and I followed Jared’s light beam back to our room, hanging my head in shame.
“I can’t believe you took down a little girl,” Jared said.
I, meanwhile, couldn’t believe I’d just done a night hike. That practically made me invincible!
I was invincible all the way up until 2AM, when I had to pee. Too afraid to go down to the toilets, I shook my boots out vigorously, making sure to keep them at arm’s length. Then I crouched at the edge of the deck and aimed for the grass below while managing to leave a small puddle on the wood.
In the morning, the puddle was still there. I noticed Jared looking at it.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
Some things are best left to the imagination.