“I can’t see nothing!!” Our guide wails forlornly over the 15hp engine, it stutters suspiciously, not catching the water in a smooth whir. The night has settled in thickly around us and the lush tropical rainforest has come even more alive in the dark. You can hear it breathing heavily around us, grasping at us with vines and branches that are nearly impossible to duck in the dense night. I can hear the water, moving past us, gurgling quietly to itself as it goes about its business. Something splashes somewhere nearby.
“Left! Left!” Jose shouts direction to Pajarito in Spanish. He leans forward trying to penetrate the darkness, guided only by the dim light from Matt’s headlamp. The guide’s flashlights have run out of batteries and Jose can see maybe two feet in front of us. The air is cool and heavy with moisture and smells sweet and fresh and rotten all at once. You can smell all of the life and the death in the forest with one deep breath.
“DONDE?! DONDE?!” Pajarito asks, WHERE?! WHERE!? not hearing Jose’s instructions. “Oh boy.” He inexplicably guns the engine forward. “Pay attention! Pay attention!” Pajarito yells at us, scolding and warning us in the same breath.
“SOFTLY! SOFTLY! NO! NO! NO!” Jose shouts a string of curse words, dissolving into laughter as he dives down, tucking his lean frame into the front of the impossibly long blue canoe. The tree seems to swoop down on us and we drop, hiding in the shallow hollow of the boat. Matt covers my head as limbs crash into the wooden backs of our seat, knocking them over and raining leaves, branches and spiders down in the boat. The engine screams and dies. Jose’s phone begins playing a latin tune in the sudden silence.
“What is that crazy music?!” Pajarito sounds desperate, his cursing is losing its angry edge and fading into a sad, fearful rhythm as he struggles to free the engine from a tangle of roots. I start giggling at the absurdity of our situation and the very real fact that we could easily have taken a wrong turn. I wait until Jose pushes us out of the tree with his paddle to sit up again, stamping my feet as a spider scampers across my foot. I squint nervously into the bottom of the boat trying to see what else has fallen in, hiding my face in the crook of my arm. I can’t quite stifle my laughter and I feel Matt shushing me.
“I can’t see nothing!” We crash from bank to bank as Jose shouts unheard directions, making our way back down stream and hopefully to the lodge. We’ve just spent over an hour shining our flashlights into the undergrowth at the edge of river, looking for the red shine of a Caiman’s eye. We noticed the flashlights dimming but no one was prepared for all four of the lights to run completely out of batteries.
After two long hours, the green light of the lodge appears around a corner and Pajarito and Jose cheer in relief. My giggles shift subtly, we won’t die yet but our time in the Amazon isn’t over.
“Oh boy.” He draws out the word, sounding like a deflating balloon. “We almost ran out of gasoline. We only have five more minutes and then we are done.” He shakily ties up the boat as Jose runs his hand through his hair. It’s cut into a Mohawk style, with the center strip lying down elegantly in soft black curls. He throws his head back and laughs, his dark eyes sparkling as he makes fun of Pajarito in Spanish.
“I don’t know what happened. I am unlucky tonight.” Pajarito leans forward with his hands on his knees. He looks up at us, uncharacteristically shaken. I doubt it is luck that caused us to forget spare batteries or flashlights and yet…. I think back on the past few days. We might be cursed.5