April Fools' Day
I asked around about any such equivalent in Peru and was met with blank stares or incredulous questions from the staff. Apparently, reserving a day of the year to play pranks on each other is a waste of Peruvian time. I still don’t know how the day originated but it turned out to rise to the occasion very aptly by the end.
We rose at 4:45am, while it was still quite dark out. A night-jar called plaintively as we drowsily dressed to see the girls off. They were already in the lab, about to embark on an adventure of their own. They were going to take the boat down and stay out the strike in Puerto. They would be stocking up on food for a week and staying glued to their TVs and computer screens for the duration of the strike. In their hotel, they’d be safe from any sort of danger…some towns just have these refuges and I’m convinced they have picked one such haven.
Through the day Gideon and I worked on packing up our stuff and cleaning the lab. We took a moment’s respite from it all and managed to update our blog, our Facebook page, and even upload a video of Chiky enjoying a bug, which would no doubt catch people’s attention. Even old hands like ourselves are drawn in by some macabre instinct and literally can’t tear our eyes from the spectacle of yet another bug going into that infinitely flexible tummy of his.
Later in the afternoon came the real move – the big things were carefully transported into the jungle to some secret locations where they will hopefully remain dry and ant-free. I’m more worried about the ants than the rain, really. Ants can sneak into places that water just will not bother to go. As Gideon hoisted a heavy duffel onto my back I considered that fact that a certain amount of pain is inevitable, in all lives, but sometimes I wonder why I choose to do the things I do? Already, I had been bitten by two army ants whose heads remained attached to me, mandibles still digging in, even after their bodies had been torn off. Now here I was, struggling to breathe with the weight on my back severely constricting my lung capacity and slowly rendering my arms numb. “There’ll be bruises to show for this one,” I thought darkly to myself, and sure enough there were.
The cool evening breeze was a welcome change from the heat of the day. All our things safely stored away, and Chiky sated with a cornucopia of bugs, we were finally free to take a break. We returned to the comedor and I decided to see if Apple’s website would load – news of the iPad had finally reached me, two days before it’s launch. While I was salivating over Steve Job’s latest magical display we were interrupted by a well-timed phone call on skype from Melissa, Gideon’s soon to be sister-in-law (!!) for those of you who don’t know here. It was a fun phone call, and in her typical way, Melissa filled us in on more news than most people send us in emails!
We were discussing some particularly riveting feature of the upcoming wedding when a little chat window began blinking on my screen. Upon checking it, I discovered a message from Erin, one of our field assistants now safely ensconced in her hotel room in town.
“Is everything alright at CICRA?” said the message.
Now, normally I would be inclined to laugh this sort of thing off… “Of course it is! “ I wuld jauntily reply, “Why else would I be online chatting?”, or something to that effect. But this time I couldn’t really ignore the following sentence:
“Sarah says that Adrian just told her that he just heard some noise in the jungle!”
Our Director Adrian, an avid bat taxonomist and naturalist, is glued to his computer these days to monitor the goings on in town. He remains preoccupied with ensuring that we have enough to eat here, that our boats are safe and that no one does anything daft that might put us all in danger. Admirable pursuits, I’ve always felt, but those, as it turns out, apt to get one into a spot of trouble now and then.
It being pitch dark outside, upon receipt of this cryptic message, I grabbed my flashlight from the lab and made my excuses to Melissa who was terribly gracious about it all. I checked with the others in the kitchen and was told that Adrian was in his cabin. Keeping my eyes on the patch of light in front of me, I walked quickly but carefully over to his cabin, at the far end of the camp, overlooking the Madre de Dios River. In fact, so keen was I to avoid stepping on snakes, spiders or scorpions (why, they all begin with an ‘s’!) that I didn’t notice that his lights weren’t on until I was almost at his doorstep.
By this point, my already over-stimulated imagination was gearing up. I tend to lose control of it while walking in the dark any way, let alone walking in the dark in the Amazon to investigate if someone who had just heard suspicious noises in the surrounding jungle was alright.
Having no inclinations to join that group of blondes that always do the wrong thing in horror movies, I (quite sensibly) turned tail and ran back to lab. There, I pried Gideon loose from his conversation with the (still) gracious Melissa and we both went back to his cabin, stumbling nervously in the light of a single headlamp.
“We need a better light,” muttered Gideon, manfully leading the way.
He didn’t have to convince me, stumbling along in the dark as I was behind him. In any case, the matter at hand being pressing we continued to stumble along till we fetched up outside his cabin.
“Adrian?” I called, a distinct quiver in my voice.
“ADRIAN!” bellowed Gideon from behind me, nearly making me yelp in fright.
Yet… wait! What was that noise? A distinct creaking, like someone moving around in the cabin, wafted over towards us.
“Did you hear that?”
“Ye-es, there’s someone in the cabin!”
“Goddamit we need a better light!”
“And more people!!”
With that, I found myself running back to the lab for the second time that night.
Quite out of breath, we reached there and tumbled into the kitchen, blabbering the story from the beginning in terrible Spanish. I’mnot sure what on earth the staff thought was going on, but to their credit, they only laughed at us for about 5 minutes. Eventually, Marco leapt up and grabbed his flashlight and began rooting around for batteries.
“Great,” muttered Gid, “they sure are prepared for miners!”
At this point, noticing the ruckus in the kitchen and not wanting to be left out, Emeterio and David made an appearance. The whole story was repeated to them by some better Spanish-speakers to which they nonchalantly replied that Adrian was down at the port.
“I don’t know… something about a boat?” they replied.
Marco, now having been energized by our general demeanour of all-out panic, rushed out the door with us. We jogged over to the stairs and Gideon left us for a moment to grab a better light from our cabin, which stands right at the head of the stairs. Marco was bellowing Adrian’s name off the embankment to which he was, unsurprisingly, for it is 50 m above the river level, not receiving any replies whatsoever. Having procured the light we raced down the stairs.
“This is really stupid you know. Why would he be down the stairs in the dark when everyone is up here?” puzzled Gid.
“I know… what if he’s hurt and in his cabin? We should have checked the cabin first” I replied, gasping for air and trying not to fall.
Having covered quite a distance already, neither of us was inclined to race up the stairs again so we followed Marco, a slowly fading glow in the distance. At 22, he’s undoubtedly the fittest and least worried of all the staff, the two possibly being connected(?)
We reached the bottom and took the last flat bit at a run. Still no sign of Adrian. Marco shone the powerful beam of his flashlight across the buildings ahead of us, revealing the dark and shuttered cabins of the motoristas, or the boat drivers. Ahead of us was the small platform that stored all our gear, and at the far end of the path, the silent and dark river gushed by.
Suddenly, from over the side of the river, a small headlamp came bobbing up, attached to the unperturbed person of Adrian.
We charged over, our words running ahead of us… how worried we were! The damned messages from Puerto! Why was he down there alone? How come no one knew why?
As it turns out, he had indeed heard a noise – that of a boat stopping at our port, and he had asked the others in the comedor if they heard it too. No one had, and so he told them that he was going down to check it out, a rather unadvisable thing to do alone in my opinion. Once there, he’d noticed all our boats piled up on the bank due to a recent drop in river levels and was attempting to push them back in the river when we arrived.
Feeling a little silly all around, we climbed back up the stairs, trying to laugh the whole, now ridiculous, incident off. We were truly out of breath at the top and our computers contained a flurry of emails from Puerto asking if everything was alright, because of course the first thing we’d do in an emergency is reply to email! Anyway, a better system of communication has now been set in place, eliminating the need for panicky exploration after dark at least.
The 1st of April turns out to have its own flavour in Peru.