Jean saving us

It was too hot to bring sleeping bags, we thought we’d just wrap ourselves in a cloth and sleep on a woven mat. What we didn’t know was, the ground was swarming with small roaches. When you shone a flashlight on the ground at night, it was as if you were looking inside a colony you’d normally only see on a nature show. Thousands, all running. But after hours of having to lift our legs twelve inches up with each step, we were exhausted and fighting to keep our eyes open. So we just lay down. I tried wrapping myself in the cloth, but the sweat was soaking everything and it was hard to breathe. The humidity was unbearable. The thought of roaches running up your nose or in your ears wasn’t bearable either. So we tried to stuff things in and cover as many orifices as possible and just let them run over the rest of us. I got in a tight fetal position to keep them out of you know where. That thought was just too creepy and I had to put it out of my mind. And then, unbelievably, we fell asleep. For almost seven hours. The chickens pecking around us eating the roaches woke us up in the morning. It’s amazing what you can withstand when you have no choice. And how low you can go.

When we got to the river we needed to cross, the dugout canoe we were told would be there was tied up on the other side. Jean ripped off his clothes, dove in nude, and swam back pulling the rope of the boat with one hand, his knife clenched in his teeth! I fell off a slippery log trying to cross another river so I don’t have the photo I took of him. “The camera, the camera!” I heard Jean yelling as I struggled to get out. But the film was destroyed. It was the end of a roll of thirty-six and the pictures on it were of a place I already knew I’d never be again.

I was covered in dried caked mud when we got near the Lacandon camp and I told Jean to go on ahead. I had to strip and wash in the river before seeing anyone. There wasn’t a square foot in the jungle that wasn’t buzzing with swarms of mosquitoes; the surface of the water may have been even worse. I held my breath submerged for as long as I could, enjoying the escape from them, even if only for moments. Totally isolated, I went under again and again. Did I ever once think an animal (jaguar) might come for a drink; a poisonous water snake could be in the river? Never.

Lacandon Indian

I hated the Lacandon Indians. Couldn’t stand them. So many anthropologists had come to study them, they just sat on their behinds waiting for the next group to bring them stuff. Lazy and dirty. Filthy actually. I come from a “soap and water is cheap” background and didn’t have much tolerance. We slept in hammocks, but the roaches that got bored running through the piles of unwashed pots liked to chase each other along the ropes that held up the hammocks. When I found out the Indians killed an armadillo for dinner in celebration of our arrival I wanted to cry. I feel privileged when I see wildlife and have no desire to stuff it into my mouth. On the other hand, Jean was enthralled by the people. He wouldn’t have dared to say he enjoyed the armadillo, but he’d dreamed of getting to this place for so long he wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. We were not happy with each other when we left and the trip back was not good.