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Sleeping With One Eye Open in Manu Park

by Jason on August 11, 2012

I was eating dinner my first night at Cocha Cashu when a wave of fear overwhelmed me. I was as deep in the Amazon Jungle as anyone could possibly be. I was two days away from a hospital or civilization if I needed medical attention.

The worst part was that I would be sleeping ALONE in the jungle with no one next to me. My tent was located a few hundred feet away from the few buildings at Cocha Cashu — in the thick of the jungle. The nearest other person to me was almost 100 feet away, whose tent I could not see because of the denseness of the jungle.

And this lonely tent deep in the jungle would be my home for the next 31 days. When I set up the tent, I was worried about how far away it was from everything else. Why couldn’t I have just one other tent that I could see? Why couldn’t I have at least one other person in the tent with me? Why couldn’t I sleep in the bathhouse with WALLS?

And what about the JAGUARS? I was sleeping with no help and no protection with an actual possibility that a jaguar could walk by my tent at any time. We lived in jaguar central. Oh, and pumas too. Oh, and don’t forget the poisonous snakes.

The first night was the worst. I didn’t sleep at ALL. Or the second night or the third. On the third night, I was finally brave enough to walk to my tent alone at the end of the night. I was petrified on that walk. Two hundred feet. Darkness. Thick jungle. Sounds all around. What poisonous snake was lurking? Spiders? What else?

And then I got a cough which kept me up at night for a few more nights. After the first week of not getting eaten, I finally started to settle in. My fear dissipated and turned into a low-level nervousness that stayed with me my duration of the time at Cashu.

I finally got some good sleep after that. But the nervousness was constant. I slept like Bugs Bunny, with one rabbit ear always up and alert at all times for any sound. Every night I would hear new sounds that I could not identify. Some were close. Some were far.

I hated when a leaf would drop and land close to the tent. I hated when a nut or a twig would drop and hit the tarp hanging above my tent. Sometimes ground birds would make noises and scare me. One time I bat collided with my tent, which I was not grateful for. Sometimes I would see big spiders scaling the outside of my tent. Sometimes, loud bugs would buzz by.

What I really hated were the dew drops. Late into the night, dew would inevitably form on the trees above and pool into drops of water, which would soon fall to the ground. These dew drops sounded like footsteps, or animal steps. Light, and just loud enough and constant enough to sound like an animal was walking close by.

Because with the jaguar, you don’t hear it until it’s right beside your tent. That’s why I didn’t like the sound of footsteps. And then to identify a jaguar sound, you wait for the inevitable deep inhaling breaths only a few feet from you separated by a thin nylon joke. The inhaling breaths are the jaguar smelling you to see if you are its prey.

Why do I know these details intimately? Because a jaguar stopped by one of the tents just last year and stayed a few minutes breathing deeply just outside of someone’s tent here. Nothing happened. Nothing has ever happened here with a jaguar, or with the tents at night. But I don’t like that possibility.

Because if a jaguar did come, you would have to remain incredibly quiet. So I practiced, a LOT, when I was in bed at night. I would practice being quiet. I would practice until my breath was light and I couldn’t even hear my own breathing. I would practice not moving too. And I would never roll over at night until first being sure that there was nothing close by.

But what if my stomach growled? I couldn’t control that. I noticed my stomach growling a lot more than I would like, probably because of the incredibly high amount of carbs and rice we ate.

If a jaguar came, I knew I could yell loud enough that others could hear me. They could come and scare it off — hopefully in time. I also read a few books and had good evidence to support that a flashlight comes in handy with jaguars.

Supposedly, you turn the light right on them, and the light scares them off. Because the jaguar thinks it is seeing an eye bigger than its own. I hope that information is spot on. Because this is not the place to be misinformed.

So I practiced my flashlight-turning-on skills. I knew where my flashlight was at all times. I practiced how quickly I could turn it on. I heard that detailed motor skills are the first to go when you are incredibly scared and in panic. A jaguar might do that to me.

Sunrise was my favorite time of the day. Just a bit after 5 am every day. I absolutely LOVED the first sign of light every day. I would wake up a few times every night. And when I did, I would open my eyes to check for light. There wasn’t a day at Cocha Cashu where I wasn’t already awake at 5 am waiting for the sun to rise.

The sound of the sunrise was unmistakeable every morning — just like a rooster and his cock-a-doodle-doo. Every morning without fail the howler monkey would roar its territorial call. The howler monkey’s call actually sounded much fiercer than the jaguar’s roar, but it was the most comforting sound I heard every morning.

I would heave a sigh of relief every morning at sunrise. I was still alive. I hadn’t been eaten. I would go about my day. And when the afternoon came, I couldn’t help but anticipate the evening time again. After dinner, I would spend a few hours in the office with everyone else again anticipating the walk to the tent and the long evening that would await. For 31 days straight. All alone.

Most people look forward to the evening time and going to bed as a time of rest and rejuvenation. Not for me. Not at Cocha Cashu. Those nights felt like me being refined in the fire. As my courage and steely resolve would grow. I feel like I have more hairs on my chest.

For the past month, I have been in a different world. One where there was no worry about money. Heck, there wasn’t even space to worry about money or all the other daily concerns of life. I was too busy worrying about being eaten by a jaguar every night.

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