A Beacon of Positivity
One of my good friends in the community is a young man named Jorge Segundo. Segundo is a super active hunter, and he loves when I come over for an interview about his hunts because he likes to tell me stories about all of the animals he finds. He also tells me that since I began to do interviews, he stops and counts all of the animals that he sees so that he can give me an accurate number of monkeys, for example. This weekend, when I was making the team to go way up river to take out camera traps and put more in, I decided to put Segundo on the team. Friday morning at sunrise we headed up to Catahuayo, at the headwaters of the Sucusari.
We spent the whole first day boating up river, then finding a few nearby mineral licks. By 6pm I was in bed reading, and it began to rain. It ended up raining hard all night and into the next morning. When I woke up, everything was soaked. I made the work plan with my cup of coffee, huddled in my only dry shirt, and called the team over to the map to have a look. I would be going with Segundo and Ilder for the day, to really far away mineral licks that neither of them knew but I had GPS coordinates for. We headed out while the rain was still falling.
Twenty minutes into the hike, we came to a swamp. It had rained so much the night before that the entire swamp was under water that came up to my waist. The trails were gone, the footing was unstable, and there were really deep stretches of running water mixed in where streams were running. Ilder and Segundo asked which way the mineral lick was, smiled, and jumped right in. I put my backpack on my head, attached my GPS to my shirt collar, and began to direct them through the swamp.
What I thought was a short stretch of water was actually a flood that spanned several kilometers. We spent almost an hour and a half in deep water, swimming across streams and shuffling along muddy passages. Twice we passed too close to wasp nests, and I got stung over 15 times on my face and neck. The first time, Ilder hit the nest, and they swarmed me (walking behind him). When we finally climbed the small ridge out of the water where the furthest, largest mineral lick was located, we were soaked to the bone and freezing. At least we were there, though!
My heart sank again when we looked down in the mineral lick. I had left three cameras there, but the entire mineral lick, including my cameras, was underwater. I wasn’t sure if the camera itself or the data would survive being submerged for an extended period, but the cameras needed to come out. I started taking off my equipment. Segundo ran up and said wait – are you going to jump in there? I said yeah of course, I have to take those cameras out. Segundo says but wait… I want to swim in a mineral lick. You know, for the story. Like a tapir. I laughed out loud because it sounded absurd. After all this walking in cold water and mud, we get to a place with deeper water and deeper mud, and Segundo asks me if he can go so that he can tell the story? HA! I said be my guest. I showed him which three trees the cameras should be tied to and he smiled again and jumped right in. Five minutes later, he was pulling himself out covered in clay, still smiling, holding three dripping cameras. Miraculously, the data cards for all three were dry inside and I gently took them out and put them in a dry bag for the hike back.
We hit the trail again, and the flooding was even worse with the rain still falling. I gestured for Segundo to go ahead of me to clear the trail and he said wait… let Ilder go first. I said what? Why? He looks at me and says I’m afraid of the wasps. I cracked up laughing. I said wait you spend all this time hunting and in the forest, and you’re afraid of getting stung? He said well, no, but it really hurts – okay I’ll go! Still making me smile somehow. Anyway, we headed to the next mineral lick. We arrived at another stream crossing, and Ilder walked into it just like all of the rest, but this time instead of sinking to his waist or shoulders, he just disappeared completely, like this little hole had swallowed him up. He popped up a bit away down the current laughing as his hat bobbed along ahead of him, and climbed back up to say that walking across this one wasn’t going to work. We needed a bridge.
Ilder and Segundo started chopping with their machetes – but on two separate trees. I said wait, why don’t you both just chop the same bridge tree and it’ll be fasted and Segundo smiled and said then we couldn’t have a race and have fun! So I stood in the pouring rain in water up to my waist while my friends had a contest of who could make a bridge faster. Ilder won; Segundo claims it was because he chose a tree with softer wood.
Not two minutes later, we heard a troop of capuchin monkeys approaching. Right away, Segundo stopped to listen and watch. When the monkeys rolled into the trees above us, Segundo was so excited, pointing out the little babies and trying to pick out which of the adults he thought were their parents and giving them little names and personalities. I thought man, no wonder this guy is out hunting so much – he really does just enjoy seeing animals! How cool is that.
In the last mineral lick, my camera was gone. The rope had been chewed, and the camera missing. I said well, it has to be here somewhere. Segundo looked at me and says I’ll find it! He got down on his hands and knees (keep in mind we are still in a swamp) and starts digging in the mud. After 20 minutes, Ilder found it, outside the water, snagged on a tree about ten meters away where something had tried to drag it off. How odd, animals stealing a camera.
When we arrived back at camp, Segundo immediately started recounting his mini adventure to the team that had arrived earlier, ending with showing them the chewed rope and taking guesses on what animal could have stolen the camera. I sat down next to Ellie and she said how was the walk? I smiled and said honestly, the walk was miserable. I’m soaked, cold, and covered in stings. My cameras probably don’t work. But oddly, I think I had fun… starting from when Segundo asked me if he could go swimming in the mineral lick like a tapir.
Thinking back, choosing someone like Segundo to be on the team is essential. He kept my spirits up the whole time unintentionally. He was an absolute beacon of positivity, always trying to be helpful and have fun even though it was a really rough day. I still think he’s a little bit crazy, but he’s definitely a good friend to have.