Welcome to the Jungle - Chapter 4

Read Chapters 1, 2, and 3

We walked along mostly in silence, trying not to rush or panic but wanting desperately to reach the end of the tarmac where someone else would know what to do.

"It's really burning now," Lana remarked, her words filled with fear as she limped down the road flanked by Vela and me.

We had stayed late in town, finishing our egg sandwiches and sodas without regard for sunset. The small town and friendly dinner conversation temporarily squelched my homesickness and with the sun down, my scorched legs found some relief. I was in no hurry to return to our darkened camp where I knew I would sleep restlessly, jumping at every nearby noise.

It was a couple miles back to camp - through town, across a stream, down the hilly dirt road, and to the end of the runway. Unprepared for a dark trek back, the only light in our company rested in my hands - waving back and forth in our immediate path to cover all three sets of open-toed shoes equally. We talked and laughed and learned more about each other. Lana and Vela were both from Germany and had already been in Costa Rica for some time. The turtle project was Lana's last stop and she was anxious to head back home tomorrow. I, on the other hand, had just arrived and was unsure I could convince myself to stay the entire intended four weeks.

I had chosen this trip under the pretense that it was a lifelong dream - to see the rainforest, work with sea turtles, and travel alone. Most everyone I told expressed excitement, but few really understood why I was going or why I would stay after my airport breakdown along the way.

As with most momentous breaks from normal life, I was escaping. I needed to leave my obvious path of school to job to adulthood. I needed to test myself, to torture myself. I needed to live and adventure and check this off my bucket list before it was all too late.

----

"Ow!" Lana exclaimed, grabbing her foot.

I circled back around with my little headlamp, illuminating her foot and searching for a source of the pain. We scanned the ground, scoured the grey dirt littered with leaves and inspected Lana's foot. Nothing.

Maybe it was just a stick, I thought. Maybe she stepped on a stick and it jabbed her. Maybe she would be fine.

But, within moments her pain increased, spreading through her foot and abolishing our doubts about snakes and scorpions. I knew the right thing to do was to keep her immobile and send one for us for help, but there was only one light and we had been warned not to be outside of camp alone at night. We would all have to keep walking.

Except for the occasional update from Lana, no one spoke as we drove forward, one footstep at a time toward safety.

The pain radiated from her foot - traveling up her ankle, into her calf, and before we were back to camp, to her thigh. We balanced between keeping her heart rate low and moving as quickly as possible and when we finally stumbled into camp, she collapsed onto the table.

A couple locals hurriedly inspected Lana's foot and discussed the possibilities. I racked my mind for any high school Spanish I could access and then heard, definitively, serpiente.

They loaded Lana into a jeep, which would take her to a boat, up the river, to another jeep, and then to the hospital. As I watched them lift her into the car, terrified and in pain, the knot in my throat doubled - it threatened to push upward, pry open my mouth, and thrust into the universe all the anger and fear and grief I had brought with me to Costa Rica - all the screams I had kept inside.

----

When Chris died, I was in an airport hotel room in Salt Lake City waiting out the night until the next flight home arrived. We had just barely missed our flight in a long string of flights home from Germany and I was nervous about getting back home. After years of brooding over our bad relationship, bad breakup, and bad decisions following, Chris had reached out with a long and thoughtful letter addressed to my entire family.

We agreed to meet and rekindle what we could of the kind of bond you only create with someone who has seen the worst parts of you - the parts that scream and manipulate and cheat and lie, the parts that you fear make you unlovable.

We would meet and talk and find out if there was any salvageable friendship between two people that meant so much to each other.

We would meet after I got home from Germany.