The trail was a quarter foot deep in the ground and roughly worn where it slanted up, we went over and down the side of the hill, that looked like an over weeded irrigation ditch, we climbed down it slowly, a short but steep hill, and halfway along on a patch of open ground we sat there with our backs against the now, two hilltops, and tall grass all about us, and bushes, and a few small trees. It was very green and warm country, with small hills, embankments, jungle all about: below the rain forest, at its edge, extending outward, was a thick grassy, bushy plateau, flatten landscape, where our lodge resided some five-hundred yards beyond the jungle’s edge: the lodge itself was enmeshed into a jungle like setting.
The lodge sat on a cut of land, alongside a tributary that ran- out into the Amazon River, with a few other water courses.
Avelino was jealous of no one at the lodge, as far as guides go. He simply knew he was better than all of them; more of a hunter, a faster tracker, and guide, a no-nonsense person, didn’t drink or smoke, and he had class in almost everything he did, his one fault, if you can call it that, was, he nearly ever smiled. If anyone was jealous it was perhaps his assistants: Jose and Manuel (who managed the boat trips usually), if not possibly Captain Marcelo (the lodge’s only licensed pilot on the river). It seemed as if or appeared to be, Avelino took command of the show.
This day had almost come to an end, evening was descending all around us; Avelino, myself and Rosa, in the thick of the jungle, had walked about three miles from the canopy, and were a mile from the local tribal village, we had visited in the morning. We had left the canopy area too late to get back to the lodge before twilight-and the trail was becoming hard to see. Avelino said, “This country is like my backyard, I know it like the back of my hands, don’t worry, we only got a little ways to go!”
Even in spite of the puma following us, more like stalking, about one-hundred years to our left side, in the deep, perhaps closer now, it was hard to see.
If it was still daylight, and if you looked away from the jungle, and the hill side, this hilly slope, with its long gradation, of high and low foliage, we were headed toward flattened land, down below us, grass burnt yellow and brown, cut out in sections by our lodge, so one could see what might be lurking, and across this long sweep, lead right to the lodge’s wooden walkway, and chain of cabins, which lead to the main lodge.
We all sat here, while I got my strength, and energy back, and heart beat reversed back to normal, and watched the lights go on, one by one, in the lodge, far-off in the distance.
Avelino was looking carefully for the brown, sleek puma, squatting on his heels to see movement in the tall grass, behind a few bushes. We were all weaponless. There was a warm breeze that appeared to come from the direction of the tributary; it blew the tall grass around some, on the hillside. There were many small pale to gray clouds overhead, and there were no trees to speak of, more like tall hedge plants, and shrub, on and round this spot; here the foliaged was so thick-so it seemed-you could almost walk on top of it.
For a quarter of an hour we did not see anything. Then with Avelino’s long white poking stick, as we were about ready to make our descend down the rest of the hill, then to the edge of the rain forest, across the flattened land, and cut grass sectioned off by the lodge, I saw something moving over the shoulder of Avelino, towards us. I was sweating so badly, I had to wipe my glasses clear. A flash, I witnessed a reddish-brown-colored something, lighted by the moon, moving slowly, but with quick jerking like motions though the grass, it didn’t seem to me it was the puma though, too near to the ground.
The sky was now filled with dark shadows, and we fought to make each step in the tall grass, pushing head-first, fighting and pushing the grass and bushes to our sides, while we watched for the puma, and at the lights of the lodge.
It was near inky dark now, except for the stars, and the moon, and the lodge’s lights, and we were close to the edge of the rainforest-think, I was thinking, the puma had failed its mission.
Edging down a little further my tennis shoes ruined, feeling roots and rocks and holes under them. I was excited with this night because we had seen the puma, but now it had put me on guard.
The closer we got to the lodge, I could taste the aroma of coffee on my tongue and thought about eating a breakfast, not a dinner; still my heart pounding but now on the flattened land, somehow I felt safer but not Avelino.
“Everyone stay close to one another,” he said, as if the excitement was about to start.
Avelino pointed back towards the edge of the rainforest, watching where he was pointing, his white stick in his right hand, to the left of the stick was a deep gulch, gap in the landscape, and then an open patch of forest, “That is where he is;” said Avelino, and as we walked towards the lodge, now a shadow and movement followed in the midst of us, moving very quickly, and pushing some of the bushes aside-we could all hear that, it was now too dark to really see anything with any kind of valid discernment, but with my puerperal vision and some discrimination I could make out, flashes with bulk movement surrounding us, and we all transverse as we walked, we did not see the puma, but we could hear him, and those flashes I presume were him, unless there was another creature among us.
We could no longer hear birds overhead, nor saw them flying, but that was all. I stepped in some dung, I could smell it on my shoes, but we saw nothing, not even the green, and no sounds of monkey’s; the lodge and its perimeter was jungle, not likened to the flatten land we were now on, and we were still a hundred and fifty yards from the wooden walkway that was attached to the cabins, and main lodge.
I was thinking, maybe the puma had gone back to the main part of the jungle-its home, I knew they were a stalk and ambush predator, and could jump some forty feet, but inside the jungle was cooler, perhaps it wanted to get out of this heat. But that was my ignorance speaking, it was hungry.
I was beginning to feel brave again, and it was nice to be able to walk in an easy stroll, I mean, simply walk, not worried about the puma. Rosa strolled very close to me. Avelino had his white stick resting on his shoulder. And the moon overhead was hot, hot enough to make me sweat, as if its light was burning with the breeze.
Avelino motioned to us two, to stop, in front of us was the puma. It was near eight feet long, brownish coat, perhaps close to 150 to 160 pounds, it wasn’t ambushing now I told myself, it was confronting. But what did I see back on the slope, it was reddish-brown?
Avelino had his eyes staring at the cat’s movements, his stick in front of him waving it, it seemed worthless to do it, but he did it nonetheless. He grinned.
Usually puma’s were shy of humans, so I was told, but I don’t believe that anymore, it was a bunch of hogwash, and we were valuable meat, and the beast was hungry. In a way it seemed natural for it to be here, no longer was it a mystery, nothing odd or unseemly in the pacing of the beast, in a half-circle, or in a man carrying a white stick.
The puma gave a great leap, a jump-Avelino shot his stick upward, the cat was several yards from us, he gave a second jump then ran off fast.
“Avelino,” I told him, “What.”
Lying on its side was a large reddish-brown rodent; it looked like an oversized guinea pig, perhaps two feet in length, and forty-five pounds, a rat, a giant rat.
We all stood there a moment, as casual observers, it was a capybara, they grow much larger, and this was perhaps half its size. I think I was more amazed than in shock. To all appearances, he was dead, and the cat had taken what it considered, the least resistant, meaty meal, thank goodness.
I could feel my heart beating as if I wanted to push it back into place-my chest felt hot against my fingers, watching the cat ripping at the beast-rodent as if to show off, “Let’s hurry out of here,” said Avelino.
At the lodge I had scars on my forearms from all the bushes I had to push out of my way; some even on my forehead, some folks asking if I had fallen off the canopy as a bad joke. I had one good, near severe welt on the bottom of my foot, a few broken toenails, holes in my socks, scratched shoulders, torn shirt.
In the morning we all went out to look at the carcass of the giant rodent, Avelino to burying its remains, if there were any. Not sure why I wanted to go along, perhaps to see what the cat had done, could do, does when he’s hungry. The cat had eaten and tore out the rodent’s liver, kidneys as if with a knife, skillfully the cat had slit open the stomach and turned it inside, emptied it out into the grass, must have shook the rat-beast some, like a tree, to have eaten other delicacies in it, I figured, the paws of the cat were large I remember, good for sweeping out the inners.
“You folks go on back to the lodge, and get ready for Jose and Manuel to take you on a boat trip, I’ll get to burying this rodent, and be along later,” said Avelino, without a smile, just a plain old grin. I was completely happy the ordeal was over.magic mushroom chocolate bars