Thursday, January 23, 2014

The day I saw a monster in the jungle

I stared into the terrifying eyes of a monster in the jungle and lived to tell the tale.

Better than that, I photographed the hell beast.
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The snarling jaws of death
Well that's the short of it, here's the long.

I was hiking through the rain forest outside Ayampe on the Pacific Coast. It was muggy, muddy and a million shades of green. From the palms and peace of the Pacific, the hills rise steeply crowned with impenetrable forests.

Cloud forest in Ayampe, Ecuador
Rambling in the rainforest
Everywhere is noise – fruit falling from trees, monkeys screeching, the song of rare birds, and more mysterious sounds besides. The heat and humidity were stifling. I was on my own and, with the motivating logic of the first character to die in a horror film, I decided to turn off the path and venture deeper into the jungle.

It was quite exciting at first, if I didn't think about the oppressive isolation. I imagined what I'd do if I got lost and darkness fell. How I would build a camp, where I would find water. With my mud-caked boots and beard, I started to fancy myself as a grisly mountain man with eyes of chipped granite. Of course, I was just a stupid Englishman lost in the rainforest.

I came across a curious sign pointing down towards a steep valley. In Spanish it read: “Descanso de las Hadas” (that's 'Fairies Rest' in English.)

'How fun,' I thought. 'I'll take a photo.' So I did.

After I'd taken the photo I saw a pair of eyes staring back at me. I wasn't alone. Spiky heckles, razor claws and a Gorgon's stare. What was I facing?

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Picture the scene, smell the fear
Obviously I didn't stick around to find out. I legged it like Brave, Brave Sir Robin in the Holy Grail when he nearly stood up to the vicious chicken of Bristol.

Back safe and sound in Ayampe and armed with evidence of our monstrous neighbour, I showed the photograph to wiser eyes than my own. Firstly, I showed it to the Colombian who ran walking tours through the forest. Then I showed it to our taciturn handyman Jose. The jury was out, but both agreed I was lucky to escape with my life. Some thought I'd faced a gato de monté, others reasoned I'd made a miraculous escape from the Qarqacha (more about him later).

Of course, I can now settle this debate quite easily. I met a biologist when I was filming at Mashpi Lodge who is an expert on life in the rainforest. He volunteered to identify my monster... So all I need to do now is send him the photo.

...to be continued

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