Carnival Y Casa Kiwi
Jaguar in the Jungle
We heard them before we saw them. Alerted by a slight rustle we froze while we peered into the direction of the noise. The rustle erupted into a racket of screeches and movement throughout the canopy. The trail we were hiking was an old four-wheel drive route up to a radio tower that used to serve as a surveillance base for the US Drug Enforcement Agency. It was a definite path wide enough in most places for a vehicle, but was surrounded by dense jungle that never let you forget you were the intruder in this diverse web of wild. We struggled to gain a vantage point through the kaleidoscope of green and eventually caught sight of the monkeys giving a free circus show. Most likely White-faced Capuchin's, they seemed just as interested to watch us looking star-struck through the trees. Adam and I spent a good fifteen minutes without talking to each other, admiring the way the monkeys moved with ease and fearlessness through a thicket filled with things that would make our hair stand on end. As our friends played Tarzan deeper into the jungle, jealousy of their agility passed and we got back to the task at hand: climbing the 1235m Cerro Capiro.
Adam had only been working at the hostel for a week before I arrived and hadn't had much time to do much exploring around Trujillo. Luckily since I was the only backpacker staying at the time, Chaz, the owner of the hostel, let us go off and explore like we had been planning for the last few days. We left early in the morning after packing a couple of sandwiches and bags of water (water comes in small plastic bags in Honduras, cheap and brilliant). Already having built up a sweat within the first few minutes of the hike we prepared ourselves for a long, hot and humid day. But the sight of monkeys within the first half an hour of had peaked our excitement levels and expectations.
An umbrella of palms provided shade from the intense sun as we walked up the gradual slope, the humidity falling with each forward footprint. Small brown snakes slithered for safety as radiant butterflies painted in neon reds and blues fluttered past. Strange spiders hopped along the ground while others posed, frozen in their webs. Scale models of ancient pyramids seemed to grow right out of the earth as thousands of ants hauled bits of leaves back to their empire. Bizarre insects as large as my hand perched on wood with color schemes impossible to describe. The sky was teeming with creatures with wings; from the smallest gnat to the lurking vultures there never seemed to be a moment a new creation wasn't buzzing past. Bees, flies, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds all in costumes putting the best Halloween party to shame. Small woodpeckers with red mohawks, blue birds, red birds, brown birds, toucans with their bright yellow beaks awkwardly attempting flight, all filled the sky.
Although Adam and I had already became good friends and had a lot in common, there wasn't very much conversation between us. I can only speak for myself but it was as if I was in another world. Experiencing the diversity of life in the jungle mesmerized my senses and imagination. This lasted up until the point my body started telling me I needed to "discharge some waste". It was about that same time Adam's foot started swelling pretty badly from a scorpion bite he suffered a couple days prior. He said he was done and since he would continue working here for the next 6 months he could climb to the top later. He told me to go ahead and I took this as a great chance to find a place to dookie in peace. For awhile I had been looking for any kind of privacy but the thickness of the jungle left me with little options and anytime I found a suitable place it seemed to be the local hangout for a handful of critters. Also the scene from City Slickers kept creeping into my mind after seeing the snakes crawling around. We hadn't seen any that were poisonous yet, but I wasn't about to test how strong my relationship was with Adam!
As I set off alone up the mountain, the grumblings in my stomach got worse by the second. I quickened my pace and became unaware of my surroundings, not noticing the flora and fauna anymore. I just frantically scanned the side of the path for a place to poop. Eventually bodily needs overcame self-consciousness and I plopped down in the middle of the path and relieved myself. Luckily we hadn't seen a soul all day, and I felt pretty confident I wouldn't be seen by anyone. I ended up using all of my supply of emergency toilet paper (see travel tip #16) as I had no time to find suitable leaves to wipe with, or sufficient water. After what could have been a very embarrassing situation if I was spotted, I felt like a brand new man. I continued on my way enjoying the different insects and now occasional views of the Honduran coast below.
As I resumed my old ways of enjoying the wildlife I spotted a dragonfly that looked like something out of a science-fiction film. As he flew effortlessly down my path I thought it strange how it also reminded me of a bi-plane. Having four wings on a massive body I was captivated by this stunning aqua-blue creature. As I was having a nerdy debate in my mind whether he reminded me more of a bi-plane or something from Star Wars a burst of black exploded from the jungle directly behind the dragonfly. My mind froze, heart skipped a beat, and cigarette fell from my hand as I immediately had three thoughts cross my mind within a split second. With all the warnings and stories from Chaz about people getting robbed up here, I thought it was a man dressed in black about to rob me. I immediately tossed that aside and thought 'just another monkey' until at the last part of that moment where time stood still I recognized the cat-like features. As it sprung from his resting spot and landed on the next branch without making a noise I immediately recognized the silky smooth coat and graceful features of the jaguar. One more leap and it was on the ground, again without the slightest sound. This is what amazed me most, how something so large and powerful could be completely stealth. While you can hear monkeys well before you can see them, this gigantic cat was less than 10 meters away and I would have had absolutely no clue if I hadn't been watching the flight path of that dragonfly.
As I stood in awe and tried to catch my breath and another glimpse of the big cat, I felt like a cartoon character who just saw a beautiful significant other. I could have sworn my heart was beating a foot out of my chest. It wasn't necessarily in fear, although I was very glad he went the other way, George. It was more an adrenaline rush and knowing how lucky I just was. I have always heard how rare it is to spot a jaguar especially during the day and now I think I now why. Most people may be standing right under one and never even realize it.
The rest of the hike up the hill I became extremely jumpy. Every little lizard that rustled in the bushes made my heart skip another beat and all the sudden I felt very small all by myself. Reaching the summit it became even more eerie as large chickens clucking sounded like people whispering. This was probably just my imagination although the place seemed deserted I was just waiting for someone to pop out and demand my backpack or something. The views were amazing of the coast and of other mountains in the distance but I didn't stick around too long. My heart was still out of control and the place just was too eerie at the time for me to stay. I headed back down, still jumping at every different sound, and met back up with Adam. After telling him the story and having some company I started to calm down and the trip down went extremely fast and being noon, most of the wildlife seemed to head for the shade, although the flying things still kept us company.
Although I lost my sim card with all the pictures and video of the hike (see Travel Tip #17) it was a great hike and an experience I'll never forget. We made it back safely without seeing a sign of anyone else the whole day, besides Adam getting stung by a bee we arrived back at Casa Kiwi without a scratch and luckily no one had to "suck anyone's ass"! If you've never seen City Slickers, I highly recommend this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKTHOFkYA64&playnext=1&list=PL5269DE14C722F82C