June 2013, the Knops and Castillos travelled to Bolivia for cousin Dina’s wedding.
During that trip, we got to visit an eco-lodge on the Amazon River. To get there, we had to float on panga boats five hours up-current. At some point, we broke from boating, landing on some sandy bank, for lunch. I had been holding it for the last two hours so, holding my knees together, I went scuttling off to try to find some hidden patch of ground that was a) wide enough that I could awkwardly squat without touching any plants because who knows what plants or bugs-on-plants are capable of killing/maiming/implanting-in me in the Amazon and b) far enough away from the other people to not put on a memorable show.
I was hiking along for quite a while because those two criteria were harder to find than I thought. Suddenly, I came across:
That’s a pretty fresh print, too; notice that the sand is still pretty wet and the print isn’t smudged or filled in with leaves, or implanting-bugs, or whatever grows in the Amazon jungle yet to terrify me.
And big… probably about 4 inches across (accounting for its two prints-front paw/back paw). Not the hugest cat but I’m sure still very toothy.
Weighing my non-options, I opt to scurry back to the boat. I figured I’d rather wet myself (though that was sort of moot at this point) than get mauled by a jaguar. Fighting a hungry, angry jaguar with my pants around my ankles would be the funniest home video of all time but since it would be me starring in it, not funny in a ha-ha kind of way.
The air was so wet and heavy as I was sprinting back to the boat and my heart was pounding like the heavy paw-falls of a sprinting jaguar that I still don’t know if I was wet from the air or my pouring sweat. I’m sure I couldn’t have peed-and-run because I’m too much of a fucking lady for that kind of uncouth shit.
The guides casually, and far too dismissively in my opinion, said the jaguar I’ll call, “Speckle”, was probably not around anymore. Of course, they’re right but I was convinced this particular jaguar wanted to know me. Probably just to snuggle, I’m sure. They are nocturnal like all cats but that widely-known fact, along with the urge to pee, left my consciousness the second that paw print came into view.
Speckle and his brethren remained mysteriously stalky and out-of-site, like fuzzy Colonel Kurtzes, for the remainder of our stay in the Amazon jungle. Thank God.
We did see other, less overtly-dangerous animals, though. Zoo-worthy animals like capybaras, the giant nerd rodents of the jungle. Capybaras aren’t scary and their most frightening defense is to poop as they run away.
And there are plenty of wild, scrambling, horny monkeys who rain poop and AIDS from the trees that criss-cross the dark river.
Really cute AIDS-pooping monkeys and dorky Rodents-of-Unusual-Size were the most ferocious of the Amazonian wildlife we encountered and, for that, I’m grateful.
Because as cute and fuzzy as any jaguar is at the zoo, having one stare down at you while baring 3-inch fangs as you try to keep what’s left of your dignity, and trying to keep all of the throat you started out with, makes whatever a monkey can throw at you much more preferable. We survived.
The most injury we sustained on our trip was an insane amount of creepy bug bites that seemed to appear out of nowhere and itch like the air was made from attic insulation. And one incident of sun poisoning sustained by my brother-in-law who misunderstood the concept of sunscreen, as usual.
Ironically, the scars that remained on my body were on my neck from someone having tried to stab it open 15+ years prior in what was decidedly NOT the Amazon jungle. And, for a while, very questionable-looking dots all over from the bugs who treated themselves to the smorgasbord that are my legs.
It’s possible there are still some microscopic animals living in my digestive tract that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It was pretty rough nursing that part of my body back to digesting good old American bacon grease and e-coli-ridden Californian lettuces.
Frequently having time to mull it over on my porcelain throne over the next few weeks, I thought, “that jaguar probably would’ve killed me quickly. I wonder how soon I can get one here…”
At least grappling with a huge, angry cat, as violent and scary as it could be, would’ve made for better scars and a more courageous story than being brought down by tiny intestinal livestock.
Either way, I’d still end up with my pants around my ankles.