University of Wisconsin–Madison

Day 9 – Rules Are NOT Made to Be Broken

June 2nd, 2014 – Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve

What is wrong with me? I have violated the basic premises of the Ceiba summer program, significantly increasing the potential danger of this trip. Veering off onto the road less taken can be good in the contexts of the individual and society, but in the contexts of the dry tropical forests of Ecuador, it was not a wise decision. I traveled what felt like an eternity in the heart of the wilderness. The abandoned riverbed I followed along – most probably cleaved by the powerful twists and turns of the wet season water – did not loop back around to the reserve bungalow like I had thought the map said, but rather ended at the giant rock formation that was likely the very source of water that had created the path beneath my feet.

I was starting to become more afraid of being alone in the forest as the fleeting daylight disappeared from the sky. On the lead up to the geological dead end, thoughts of predatory carnivores or roving bands of insidious hunters with harmful intentions towards my wellbeing populated my mind. I was the prey they had been waiting for, their only opportunity to survive. Easy prey, simple kill. I would die with the sun, stranded alone in the heart of darkness. I was certainly afraid, but I found that I was more determined to get the hell out of that forest. And the ticking of the clock only encouraged me to quicken my pace to come home to a disappointed program staff and an undeserved dinner.

These thoughts of self-disappointment increased the shamefulness I felt as I turned back from the incomplete trail hike that I illegally started. I couldn’t even finished what I started… there was no time. As the clock ticked and I passed the whirling bends of the river, I desperately searched for any recognizable landmarks. Each turn meant both a renewed hope for the end of the lonesome trail and yet another crushing blow to my emotional health as the trail wound onward, leading into the night that threatened to swallow me whole. An hour had passed by and then there was only 20 minutes to 6pm, the time I was supposed to meet everyone for dinner. Then 15 mins approached. 10. 5. I was starting to believe that maybe I wouldn’t make it back at all as I passed the same infinite curve of the desolate landscape I was forced to run upon. But the heavens shone their kindness upon me as they revealed a semblance of a trail I had vaguely recognized. It was enough for me to understand that I could now escape what I had thought would be my certain death. Heavy treads fell upon the dead leaves and soil of the forest floor as I sprinted my way to the only sanctuary from the darkness.

When the shack came into my field of vision, relief flooded into my soul, overpowering the adrenaline pumping frantically throughout my body. But entering into the shelter was actually less beneficial than I had anticipated because I was forced to view the look of disappointment, surprise, relief, and frustration somehow all existing at once on the face of my TA. It was only now I realized the dirt and grass stains that my clothing has accumulated and the amount of sweat that drenched the surface of every exposed area of skin. I ate dinner in near silence, with an understandable return from my peers.

Afterwards I did find the time to talk to the staff about it and clear things up, but you can imagine the events of this conversation. I just really wish that it never happened. This really isn’t something I needed to go through to learn the lesson of safety. When you are in a country abroad, you listen to the rules and you don’t break them. The penalty may be more that you are willing to pay…