“I closed my eyes, but the lights
Still swam before me in a sea
Of golden fire, “What does it mean?”
“Mean?” he said, dabbing the place
With something cool and liquid,
And all the lights were blinking on
And off, or perhaps my eyes were
Opening and closing. “Mean?” he said,
“It could mean this is who you are.” -Philip Levine

***

Enter the Wild Part I:

It’s 1pm and I’m standing in a scalding shower letting the steam envelope me. I close my eyes and I’m thrust back into the jungle. Memories are funny like that…sometimes it takes a peculiar smell, or a distinct taste to bring back vivid images of the past. The catalyst for this memory was a combination of intense heat and moisture. Vibrant, yet surreal, the rainforest surrounds me and I’m assaulted by a cacophony of sound. Above me scrambling in the treetops are packs of Howler monkeys, which reminds me of a funny story I’ll tell you later that involves two Swedish girls and a handful of monkey shit. It’s a good one I promise. Onward I press through the dense foliage, past trees filled with tarantulas and the ghost of an armadillo that I swear tasted just like chicken. A line of lemon ants walk in solemn procession over a dead log. I don’t think the traveler guides give out this little tidbit of information, but those ants are delicious. Thick mist rises from the floor to the canopy giving the jungle an ethereal quality. I cross a narrow stream and climb nimbly up the side of a gently flowing waterfall. At the summit an apparition is there to greet me. His name is Juan and he greets me with his typically boisterous, “El Grande Como Estas!?!” He points down at the pool of water at the base of another waterfall and laughs, remembering a night when he almost lost two gringos in the jungle. You meet a lot of interesting characters when you travel. Juan was one of those who had a permanent influence on my life. The water flowing down the rock face begins to swell and suddenly there’s a deluge that tears me from the edge, carrying me along in its’ unclenching grasp. Over the precipice my body is flung and I plummet downward only to snap open my eyes and find that I’m grasping the shower door handle. Filled with a sudden inexplicable urge, I rush from the shower to my computer. What appears on the screen is the first sentence of what would become this story.

***

This is a tale that will start in the jungle, but it’s not where the journey began and god-willing, not where it ends. There’s an old saying that the devil makes work for idle hands. Well I don’t believe in the devil, but I know all about wasting time and talent. Seven years ago I was pretty much fed up with life as I knew it, ready to hand in the towel. Then one day I decided to throw a dart at a map of the world and see where fate took me. It was actually more complicated then that. I had the DEA calling my house and people I thought were friends turning their backs on me. Regardless of the motivation, which we’ll revisit later, the dart hit Ecuador and within a month I had found volunteer work and was on a plane.

***
The air over South America

I hate to fly…let me repeat this statement so the following events are clearer for you, I FUC!#$@ HATE to fly. So I’m sitting in my seat glancing out of the window at nothing but dark sky and barely visible clouds when suddenly the pilot announces we’re twenty minutes out from Quito International. It’s dusk and despite the relative absence of light I can see the vast expanse of the Andes Mountains break through the cloud cover. Peak after obsidian peak thrusts through the thin cotton layer and reaches for the delicate underbelly of the plane. They whisper their sinister intentions in my ear. Then I realize that the hissing is the pressure releasing from my ears as we descend. An Ecuadorian man next to me notices my trembling hands and decides to comfort me by saying, “Hey man don’t worry, this is the most dangerous airport in the world to land in, and our pilots are sent to America for special training so they can navigate safely between the mountains.” Thanks asshole, I think to myself, now I’m calm enough to perform open-heart. I pop three more pieces of gum and chew like a junkie needing a fix. Eyes closed, hands clenched, sweat dripping, I pray to a god I don’t believe in to please land the plane safely. I open my eyes and see the man next to me giving me the thumbs up as the wheels hit the runway. I give him a wan smile and turn my attention to the display of lights that reaches upwards into the mountains. In the fading light I see that the bowl-like city of Quito expands right up to the very summits. After we depart I’m greeted outside by armed soldiers, and a throng of children (maybe thirteen at the oldest) selling chocolates and all kinds of decrepit looking flowers. I hold tightly to my belongings and push through the crowd.

***
Submitted by HGL, Copyright KMG Inc. 2012. Part of a work in progress. A new chapter will be submitted every week by the author so stay tuned!

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