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Welcome to the jungle

by: CAELEN BENSEN  - After graduating college in 2011, I moved to Northwestern Belize to teach kindergarten. It was here, in the solitude of the jungle, that I started to write about my travel experiences. Now, I am teaching English in the Dominican Republic and would like to share my stories with the town and people who helped shaped me into the person I am today.My first day in the Belizean jungle was, to say the Caelen Bensenleast, an interesting one. Two local wildlife biologists picked me up one morning in an old, rusting land cruiser and we putted our way to a nearby archeological site.

The deeper we drove into the jungle, the worse the road became. Huge rocks and deep potholes covered the dirt road, causing us to fly out of our seats in unison. Many bumps and bruises later, we arrived at the site, hurriedly spilling out of the car, grateful to stand on solid ground.

As we began our journey into the bush, we were almost immediately stopped, our hands shooting up to cover our faces. There was a stench hanging heavily in the air. A stench so foul that it actually pushed me backward, causing me to stumble and fight for balance.

I started to mumble, “Oh, my ...” but was interrupted by a gagging sensation that rippled up through my throat and escaped out my pursed lips. I had never smelled anything like this before in my life.

I needed to breathe. Just one breath. I tightly squeezed my hands over my mouth, hoping that the clean scent of my skin would mask the nauseating air I was about to inhale. Wrong. Rotten eggs and stale sweat coated my teeth. Sour milk spilled down my throat.

I instinctively began to blow air out of my nose, thinking that maybe I could reject the oxygen I had wrongly invited into my system.

A whisper from behind me pushed its way through the dense air: “Peccary.” I looked down at my muddy feet. Sure enough, trampled hoof prints littered the ground around me. A pack of peccary had just passed through the path we were on.

When I looked at my friend quizzically, she explained (through gasps and gags) that peccary are a type of wild boar the size of large dogs, with tusks and sharp canine teeth. A ring of wiry hair creates a collar around their neck, covering huge sweat glands (this explains the vulgar smell). A pack of these unattractive creatures were not far away.

Just then there was a rustling in the brush beside us. Now, I don’t mean to imply that some leaves were simply swaying in the gentle breeze. The ground vibrated and rumbled as branches cracked behind the wall of vegetation. Innocent plants shook and a ferocious chattering of teeth commenced.

Everything else faded away as I stood frozen, my skin crawling and tightening with anxiety. The words “they know we’re here” floated in one of my ears and out the other. “They’re mad. Don’t move.”

Trust me, I did not move a muscle. I was not about to let a pig cut my life short.

So, we just stood. We stood as rigid as stone statues while those giant, tusked, putrid pigs indulged in their aggressive dance.

Soon, the stomping and teeth chattering subsided. The palms slowed to a resting position and deep growls transformed into calm grunts. We heard the light pitter-patter of retreating steps and then, all was quiet.

Just like that, the jungle regained its tranquility and I regained my ability to draw in oxygen.

Caelen Bensen is a former West Linn resident. She graduated from West Linn High School in 2006 and currently lives in the Dominican Republic working as an ESOL teacher.



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