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Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.

It was an early Sunday morning when we set off. The sun was just beginning to break through the greenery of the coastal forest surrounding us, as we walked towards our first trail for the day. High in the trees we could hear birds singing and cicadas buzzing, and every once in a while we found ourselves being closely monitored by a lone monkey. Our survey of the Juana Lopez trail ensued without any major hiccups, except for the occasional stumble over a tree root. We saw the usual suspects, a couple of slender anoles, and great green macaws soaring high above our heads. As we finished the survey, our survey leader Peter told us that we would head back to base swiftly, but stop for any cool sightings. As I and my fellow volunteers were keeping our eyes on the high canopy for sloths and on the ground for tapirs, we continued our leisurely stroll through the sunlit jungle.

I stopped to photograph the glowing leaves all around us, and was completely focused on looking at the canopy when all of a sudden Peter and Sofia who had been walking in front of me, stopped. “Peccaries!” exclaimed Peter, and we all got very excited since we had not seen any peccaries before. A chill of excitement went down my spine. Finally I got to see the mysterious white-lipped peccaries, a mere 20 meters from where we were standing. Everything was quiet.

As the herd of peccaries started heading down the trail away from us, Peter and the rest of our group suddenly remembered that peccaries are some of the rainforest’s most feared and aggressive animals. While we were trying to think of a way to get back to base safely, a gang of angry male peccaries stormed by, just a few feet from where Peter was standing. It was like the whole forest came alive within seconds. The sound the peccaries made while rustling through the understory was something you would imagine hearing in a mental hospital for pigs. Nobody moved. We were completely consumed by the intensity of the moment, and for some reason, we were all feeling very giddy. Luckily, we came to our senses, and decided to turn around and head back towards one of the trails leading out to the beach. We could hear the herd of the peccaries as we hurried away from them, with the adrenaline rushing through our veins. My pulse did not return to normal until we reached the trail camera at mile 16, and could see the beach through the trees. Walking back to base on the beach in full forest survey gear is not something I ever thought I would do, but the physical effort of it managed to clear my mind, which was still running wild with the excitement of our peccary encounter. Returning just a little bit later than expected, leader Peter brought us all back to base safely, where we were immediately shared our very wild jungle experience with everyone who would listen. Because we, we are ALIVE.

“What matters is the strange, mysterious, overwhelming truth that we are here now, in this magnificent place, and never will know why. Or why not.” (Edward Abbey)

Karin Jermer, November 21, 2017

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