There’s a guy I work with who I’m going to call “Dave.” And I have his permission to tell this story, using different names. He owes me, anyway.
Dave doesn’t exactly work here, but he’s been stuck here ever since COVID. He’s a researcher, and his subject is anteaters. The rescue center and he worked out a deal where he would get to stay and study the tamanduas we had, in exchange for him helping out a few hours every day. It’s a bit awkward, but it’s worked so far. His project was pretty sound, and has moved on to telemetry tracking of one anteater that’s been released with a collar. But I’m not here to talk about work.
See, Dave left around 8:30am the other day to go find the anteater with his antenna. He’s a professional so I let him go. But he didn’t show up for lunch. Lunch is at noon. Dave never misses lunch. But I still didn’t think anything of it until about 4pm when someone asked who was doing the evening feed. It was supposed to be Dave.
I called around. No one had seen him all day. I had been the last to see him that morning when he left.
I’ve been part of impromptu jungle Search and Rescues before. Way back during my first visit to Costa Rica, two of the children of the field station staff didn’t come back one evening. That was a little scary, especially since we had just seen photos of jaguars on our camera traps. So everyone met and powwowed and we organized people in pairs to cover trails and streams. Kept in constant radio contact. Someone eventually found the kids, who had been playing late and lost track of time. They had just stayed put, which was the right thing to do. Crisis averted, but that was a tense couple of hours.
A few years back a guy disappeared from our field station in El Yunque, Puerto Rico. Like, just straight up vanished. It was a weekend, but by the time it was getting dark someone mentioned that we were short someone at the table. The guy didn’t answer our calls. Again we mobilized into pairs to comb the forest, shouting his name until a storm came and we had to call it. Mind, where we were is one of the most remote locations on the island, kilometers from anything up a hairy mountain road that often gets flashfloods. The only other people we got up there besides very lost tourists were local brujeria (“witchcraft”) practitioners and gang executions. Both groups we tried to avoid. So our imaginations were running pretty wild until someone noticed that the guy’s room was cleaned out. As if he’d never existed. A few days later his Instagram feed popped up with photos from Costa Rica. To this day, we still have no idea how or why he managed to get out and off that mountain without anyone noticing and why the fuck he didn’t tell anyone, even leave a note. If I ever find him, I’m going to ask him this and then kick him in the nuts.
Anyway, where was I? Right, Dave. We’re pretty short-staffed here, but I still got everyone able-bodied out in the usual method: pairs, radios, routes, and head back if it rains. Left someone to hold down the fort and keep everyone in contact. Me, I headed out alone to walk down a stream bed where I thought he’d mentioned he’d tracked the anteater before. Risky, but I knew the area and I move faster on my own.
About an hour in, a call came through from the Center. Dave had found his way back, but had been wandering about 6 hours, lost, heading in what he thought was the right direction. Ended up about 3 klicks away on a forest road. He got lucky—another direction would have taken him deeper into the forest. Upon debriefing, he said he knew he should have stayed put, but he got hungry.
That was two days ago. I’m still feeling it. My back’s killing me and I think I pulled something trying to vault a patch of quicksand. I got tagged by a non-venomous snake that I thought was a vine and tried to swing on. Everywhere hurts. My god, I’m so out of shape, or maybe running through the jungle is a younger man’s game. Either way, I think I’ve lost my edge.
On top of it all, we still had to cover for Dave who had missed all his duties that afternoon. I had to do all the feeding and cleaning in the dark. To add injury to more injury, one of the coatis bit me on the ass. Just right up there on the quarter-moon. It left a mark that I’m going to have a great time explaining to someone someday. Dave owes me for that, too.
Don’t get lost. If you do, I will find you. And then I’ll kick your ass.