With only a few weeks left here, my days are mostly consumed with packing, handing off my work to others, and soaking in as much of this place as I can. It’s bittersweet. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that goodbyes aren’t final, but I’m afraid it will be quite a while until I can return.
I’m going to keep on blogging when I can and probably a little into my return to the States, spreading out the various topics and photos I have on backlog. But today something came to me when I while I was chatting with someone from back home. We were discussing travel plans and things I was looking forward to, and I realized that nothing I was saying made any sense. That is, the concerns I was voicing were an utter world apart from what they dealt with, and it was a good illustration of my mental state from living in this place so long.
So I’ve compiled here a brief list of ways in which my mind has been changed from jungle life.
- I See Snakes Everywhere
Everywhere. On the sides of roads. In corners. Under furniture. Even if I don’t see them, I know they’re there. Except they’re usually not. But my senses have become so fine-tuned to stay vigilant for snakes that I’ve become hyperaware. Or maybe paranoid. I don’t like to sit on a couch with my feet dangling out because I will convince myself that there is a snake underneath, ready to bite my ankles. Toilets are even worse. The other day I looked up and knew, knew, there was a snake in the rafters, and even ID’ed it to a Bothriechis palm viper, possibly a rare subspecies not usually found in this area, and I was practically writing the account in my head when I realized it was just a knotted rope.
Sometimes it’s a pattern. Certain tiled floors, for example, set me off. Or braided fabrics. It’s like a new version of trypophobia. The last time I was allowed in town I was standing in line at a store and the woman in front of me had sandals on with snakeskin pattern straps. I practically jumped a mile. They must have thought I was a freak. But maybe because I was staring at her feet for a while afterward.
- I Don’t Sip Cold Drinks Anymore
I guzzle them. Why? Because cold drinks don’t last. Your smoothie will become juice and your beer will skunk within minutes. You gotta enjoy them while they last. Speaking of beer, I’m going to have to pace myself when I get back to a place where beer is darker and has more than a trace of alcohol.
- My Anxiety Dreams Are Bonkers
So most people have that recurring dream where they’re at school without clothes? I have dreams where I’m in the jungle without shoes. And I’m usually standing in ants. Then I wake up in a cold sweat screaming about vile insects. Oh, I also usually wake up in ants, too. I’m really not going to miss ants. I think that goes without saying.
- My Basic Survival Instinct is Not to Stay Warm, But to Stay Dry
This is reflected in everything. I grew up in Washington. It doesn’t get too cold there, but enough that homes are built and clothes are worn with the intention of maintaining heat. You generally wear shoes indoors. Keep a furnace running, or a wood stove. “Room temperature” generally means significantly colder than you are.
Here, it is different. The first thing I do when I get home is take off my shoes and socks and dry my feet. Get down in there between the toes. Foot rot strikes quickly, even when it isn’t raining. My entire life is based around air flow, from the storage of my clothes to the arrangement of my furniture. My ultimate luxury is a big, wide bed where I can spread out like a starfish. I require a fan. And speaking of clothes…
- I Shop with Very Specific Specs in Mind
My clothes have to be light, but not too light or mold eats right through them. My rain gear has to be long, but not heavy. I don’t count on electronics to last. I like high-end laptops, but if I get a custom build I usually end up on the phone with someone about which model does best in humidity. It’s not exactly a spec that’s listed in the manual. And I buy cheap phones because they just don’t last that long. I’ve gone through two in less than two years. The point is, I represent a very niche market, and it’s hard to find things that are functional and durable for this climate. REI doesn’t exactly have a Tropical market yet.
And the list goes on. I will forever shake out my shoes on reflex before putting them on because you never know with wayward scorpions. Keep my knives sharp and oiled and close at hand because there is always vegetation to cut back and rust will ruin a good blade. Store electronics in a bag with silica gel to get another month or two of use out of them. Just shrug when I see a spider in the room, because of course there’s a spider in the room.
I’ll go on a few more hikes and night walks to get in some good content before I leave. I may have been here so long it’s driven me near insane, but I don’t want to take this place for granted.