06 March 2014

Surviving the Jungle

November 2013 continued:

There are few times in my life that I have felt so miserable and in so much pain. Every step sent me reeling, and there were times I could not even lift my feet. Every time my boots filled with water from the pouring rain I considered it a blessing, as it meant I could pause to empty them out. My clothes stuck to my skin as the water dripped from the brow of my hat. Branches grabbed at me as I climbed higher and higher through the volcanic rock. Stopping offered views of the mist-shrouded forest, but the rains quickly made me cold and forced me to continue on. The cool water kept my fever at bay, but there was no reprieve from the aching in my muscles. My throat burned, and it hurt to breath, but I continued on. I had no choice.

Two days before, I was on top of the world. After banding in Moka, we decided to head to the south coast of Bioko Island via Ureka. We arrived at the coast long after dark, and soon found ourselves conducting the long beach walk in the dead of night. Waterfalls roared out of the cliffs, and the water glistened with the light of the stars. We hiked for miles barefoot in the sand, watching the crabs flee and the imposing jungle looming overhead. Hammer-headed Bats honked from the trees and the occasional shooting star kept our eyes glancing skywards. We came across several massive Loggerhead Turtles nesting on the beach in the dark, the massive, car-sized reptiles being mistaken for rocks until we were so close we could see the sand flying through the night.

At 2 AM, I knew I was sick. My throat ached and burned, my muscles were beginning to clench up, and I feared for what the morning would bring. I had been becoming sicker with speed as our hike progressed, and now, all that lay between me and sleep was a waist-deep rushing river flowing into the sea. Crossing through the icy water, clothes held high above my head, I tripped on the pebbles and rocks on the river bottom and kept my eyes on the far shore. After one of the longest hikes in my life, I had finally made it to the legendary Moaba Camp.

The next morning, however, I could not even speak. I had a raging fever, could barely stand, and felt like my throat was on fire. I crashed under a tarp, and fell asleep listening to the rain. For hours, I slept feverishly, eating what I could and ignoring the paradise that surrounded me. Sea cliffs, waterfalls, and foraging Greenbuls lulled me to sleep, and I slowly regained strength.

It was not long until my friends returned from the forest, and we began the inevitable hard talk. Luke stared at the surrounding forest, and spoke low, making sure I honestly knew what lay ahead. It was clear what my options were: take a bunch of advil and hike the 14 kilometers uphill to Moka, or wait three days for a boat that might not come.

And so, 24 hours later, I found myself popping advil, chugging water and slogging through the mud of the Equatoguinean Rainforest. We spaced out, as we had been trudging for 12 straight hours already, and the rain had dampened our conversations. Every time I saw one of my group, they smiled at me, happy to see I was still on my feet. My memories began to mix and my thoughts were continually focused on the trail before me. I thought of Caroline, and how I wanted to see her in December, and of all the other things I had to hike back to.

Amazingly, I was still able to bird despite my illness! Keeping my mind busy helped me continue on, and when the 36 hours of rain finally halted, I could see Moka, and could even take the time to write down the birds around me (checklist here). African Stonechats flew along the road, and Gray Apalis called from the roadside shrubs.

When I finally made it back to the BBPP field station, I could barely walk. My legs were cramped, my feet burned and ached, and I could not stop smiling. I had made it. I had survived the jungle. I rested as much as I could, and stared at the map of Bioko in the center. Tomorrow, we were having an "easy" travel day and then heading deep into the rainforest on the mainland. Though my fever had broken, I knew that the mainland would be rough as I continued to recover, and I fell asleep thinking about the jungle and what surprises awaited.

To be continued...

Western Mountain Greenbuls (Arizelocichla tephrolaema) such as this one kept me going on my brutal hike while sick.

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