People often talk about a slower pace of life, and how much more relaxing and enjoyable it is (or would be). The pace doesn't get much slower than sitting in the middle seat of a canoe on a tropical nature reserve, camera at the ready, being paddled around looking for wildlife. I didn't sleep so well because of itchy insect bites and an upset stomach, but other than being tired I felt a bit better this morning. We asked our guide to find wildlife to view, and it went quite well. There is a huge diversity of bird life in the area, and we saw parrots, sparrows, a heron, an eagle, and a dozen other species that I still need to identify with help from Sarah, our bird aficionado. We found a family of macaques (small, very cute monkeys), though they were difficult to photograph through the trees. A glimpse of a giant otter was exciting, but left me wishing for more. Rain fell briefly, and we paddled on. I've become more used to getting wet and letting nature dry me off (or not). After the rain, the sun came out, making the canoe feel like a (very hard) lounge chair in a tropical resort.
Peter and I have't planned the afternoon yet. Maybe more canoeing, maybe walking in the forest . . . and hopefully some more sunset photography. Tomorrow, the entire group decided to go on a two-day camping trip in the jungle. It's odd how I'm feeling some trepidation about it. The old worries about being physically uncomfortable (dirty, wet, unable to sleep, having no control over the food) come up so quickly and so automatically. My stomach troubles add to the anxiety, as it would be especially unpleasant having diarrhea in the jungle. And then there is the inability to get away from the group if I want quiet. Oh, the knots we tie ourselves up in by getting lost in a sense of self. Worried about some physical sensations and trying to ensure enjoyment. Our insanity and fruitless attempts to mold the world as we want follow us wherever we go. Even into a tropical paradise like Xixuau.
During lunch, Chris (our leader, and the man who founded and runs the Xixuau reserve) commented that we have been having some strange weather--cooler than usual, and more cloudy, with sporadic light rain (rather than heavier rain for longer periods). The sky must have heard him because the afternoon brought some strong wind and a two-hour downpour. Our plans to canoe across the lake to a hiking trail were thwarted. I sat on the porch of my maloca to wait out the rain. I could have pulled out a book or gone to the office to get online, but I decided to just sit, watch the rain and the bit of the lake I could see through the trees, and watch my mind. It's amazing how, even after deciding to sit, the mind still comes up with all sorts of plans, trying to figure out what it would like to do under every circumstance it can think of (and the only "circumstance" here was when the rain would stop!)
The rain slowed about an hour after our planned departure time, and Peter and I eventually headed out in the canoe with Zezinio. It was too late and too dark to go to the hiking trail, so we set out for another wildlife viewing expedition in the canoe. We were reasonably fortunate with birds this time, and saw some more parrots, a toucan, a large hawk, and many smaller sparrows and terns. We also came across another family of capuchin monkeys. The monkeys and many of the birds were too high in the trees and/or hidden by the branches for good photos, though I snapped quite a few anyway. Perhaps the best part of this trip, however, was the time we spent going through the flooded forest. At several points, I felt very content to just float along watching the trees go past, with large raindrops gently continuing to fall. There were no animals to be found, but I was very much at peace with the moment and the beauty that was present. I also noticed the worries and complaints that arose in my mind, automatically and without good reason. When the rain fell on my leg, I suddenly became worried that I would be uncomfortable because I was getting wet. It was an absurd thought because I was already wet, and had been for much of the day (and week!) Nothing had really changed, but the thought, complaint, and worry arose anyway. I laughed at the mind's silly habits and continued floating, paddling, and watching the trees.
The evening brought an animated dinner with the group. We shared experiences and photos from the day, and discussions launched in all directions from there. It was louder and more chaotic that I usually like, but I stuck it out and enjoyed almost all of it. The group has come together in a great way, and it was a blast sharing stories about our day and our lives in two or three languages, all of us talking and listening and laughing and learning. Izzy had some Immodium, which has helped my stomach a bit. Despite all the rain and waiting and sitting (those canoe seats do not work well for me!), it's been a very full day. People gradually trickled off to bed as we continued talking and laughing. The three youngest in the group are still in the dining maloca as we approach 10 p.m. and most of the village has gone to sleep.
Tomorrow morning, we leave for our two-day camping trip in the jungle. If the trip is anything like this evening--and it seems likely that it will be--we'll have a great time.