If you’ve ever stayed in a rural area, you will come to know that there are many tales of supernatural beings, spirits, and events that are hard to explain using rational thinking. It would appear – as Carpio reminded us over New Year – that we shouldn’t fear most of them as the vast majority of spirits and apparitions in Los Llanos only go after the cheating and unfaithful men.
In places where during the day you seek to connect with nature, your mind and imagination take over during the dark hours of the night. Unlike in Africa – Venezuelans dare to sleep in open structures during the night as there is little that will eat you when the sun goes down; the lack of megafauna and abundance of predators allows certain freedoms that you wouldn’t dream of in other parts of the world. Sleeping in a tent, on a blow-up mattress can be quite painful (if anyone has another camping solution PLEASE let me know) but life is rendered so much better when you can and learn (there’s a science to this) how to sleep in a hammock. The biggest predator that Venezuelans expose themselves to at night when sleeping in the wilderness are mosquitos and all sorts of little and annoying blood-sucking creatures. Because of them, interesting mosquito contraptions have been invented to put around your chinchorro. The effect is double – no mosquitos and a false sense of security and invisibility from the outside world during the night when you sleep in your “mosquitero” (mosquito net). Nothing – and I mean nothing– can touch you under a blanket inside a mosquitero.
It was when everyone slept inside their mosquitero one night that a series of strange events took place. Tonka (the Jack Russel) was fidgety. She decided to get out of the chinchorro where she slept with Alex.
“Let her go, if she continues barking she’s gonna wake everyone up” – said Fico.
And so Alex let Tonka out of the safety of the chinchorro and Tonka headed towards the water, barking. But she was barking differently. It wasn’t her fierce bark, it was a scared bark – Fico thought to himself before dismissing the thought.
Suddenly. Out of nowhere, a piercing scream filled the night:
“LET GO OF ME.”
“LET ME GO YOU THIEF”
“GET AWAY FROM MEEEE”
Panic. Racing hearts. No one moves. No one sets foot out of their mosquitero.
“MIGUEL! Miguel is everything ok?” Screamed Anita from her chinchorro across the sand.
Everyone waited for an answer that never seemed to come. Tonka had stopped barking. The air was filled with tension.
Finally from Miguel’s chinchorro an answer came: “Yes yes, everything is fine – no pasa nada.”
A light emerged then from Miguel’s churuata (lapa or tin-roofed structure under which the chinchorros are hung). Someone with a flashlight was searching around the area for something – or maybe someone else? Everyone held their breaths while the light searched on, while it moved further into the savanna. No one was brave enough to leave the safety of the mosquitero.
The person and the flashlight eventually returned to their churuata. If there was nothing else said or found, the entire campsite felt like it could resume “sleeping”. The early morning light couldn’t come soon enough and so everyone hid under their blankets.
It could have been a wild boar, could have been a local meandering through our campsite during the night, it could have been the Colombian guerrilla.
Fear is wild and free in the middle of the night – especially in the wilderness. At first light, one by one, we started emerging from the chinchorros. We started gathering around the Bolet’s churuata where coffee was brewing and an explanation was much anticipated by everyone.
“What happened last night?”
“Did you hear what he said?”
“At first I thought it was someone snoring.”
“I hid under my blanket the entire night.”
Armed with the courage provided by the rising sun, we started piecing the story together. How Tonka was the first to alarm us of something amiss. How nothing else was found, how we were really all cowards for not going out to investigate in the middle of the night what had happened. Eventually Alberto – Miguel’s friend – came out and told us the story. He was the one that screamed his lungs out and he was the one that went looking for intruders in the middle of the night.
“I was asleep and had heard something splashing in the water early on but didn’t pay much attention to it” – Alberto said. “But then something woke me up and I saw two “Indios” (locals of these parts in Venezuelan slang) by my chinchorro. One tall, one short – he continued – and I thought they wanted to steal something but when I went looking I couldn’t find anyone”
“Ay” – I thought.
“Everyone always sees and speaks of two of them. Whenever someone sees something strange, it’s two Indios together. One tall, one short.” – added Sebastián.
“Like the one I could have sworn I saw next to me that time I was cooking dinner but no one else saw”- added Astrida.
“There are tracks for an Anaconda and a baba (cayman) by the water’s edge.” – said Miguel. “Maybe they interacted last night and that’s what Tonka heard. The Indios I don’t know, maybe too much meat for Alberto for dinner last night”
With much lighter hearts we headed to see the tracks of the Anaconda and the baba. There they were clear as day as spotted by Miguel. The baba seemed to be average size but the anaconda tracks were quite something. Upon seeing them there was once again the realization that certain parts of the river are to be careful of, especially with small dogs and little children that can be an easy meal for this water predator.
That night we all went to bed with much lighter hearts, having not seen or heard anything strange after that evening we assumed perhaps Alberto had some sort of night terror, and the noises of the reptiles were part of the reason why. Since then we have returned camping to the same spot and no babas, anacondas or Indios have been spotted.
Some stories are yours to tell and some just pass you by. Although I was at the place where all these events took place – I slept through the entire night and the screaming. Although I hear nothing at the time, I did wake up but only once: when I felt an Indio walking in between our hammocks in the middle of the night…