Roy Story III
This rain is fucked!
I was standing under the shelter of the café. I had finished my breakfast, two scrambled eggs as always, and I was tying up the wet laces of my wet boots as my feet were going wrinkly in my wet socks. “You ready, captain?!” Ed said to me with a smile of anticipation on his face.
“This rain is fucked!” I replied despondently.
The day had begun for me sometime in the very early morning hours. The rain had started up and was relentless. Every heavy drop adding its own contribution to the grand cacophony resonating from the hostel roof. I woke up on several occasions throughout the night, irritated but thankful that I still had time to sleep. Eventually it was the evil of my alarm, set for 7:45, that woke me up. Then again at 7:55. I unloaded a different kind of evil in the bathroom, before packing my bag with the water logged clothes. They never had a chance of drying overnight. I think they probably got wetter.
I put in my earphones and set out for the park. A five minute walk in the rain, letting the energy of Zeppelin’s Black Dog wake up my brain and then flow into the sore bones and muscles. I’ve never been a morning person and I was used to the reception I got each time I arrived at the cafe, everybody commenting on how much I looked like shit. But this time it was different, people were giving me their condolences, wishing me luck, asking if I was even going to even walk today in this rain. Only Ed saw the challenge of the weather as something positive, “Captain!” he said again, “Captain Eden!” That was the thing, today was the first day without Mike. He was getting a day off and me and Ed were training a new guy, Adam, to work with Roy. I was the most experienced now. The captain.
After asking Beni, the volunteer coordinator, if sending us out in this onslaught of rain complied with OH&S regulations (I highly doubt they existed in corrupt mess that is Bolivia’s economy), I accepted my fate and we headed off. Up at the cage I fed Roy his daily strands of long grass while Ed taught Adam some of the basics. I could sense Roy was irritated that there was a new person around and, even more so, that Mike wasn’t. But he had one thing to be cheery about. While rain spells danger and potential injury to me, it was all fun and games for Roy. On the hot days he needs more time to stop and cool down, but when the weather is cool he can just keep going. It was definitely going to be an enjoyable day for him and he knew it.
Adam received the usual shock of the uphill sprint Roy does at the beginning of each run. But he got another shock and so did Ed and I. Roy put on an unexpected sprint to fully stretch out his leash, then he turned and bypassed me as I tried to catch up to him and he put a heavy shoulder charge on Ed. Adam went to pull him away so he attacked Adam and then me as well. It was nothing serious, though. Maybe he was frustrated that Mike wasn’t around or just showing us what he can do.
The rest of the run actually went smoothly despite my earlier fears. My knees warmed up after 10-15 minutes and the session became quite fun. I could now do the trails with confidence and enjoy the physical demands like an invigorating jog. So while my once dry undies took the time to soak in the rainwater from my pants, I soaked in the cool atmosphere and jungle surroundings. I could admire Roy’s intimidating march, with his huge paws drawing power from the mass of muscle in his shoulders. When he stopped to scent some leaves or branches I would take a relaxing deep breath through my nostrils, smiling at the focused, yet curious, look on his face. I also had time to see Adam’s face: a growing look of distress as the trail wore on. The same expression I once had.
Lunch was fun. Had the meal of the day and two more eggs. I must have eaten over one hundred eggs in my month long stay. The rain had eased and Mike was there at the café to hear the stories from me and Ed. Everything was peachy as we prepared for the afternoon session. Adam was waiting up at the cage. He had a hint of doom in his face but we reassured him and headed off on the wet trail once more.
We reached the hill with the long runner. The same place where Roy took his shit, and nearly my head, only days earlier. Ed was front man and I was keen to stay right behind him in case Roy tried the same thing and jumped him at the bottom. Roy didn’t need to shit but the slippery mud meant that Ed would need a perfect descent to keep up. Despite all the focus being on Roy and Ed at the top of the hill, it was my descent that would be the one to remember.
Roy started off quick and Ed kept up. I was going OK for the first few seconds, but then I slipped and landed on my ass. In my haste to regain my footing I overcompensated and overbalanced, my weight propelling me forwards. My feet were gone from under me. In what must have been less than a second, I saw the trunk of a tree, about 8 inches in diameter, approaching fast. All my reflexes were calling for my hands to cover my face and take the brunt of the impact but they were nowhere to be found.
Am I unconscious?
The impact was absorbed 100% by my face. I remember my first thought vividly and my second one as well:
I guess I’m not unconscious if I can ask myself if I am unconscious.
“Oh shit man!” I heard Adam say from behind me, “Are you alright?” I got back to my feet unsure if I would even be able to stand, but I had to make sure Ed was OK. Luckily he could look after himself and had stayed in touch with Roy to the bottom. As I continued down to the bottom of the hill I could see something dropping in front of my eye. I put my hand out to catch whatever it was and saw the red red krovvy splash on my hand and arm. Drip Drip. Drip. Coming down at a consistent pace. Quicker than a drop per second.
Roy seemed to know something was up and took a break in a pond not too much farther on. Ed, being a vet, examined that gash in my head. It was just below my right eyebrow, in line with the eye socket. Roy looked calm, his deep, piercing eyes displaying a vague interest as he watched Ed get a closer look. “That’s a great cut man,” he explained, “It’s deep but it’s clean. You’re lucky you didn’t fuck up your eye.” Roy had lost interest now, instead sussing out the potential of his new toy Adam. “Just wash it with some water,” Ed finished. I trusted his opinion. I mean, why shouldn’t I? He’s a vet.
We were only 20 minutes into the trail, so instead of going down to the clinic we continued on for an hour or so to finish the Megalong. It took another half hour to get Roy back in his cage. He was fed and happy with his exploits for the day, even if Mike wasn’t there. The blood was now dried up in my eyelashes, though I still couldn’t feel any pain. I went into the clinic (animal clinic, mind you) and got my cut cleaned up by one of the vets. This is where the pain started. She scolded me for waiting over an hour before getting it treated. She also reminded me that I was lucky not to have any damage to my vision.
Ed came in to apply the stitches. “That’s a great cut!” he said again. “It must be almost an inch deep!” My eye was swelling, which exaggerated the depth of the cut but an inch seemed like a lot. Now I too was thinking how lucky I was not to have damaged my eye. Ed applied two internal stitches and four external ones. The anaesthetic was weaker for the external stitches, and that hurt more than the impact itself. The adrenalin had died out and my eye was quickly swelling. I got some antibiotics from the clinic, and anti-inflammatory pills from the local farmacia. It was fun showing off my battle wounds, telling the story in the most epic way possible, but it came at a cost. I couldn’t walk Roy again for three days.
I felt betrayed by fate. Well, actually, I felt great being able to sleep in til 10am and take a relaxed walk to breakfast and listen to The Arcade Fire in peace. But overall I couldn’t take the irony. I finally reached the point where doing the trails was fun and exciting and my fitness was reaching all time highs. Then I trip a smash my face into a tree and can’t visit my favourite puma for three days.
I decided to use the spare time to get some things taken care of. First off I started catching up on my diary, writing down brief details so that this story could be so wonderfully recounted for you. Then I put in a half assed effort to clean my clothes. But it takes more than a two minute scrub with a shitty bar of soap to extract the sweat and dirt that had been ingrained into the material. I also had to try sort out my passport. I was unsure if I could even get over the Argentine border after the damage the monkey did to it. I ended up doing nothing and just taking a chance, luckily los Argentinos were lenient.
Then there was my final order of business, which should probably have been the first. I was talking to a fellow volunteer and she taught me the wonders of Skype. She let me use her account and I called my mum for the first time since leaving almost four months earlier. In my defence I did keep in touch via Facebook (I know, not a great defence). It was nice to catch up.
“Eden? Hi! It’s great to hear from you! How have you been?! Where are you?!”
“I’m good. I’m still at the animal refuge in Bolivia. It’s amazing!”
“Oh with the monkeys?”
“Yeah that's the one, but I left the monkeys. Now I’m actually working with a puma,” I explained, “like a full grown puma, his name is Roy”
“Are you there?”
Needless to say, I decided to hold out on telling her about the cut above my eye, and the vets and the stitches.
So I finally got to go back on the trails with Roy and Mike and Ed. Adam, however, had pulled out. Roy beat him physically and mentally, and he didn’t even have to jump him. I felt bad for Adam because he would have been so close to breaking on through to the other side of the pain barrier.
The trails were becoming more and more fun. Roy had long been in love with Mike and wouldn’t dare touch him. I had also worked my way into his favour and he was responding by becoming more playful and exploring more. Ed, however, was having a little more trouble. Roy would pick on him, jumping him almost daily, and Ed would respond by stepping up to the challenge. It was like watching a duel as Roy would spend 20 minutes straight trying to find the right place to attack and Ed (self titled matador at this point) would manoeuvre himself to avoid it.
It stayed like this for a while, but eventually I became too complacent and Roy took to jumping me again. On one occasion he stopped and I stopped behind him. He started growling.
What’s wrong? Why is he gro-Oh shit!
I was standing on his tail. He turned around and faced me. I couldn’t do much and he jumped and knocked me down. Biting into my leg just above the knee. Mike pulled him away but not quick enough to prevent the scar of teeth marks that is still visible now. There were another two jumps similar to this. I have matching scars on both legs. But after seeing how much Roy loved to ‘play around’ it was worth the pain.
Apart from the Bromance that I had with Roy, I was finding friendships with more than just animals. The people at the park were some of the best friends I made on my whole holiday. The parties we had were insanely fun as well. Everyone would chip in thirty Bolivianos, about $7, and copious amounts of alcohol were purchased and put into big buckets and saucepans. Messiness ensued with drinking games, pool parties and the like. Some of the photos showed up on Facebook with me tagged in them. That’s how my mum found out about my cut. I received a message from her asking why I had a scar above eye.
Both me and Mike had decided to stay a week longer. This meant Mike would be there til the end of October and I would until the 2nd of November. This was like a slap the face to my knees (a slap in the kneecap?). For weeks now they were begging for relief. At night I could be sitting, talking with people and I would feel my knees and they were still burning. Giving off heat even though I finished the trail hours earlier. In the mornings they would be cold and raw, even worse on the wet days. Even three or four weeks after leaving the park my knees were sore just to climb a flight of stairs. But to stay with Roy for an extra few days, anything was worth that.
After 32 days at Villa Tunari, here I was. November 2nd. 1400hrs. My last run with Roy. We were out on the trails. Just Roy, Ed and me. Mike had left. Adam had quit. A day earlier there was even a new guy, coincidentally also called Adam, who left. We had had a big party on the night of Halloween as a send-off to a large group of volunteers, including Mike. I was hungover, walking Roy. Ed was still drunk and struggling to keep his footing through the slippery creek beds. The new guy, however, was nowhere to be seen. Straggling some 5 minutes behind us (and counting) showing no intent of catching up. Roy: 2. Adams: 0.
Anyways, the run was very sombre. We didn’t talk too much and I let Roy roam the different parts of the trail for longer than usual. I wanted to soak up my time with him. My body was holding out in defiance of nature and my preconceived notions of will power. Just one more day of big league exercise before I could relax and stop trekking 12-15km a day. But this was no consolation. I had seen the pain of impending separation on Mike’s face only days earlier. And the look on Roy’s face the next two mornings, staring out to see if Mike would come round the corner. But Mike had left and Roy would learn to accept it eventually.
I sent off the different parts of the trail. The long runner which caused so much mayhem. The Hills, Destroyers of Human Spirit, would suck the energy out of my thighs no more. I chilled with Roy in his rest area for the last time, Sitting on a rock drinking water while he laid in his pond looking at his surroundings. I followed his gaze to the trees, from which some monkey once threw rocks and twigs at us. I looked farther on, at another pond, where Roy found a turtle and slowly tortured it half to death only to lose interest and leave it limbless and alive.
As we came closer to the cage, Roy gave me my final head butt. Purring as he did. Then with only a 20m walk down to the cage he stopped and laid in the damp leaves. I felt like lying down with him and letting him get the easiest jump of his life. Thought maybe we could go around behind the cage and he could nibble on my bare thigh. Just like old times.
We got to the cage and as I changed his leash to the runner. I got another head rub. He was like a house cat, purring and rubbing his head and neck against mine. We stayed for a while as he relaxed. He then went up into his cage to eat his dinner. We eventually left, still quiet. Ed could tell how I was feeling and maybe realising he would have to leave one day as well. I couldn’t help but think of how much I was going to miss Roy. Will I ever see him again? And even worse was the fact that Roy had no idea that I wouldn’t be back tomorrow. All his life he befriended people for a month through gruelling trails, exciting jumps and many other ups and downs. But then for reasons he can’t explain, they leave. I only had to leave Roy once, Mike left him once and Ed did as well. But Roy for Roy it is more than once. Everyone leaves him.
I stayed the night in the hostel. The next day I woke and went to the café in time to bid my farewells. I wrote on the whiteboard “paz y mucho amor” “Peace and much love.” Despite the ruined state of my body, it was my emotional side that was hurting, engulfed in an aching emptiness. It was the saddest moment of my whole trip. I walked to the bus station alone...
- Eden (while listening to Funeral - Arcade Fire)