The Amazon Rainforest, Peru. We had been trekking through the lush foliage for hours, the air was heavy with moisture and was hot in my throat when I breathed it in. It smelt like fresh rain but I was yet to feel a droplet on my skin, the leaves of the trees above us were so dense they refused to let any of the refreshing water through. I could hear the rain clattering off the leaves for a long time, although it had stopped now.
The enveloping air was muggy and dense, sweat coated my upper lip and I could taste the salt of it in my mouth. As I walked, the skin in the crease of my knees was sticking together with perspiration. Rope-like vines twisted around the trunks of tall trees as if attempting to strangle them, the atmosphere was alive with the sound of insects buzzing around me. I had little energy remaining that I couldn’t even swat the mosquitoes away from me. My cargo shorts and thin vest clung to my skin in the heat, I felt as if I were melting.
There were brief flashes of sunlight and a clear, blue sky in the shiny leaves above us of all shapes and sizes. Everywhere I looked I discovered a new shade of green and my ears picked up a different bird call as a number of wings fluttered over us. The branches cracked as I held them back to create a clear path for my companions, the leaves slapping against my skin when I let the branch whirled back into its original place.
“Here,” Eztil said, setting down his backpack and pulling his machete from his belt. We, to my utter relief, stopped.
The Elderberry trees had grown in a clump together, their branches and bark grey and withered – standing out against the vibrant green of the rainforest. The leaves were dry and papery, as if they would disintegrate if they were touched.
I stood under the shade of the tree to get out of the hot, relentless sun but the air was still humid so the sweat continued to pour down my brow.
I unscrewed the lid off a bottle of water from my backpack and poured the contents over the back of my neck, disappointed when it was warm against my skin from cooking inside the plastic.
There was no wind at all, making the air around us stiff and difficult to breathe in. The moisture in the atmosphere created a perpetual, cloudy fog which engulfed everything in sight.
Eztil reached up and clutched a bunch of obsidian berries, encased by tiny and delicate white flowers. He tugged on the berry bundle and the cluster gave under Eztil’s strength, pinging the branch back with a whipping motion.
Eztil brought the berries to his mouth to only spit them back out as soon as they touched his lips, “Sour.” He stated. He brought his machete up high above his head, the blade glistened in the freckled sunlight, and slashed through a branch effortlessly.
The tree groaned as if in pain as its limb was cut and shot back, rustling angrily. Eztil picked up the dismembered branch and placed it into his bag. “A sample for Morgan.” He said in a low voice, “It’s getting late,” Eztil zipped up his knapsack, “We should make camp.”
“Okay,” I answered, panting, “Is here alright?” I surveyed our surroundings, the ground was flat and encircled by thick vegetation.
I began to set up my one-man, simple tent under the unbroken green canopy above me with my own heavy breathing echoing in my ears. I fumbled around with the nylon cloth, my hands slick with sweat, and began constructing the frame of my tent. The others were hard at work too, their sweating bodies doing the same as mine was.
Eztil was finished first and started helping Phoenix set up her tent, laying down a sheet of camping tarpaulin on the ground for her as she began to peg down the corners of her tent into the squelching mud between a cluster of wild toadstools.
Alexander and I began dotting our camp site with battery powered lanterns, hanging them on branches and twisting tree roots. Together, the four of us gathered wood for a fire and soon, we were done.
“I will hunt for dinner,” Eztil announced, sliding his bow and arrows from his large shoulder bag. “I will not be long.” He disappeared into the impenetrable undergrowth, following an animal path bent into the ferns.
“I am absolutely shattered.” I said, unrolling my sleeping bag into my tiny tent.
Phoenix groaned in agreement.
Alexander struck a match over the log pile and it came alight, its billowing smoke burning my eyes. “I think we all are.”
The sun was lowering in the sky but the temperature didn’t drop one bit.
Alexander admitted, settling himself on the log beside me. “I can’t wait to get to sleep tonight, even if it is in that thing!”
“To make everything worse,” I complained, my skin was prickly hot with terrible sunburn. “I’ve been caught by the sun too.”
“I have an ointment for that,” Phoenix began to rummage through her bag, “Here, this will sort it out.”
“Thank you.” I took the small pot she was holding out to me.
Something howled far off in the distance and was followed by the deafening caw of a scavenging bird. The predators were starting to emerge for their night-time hunting. A fly was buzzing annoyingly around my head until I finally felt the light touch of its legs as it landed on my neck, I squashed it with one swift movement from my hand.
“Why is it so hot?” Phoenix whined, “There’s no sun!”
I giggled at her, “It was hot in Verona.” I pointed out.
“Yes, but at least it was bearable in Verona. This heat is genuinely intolerable.” Phoenix moaned, rubbing her dirty hands over the fire before lying down with her back against a tree.
“Well, if you didn’t already know ’Nix,” Alexander mused as he gulped water from his bottle, “We are on the pathway to Hell.”
Phoenix grunted, “You’re so hilarious.”
“I know,” Alexander grinned even though Phoenix had her eyes closed so wouldn’t see, “You don’t have to keep reminding me.”
I ducked as Phoenix launched her empty plastic bottle at him.
“We’re English,” Alexander stated, “We’re not used to heat like this.”
I laughed loudly and exclaimed, “If we had weather like this back home the swans would set on fire!”
“The Queen would not be too happy about that now, would she?” Alexander chortled.
Even Phoenix chuckled at that, her chest jiggling up and down as she did so.
It was only another few minutes before Eztil returned.
“Dinner is served,” He declared, emptying his game bag onto the ground. “This is not all I found either. There is a nest of demons, not too far from here.”
We surrounded the camp-fire, listening to it crackle and pop and watching the orange flames flicker as yellow sparks drifted upwards with the smoke. I listened to an animal, close by, as it rooted through the foliage and I’m certain that out of the corner of my eye I caught a lizard scrabbling over the bark of a nearby sapling.
Eztil was stood over the fire, roasting a line of rats over the flames as the rest of us were nibbling timidly on the edible, but completely tasteless and bland, roots he had also foraged for dinner. Eztil was turning the prey round and round so it cooked evenly whilst Alexander, Phoenix and I were sat on uneven tree trunks that had fallen years before and were now covered in spongy moss. We didn’t speak a word to each other as to conserve what little energy we had left, I was exhausted.
We ate dinner with the moon peeking through a small gap in the shrubs, it was full and cloud obscured the moon in a haze to make it appear to be surrounded by a halo of light. It cast looming but definitive shadows across the rainforest floor, its soft light covering the landscape below in shafts. The rat meat was stringy and had a rubbery texture, I forced myself to eat it but I drew the line at slurping up the tail as well.
“What are we going to do about them?” Phoenix asked, gulping down the last mouthful of her wild meat.
“Well,” Alexander poked at the fire and a lump of wood snapped, “We can’t leave them out there. They could kill us in our sleep.”
“How many of them are there?” Phoenix questioned Eztil, her hand slapping at her thigh to kill a mosquito.
“Too many to count,” Eztil shook his head, starting to munch down on his second rat of the evening, “Easily over thirty.”
Alexander puzzled over this for a few moments, rubbing along the strong line of his jaw. “We could sneak in tomorrow, when it’s light and take them off guard.”
“That is not a bad idea,” Eztil agreed, his hair damp with sweat, “They will all be asleep and we could pick them off one by one.”
The fire spat out an ember and it hit me on my wrist, stinging my skin. “We could draw them out into the sun, that would kill at least handful of them – if not more.” I added.
“There is not much sunlight in their nest,” Eztil admitted, sucking his third rat’s tail into his mouth like it was spaghetti, “But we could lure them into a clearing.”
“You guys better get some sleep,” I stood up to get out of the camp-fire’s heat and announced, “I’ll take the first watch. We attack at sunrise.”