If you ever run into a Vietnam Vet in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle, do exactly as he says. Trust me on this.
I have been to the jungle my friends. I have seen the beast and stared him in his eyes. As the dank and darkness crept around me I looked into the blackness under the canopy. There were dangers out there, this I knew. But did the jungle know that Hossman had arrived??
I was 22 years old and in my physical prime. My sweat glistened off my perfectly formed muscles, the heat was close to scorching. But I was not going to let a little heat deter me from having a good time. I am from Texas, I laugh at the jungle heat. Except at 8 pm at night when all the electricity was turned off. That’s just not cool.
I was staying in a “resort” in the jungles of Guatemala. I use that term loosely. I was on my senior trip and for some reason, the jungles of South America appealed to me. The Mayan culture was always very intriguing and this was my chance to explore it first hand. Deep in the jungle the Maya had lived and many of their settlements remain unexplored.
We were staying in a series of huts in the jungle. This resort catered to gringos like myself that wanted to pretend we were Indiana Jones. They offered a week long package of jungle living among the ruins of an ancient city. All around us huge mounds rose. Under the tons of dirt and the passage of time lay the Mayan ruins. And being gringo Americans, someone had built a little resort community around them. Capitalism at work.
But the jungle bordered us on all sides, the creatures slithered while we remained safe behind our bright lights and Aquafina water. There would be no Montezuma’s revenge here, no, he was kept in the past and his horrendous curse was forgotten.
This resort seemed to be a popular place for college students, at least the more adventuresome sort like myself. While coddled in our huts, we spent our days exploring the jungle around us, trying to ascertain its mysteries. Besides myself there were a group of students from Indiana University. They liked my southern accent. And as several of them were hot little college mamas, I layed it on thick and true. I would use words like partner, howdy and youall. By the end of our stay they all believed that I owned a ranch and shot at things. I did not let on that I was a city slicker who was afraid of horses. We were trying to build an image here!
The days were spent roaming the jungle with different guides to point out the natural flora and fauna. We would hike through the trails and observe massive trees that covered a good 20 feet in circumference. I lived out one of my child hood dreams and actually swung on a vine like Tarzan. When I tried to make the transition to the next vine, it snapped and landed me on my back. Obviously the jungle couldn’t handle all that is Hossman.
And the things I saw. I shudder with the memories of it. Grasshoppers as big as your hands, their wingspan easily a foot across. I thought it was a bird until it dive bombed my head and I screamed like a girl. The jungle brings out the worst in us, I’m not proud of it. There were other assorted bugs that could easily take off your big toe without even stopping to thank you first.
There were crocs that were almost as big as dinosaurs, holdovers from that that era that stalked the lake we would raft on. Once we spotted them we decided that perhaps we should not be entreating on their natural habitat and get the hell out of there. I do not digest well.
At night, to conserve electricity, the resort would shut down all electricity in the rooms. Yes, that meant the air conditioners and fans went off as well. I am a big believer that all the ills of South America could be cured if everyone had a window unit.
There was only one place that maintained electricity, the bar. And that is where all us college students would eventually end up while our traveling partners went off to bed, tired from a day of bird watching.
The bar was run by a Vietnam Vet who had worked here for many years. He could pour a mean shot of tequila to match the mean look in his eyes. He was not a man to be trifled with. But being who I am and given the fact that I was on my 12th shooter of the night, trifle I did.
On the wall was a massive insect collection. Bugs that can bear no description adorned his walls. Impaled by a nail, each massive specimen stared blindly into the night. In the center was something massive, something hairy, something with more than one leg. I dare not call this a spider because I do not think that description would do it justice. A spider is a minor pest, this was a Mothra.
We had been drinking for many hours, the Indiana students, myself and the Vet. He was a very good host and I got the feeling he very much enjoyed his job. The subject turned to his massive insect collection. He explained that all the beasts that adorned his walls could be found right outside our huts, just at the edge of the jungle, on top of the massive mounds of buried Mayan Temples. We all turned our attention to the mutant spider that seemed to be the center piece, all eight eyes mocking me.
“Yup” the Vet said “That there can be found right around here. They live in these holes on the ground, that’s why you have to really watch where you are walking.”
“Bullshit” I said. Sweet Jesus why didn’t I just shut up? I had sealed my own fate, lord have mercy on me. Never, ever question an old timer in the bush.
But I could not help it. The thing was so big that it looked fake. Also, the ladies from Indiana University were there. I wanted to show them that Hossman was afraid of no creature. I will admit, I may have been showing off, strutting my peacock feathers. The Indiana chicks somehow got the impression that I played college football as well, but I have no idea how.
“No, they’re out there” he replied. I knew he was testing me.
“Bullshit” I said again, catching the eye of one of the better looking chicks. I smiled. She nearly fainted.
“Ok, let’s go have a look” he said. I was not prepared for this turn of events. You want to go out into the jungle? At night? No fucking way man, I’ve seen what’s out there.
But I couldn’t back down now. The gauntlet had been thrown and to back down now would have cost me all my pride and honor. I had to go especially since all the Indiana Hoosiers wanted to go to.
So we went off into the jungle with flashlights and only a stick for protection. This very well may have been the dumbest thing that I have ever done. We came upon one of the big hills and our Vet started walking to the top. Being slightly hammered but still in control, I struggled not to fall as I followed him.
I came upon the crest of the hill just in time to see him jabbing his stick into a hole. And then, my memory gets fuzzy.
I remember being a good 2 feet from this hole and bending down to get a better look at what he was poking. I remember something shooting out of it. There were more than two legs on this thing, it was humongous, it was hairy, and it looked like it was coming straight out at my face. I swear to all that his holy there was a hiss. It was like it was calling my name “Hosssssssmmmmmaaaaaan” That’s when I lost it.
Retreat was my only option as the demon spawn erupted from hell. But sadly, I am somewhat clumsy which was further fueled by the bottle of Tequila that I had consumed. I gasped for mercy from the gods as I tripped over my feet. I fell and my arms went flailing like strings of spaghetti. Down the hill I went, my body crashing into the night, my screams clinging to the trees like Christmas tinsel. The hill was so large that it took me a month just to reach the bottom. I had seen the face of the devil and he had marked me.
I don’t remember much after that. The tequila that I consumed that night dulls the memories, which was the plan all along. I had lost my luster with the Indiana chicks but at least I was alive. There may have been pointing and laughing, I do not know. I woke in the morning laying in a hammock with only my underwear on. In the jungle, this is not a good idea. Blood sucking insects had sucked my blood like some weird trashcan punch and I’m sure they had a good time at their insect party.
I saw the Indiana students the next day, all looked worse for wear but none had the look of fear and disappear in their eyes as I did. The attack had been to quick for them. But my heightened senses allowed me see every aspect of the creatures face.. I have spent the rest of my life trying to forget it.
The Vet came to me the next day with aspirin and water. In his face I saw that he to had once been where I had been. Trying to be a showoff for the ladies and then meeting death. We were comrades then and shall be forever. To him, I drink my drink tonight. Hopefully, we can both drown away what we both saw, God willing.