Remember that time in the jungle in the rain with the gringos?

“…shed the cinder skin of what goes on day by day in daylight, and start breathing.” I get wrapped up in my daily life, in my ambitions large and small (although mostly small). I start to worry about things like cappuccino and wifi, and my heart begins to shrink. Soon I’m unable to comprehend shopping, meeting, or eating outside of a strip mall. I don’t mean for it to happen; it just does. After a while I get tired of resisting and capitulate.

It was a gift from heaven, a suggestion from Dave Pentecost, an email titled “Jungle Proposal”, detailing a week spent among the Maya ruins, on the river, and in the highlands, carousing with all manner of strange people who have made their life in Chiapas. The email closed with the line “Good kickstart to the rest of your life. Lots of flowers.” He wasn’t kidding, on either count.

It’s like this: you get off the airplane, on to the tarmac, and right away the humidity and the heat hit you so hard it’s difficult to breathe. The cab drive in the middle of the night on rural Chiapas roads ought to be terrifying, but it isn’t. And then, dropped off in what appears to be the middle of the jungle, you hunt around and find someone who’s got beer and chocolate cake. The heat and sheer intensity of the jungle has you so keyed up you can’t sleep — this place is alive, full of stark beauty and a mean streak of fearlessness (even the ants in your own hut aren’t afraid) — and it is terrifying.

The jungle, the Maya, the reading (Gringos by Charles Portis, poetry by Eamon Grennan, a few pages torn from a Jim Harrison book, and finally the Hunter S. Thompson Memorial Rolling Stone magazine, something Dave brought with him and shoved into my hands before a long bus ride), the people (the backpackers, the tourists, the local folks who oblige the crazy gringos, the archaeologists with a taste for fearless exploring that I thought had disappeared, the artists who care deeply about the people around them, the great friends you didn’t know you had). It all swirls together and begins to boil, a thick, heavy soup that mashes up your mind and appears to be muddying your thinking right and left until suddenly you’re out in the open, the sun is clear and true, “morning riding your shoulders like a pet monkey, and all is pause for a cracked moment of amazement,” and suddenly you start to find yourself.

It’s strange — as the days went by without cell phone et. al. I start to recognize certain gnawings on my inside — certain appetites that had gone ignored for so long that they had withdrawn to the shadows of myself. I found myself desiring, deeply desiring, a chance to really write. To write with intensity, with ambition towards art. And I was surprised to re-discover an appetite for the jungle. I remembered the jungle from 10 years ago, but I wasn’t sure if that was a fluke or not. I don’t entirely trust my own memory, which enjoys its indulgences. So it was a great delight to discover I really do like the intensity and misery of the jungle; it suits me. And I found myself with an unexpected appetite for deep knowledge – to know more about the ancient Maya, about Chiapas today and the descendants of the ancient Maya who live there.

Tonight Sona called, and she said “I can hear the vacation in your voice.” All week long this Eamon Grennan poem was running through my head:

Full Moon

Clouds curdle round it, crack open, let it through.

Radiance shaded by cloudshapes; fat fruit

of incandescence; sphere of peeled silver. I wonder

what living by such light would be: soft

collusion of moonshine with grey gables; walls

in a whitewashed trance; argentine grass; twigs

limned in pewter. Ambition and rage all faded

from the air, the air subdued to a new sense

of self, something intimate and sure about the way

it whispers subtle truths neighbour to neighbour —

or how its ashen luminescence slides inside things

so they shed the cinder skin of what goes on

day by day in daylight, and start breathing.

It’s those last few lines — that’s what my week felt like “ambition and rage all faded from the air”, and how I feel like I’ve shed something, and started breathing again.

2 Responses to “Remember that time in the jungle in the rain with the gringos?”

  1. Matt Stoller Says:

    Vacations are wonderful things.

  2. As If It Matters » Junglecasts Forever! Says:

    […] Last March I visited Chiapas, Mexico (photos here) on the invitation of my friend Dave Pentecos. While there, we recorded several podcasts while romping around the jungle with Dr. Ed Barnhart, founded of the Mayan Exploration Center. We put these podcasts up on EchoRadio as the Junglecasts – and they have gathered quite a following. Most recently, Wired News featured them as part of “Beyond Porno: Free iPod Content”, a collection of cool free content for your iPod. The junglecasts have also appeared on and a number of other places, but far and away my favorite was this email Dave received: Just letting you know these Jungle Podcasts are great and they are being heard as far away as Antarctica! Keep up the good work, cheers. […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: