“Hello?” The phone is buzzing and chirping; I can hardly hear the voice at the other end. “Hello?”
“Can you hear me now?” the voice says, much clearer. “I’m standing on a rickety old bench at the top of a hill.”
“Jesse? Is that you?” I shout into the phone, as if I could hear him better if I shout into my own phone.
Sure enough, it is my son, and this is the first I’ve talked to him in several weeks. Which is no big deal except that he is calling from the Amazon, and when you haven’t heard from your rotten kid for weeks when he is in the Amazon, it tends to send the old parental worry-barometer through the roof.
“It’s the only way I can get reception on my cellphone,” he says. “I have to climb this muddy hill just outside of camp, and stand on this old wooden bench thing to get a signal.”
And I thought it was crazy when he went to Madagascar to study lemurs a little over a year ago.
“How are you? Everything OK?” I shout. It’s a long way to South America, so, again, I shout.
“It’s so hot I’m soaking wet right now and when you’re not sweating, it’s pouring rain, or we are wading up to our chest in the river — so I’m pretty much soaked all the time. It’s really intense here, Dad!”
And I realize all the buzzing and chirping on the phone are the background sounds of the rainforest creatures all around him.
Jesse is on another “adventure.”
After toiling away and saving moolah all year, this time it’s as a research volunteer with Global Vision International, a well-known wildlife conservation group, and this time he’s tracking and cataloguing exotic creatures in Ecuador, in the Amazon rainforest. Which doesn’t mean feeding furry, cute little ring tail lemurs, but willingly seeking out dangerous lizards, snakes and bats, strange birds and even stranger insects.
“You won’t believe this Dad, this girl from England and I were behind the group on a trek yesterday and we ran to catch up and brushed through the branches of this weird tree. The leader looked back and he spotted one of the most deadly snakes in the Amazon hanging right there in that tree. He said we could have been easily been bitten, and its venom is 100 per cent fatal!”
“R-rreally?” I say.
“Yeah, and the first day we were here, they warned us about bullet ants and poison dart frogs.”
“Bullet ants? Poison what?” I’m mumbling now.
“Bullet ants are huge and if you get stung by one, it feels like getting shot by a bullet, and the killer pain — it lasts for more than 24 hours.”
“Oh. Great.” I say.
“And one poison dart frog has enough deadly venom on its skin to kill several adults. It’s called that because the indigenous people put the poison from the frog on the tips of their hunting darts and arrows. And the frogs are quite common so you don’t want to touch one of those,” he says with the typical invincibility of a 23 year old.
“No,” I say, “Don’t go near the frogs. …”
“And you know what? They told us about this huge spider, called a Brazilian wandering spider. One bite and you become impotent for life!” He snorts.
“All of us guys are now terrified of spiders.”
“Yikes,” I manage to say, realizing about how much I’m looking forward to grandchildren. I try to change the subject.
“You’ve been doing some interesting stuff I bet?” I mumble weakly.
“We take canoes down the river to a nearby village and play soccer with the kids and visit their school. The kids love it when I give out the Canadian stuff.”
I remember that the good people at Mayor Morris Flewwelling’s office had given him a bag of Red Deer pins and Canada pens to give out, but right now I’m thinking about snakes and spiders.
“You’re OK though, right?”
He’s too much in jungle mode to hear me.
“And the other night I was heading down the trail to the bathrooms, and it’s steaming hot and pitch dark and I am wearing my headlamp and all of a sudden — WHOOSH — this thing swoops right in my face, and then another one hits my head and it’s this species of huge bats. They are the size of our crows and they were flying in to snatch the insects that were attracted to the beam of light on my headlamp. It was intense!” he says for the second time.
And then his tone is suddenly serious.
“And I wanted to talk to you about something really important.”
Oh oh. Here it comes, I think. It’s “Send money and get me out of here now!”
But I’m wrong.
“I want to stay another five weeks,” he says. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life, and the people here are great and the wildlife is so cool and I want to stay for the whole 10-week program, and I need your help in getting my payment transferred and changing the flights home. I can’t do all that standing on this old bench on this hill — would you mind making some calls?”
So after about three hours on the phone and three Tylenol, I manage to sign up the rotten kid for another month and a half in the seriously infested Amazon.
At least the other rotten kid, the dancer kid, is closer to home — living in Edmonton, taking a dance class at university and working and hanging around with her BFFs.
But then, of course, in April, she’s off to New Zealand.
Please don’t tell me they have poison frogs and deadly vipers there, too. I don’t think my parental worry-barometer can take it.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate.