by David G. Woolley
I never should have agreed to ten days in a snake-infested jungle, hanging out with local Indian villagers and checking out ancient ruins as possible settings for a future book. But when Ryan Wilson (93 Premier) won an almost-all-expense-paid spot on the Choice Humanitarian cultural work project and expedition to the hinterlands of Guatemala and when his parents declined to fill the required chaperon position, dummy me, I accepted the calling to watch over the boy. Which means when those indigenous cannibals come after us white men, I'll volunteer to go hunt for more firewood while they boil Ryan in a pot.
Early this coming Saturday morning, November 17th, we arrive in Guatemala City and hook up with our eight-member expeditionary team before puddle-jumping in a prop plane into the mountain jungles of Guatemala. Picture a remote airstrip just wide enough for one 12-seat, rusty-bucket, single engine craft from the 1960s to squeeze between mammoth rain forest vegetation rising forty feet off the jungle floor. No radar. No tower. No terminal. Nothing but a lone wind sock made from the intestines of the last white man to land in those parts and you get just an inkling of the stupidity required to volunteer for an adventure like this.
The pre-departure handout from the expeditionary force reads: "In Guatemala we run into numerous creatures which the villagers will tell you cause Muerto--dos horas. All you Spanish speakers out there are already laughing. For you non-linguistic types, the rough translation is "dead in two hours." The literal translation is, "What the heck was I thinking?" In this particular Central American jungle there are, and I quote, "coral snakes, poisonous lizards, poisonous millipedes, and tarantulas," to say nothing of the larger beasts with long fangs and complete disregard for the power of a US passport or the long arm of the US State Department. The advice from the expeditionary force? Be careful. The closest hospital is more than a two hour mad-dash through the jungle. I repeat: "Muerto, dos horas!"
Right next to the I-hate-poisonous-creatures line is the I-detest-pre-departure shots-filled-with-half-dead-microscopic-organisms line. All that doctored-up gamma globulin is engineered to develop an immunity to yellow fever, white fever, black plague, DPT, DT and Sparta. And they still don't have a shot for the common cold. But then, after reviewing the goal production stats from the U18 state cup third group match, we haven't much of a shot either.
There are lots of shots for this expedition, none of which I have allowed be administered to me due to my complete hatred of needles. Needles in the arm. In the bum. In the thigh. One in my big toe. They're the kind that swell up, hurt lots and produce hallucinations of men with spears and painted faces. The expedition Nazis (aka the Wilson family) finally stepped in and set up an appointment with the health department on Wednesday morning, otherwise the immigration service would have likely booted me from the plane. We could hope, right?
There are some redeeming virtues to this expedition. Ryan Wilson will likely never complain about his mother's cooking again. I get to visit the most likely site for the ancient coastal mountain Land of Nephi (Guatemala City), the likely site of the City of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) and also the ruins of the most likely location for some of the regional cities within in the Lamanite cultural and political spehre of influcence if not outright control (Tikal--remember all those city kingdoms?) on the sprawling eastern plains region of the greater Yucatan. We both get to play soccer with the locals (Go Rangers) as long as we bring our own ball. No pig bladders please. We get to help put in the seasonal crops. And the Guatemalan Indian villagers get to watch us run for cover at the first sighting of an *eighty-legged millipede.
So next Thursday, November 22nd, while the rest of you are enjoying moist turkey, mashed potatoes accented with a light brown gravy, a helping of your mother's yams, some sage & onion dressing and your aunt's sweet rolls, Ryan and I will be dodging poisonous darts from the rival villagers across the piranha-infested Grijavla River while fighting over the last helping of raw snake flesh. In all your feasting next week, don't forget to offer a prayer of thanks in our behalf. We'll likely not be in much of a thankful state of mind.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
*Editors Note: millepedes have between 80-450 legs so an eighty-legged poisonous millipede like the one mentioned above, would give us the greatest chance of survival. Its much slower and certainly out-runnable.