WE'RE TRAPPED!
By: Wodan

So there I was.....In a land far away (a third-world tropical "paradise") talking to another American friend of mine who just happened to be the Scoutmaster for a small Boy Scout troop located in said country. "So, Wodan" says he, "You're an assistant Cub-master (Cub Scouts) right? Wanna go camping with the troop next weekend? We need two adults and my assistant can't make it." Boy Scouts requires at least two adults on every sanctioned activity - a good rule me thinks.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to hike up a jungle-covered mountain and camp for a couple days.

We departed early on a Friday morning via bus and arrived at our start point at the foot of a largish mountain around mid-morning. There were about 20 boys ranging in age from 11 to 16. After making sure the driver would return on Monday morning to take us back, we put on our backpacks and headed up the mountain. We followed a nice trail along a swift stream that was perhaps 30 feet wide. The trail was steep and muddy and some of the boys had never

carried a pack before so we took our time. When we approached the spot where we would camp about half way up the mountain we had to cross the stream.

The water was knee to thigh deep on me and swift. The locals had rigged a hand line of questionable strength across the stream and some boys were "challenged" by the crossing. I appointed myself lifeguard and moved down stream with a rope. I had all the boys release their waist straps and loosen their shoulder straps so they could dump their packs if they fell. We all survived the crossing.

We reached our jungle "camp" around 1 p.m. and started setting up. Unless one is in second growth, the jungle doesn't have that much undergrowth - it's too dark in there. The boys cleared some ferns and set up tents - not very well I might add. They tried to place new, inexperienced scouts with older boys. I rigged up a hammock with a poncho over top - I really don't like the idea of sleeping on the ground in jungle. The first day was uneventful, I assisted the Scoutmaster in setting up some observation areas for the boys who were working on Environmental Science merit badge, we cooked dinner on stoves and went to sleep.

I had forgotten how loud the jungle was at night. Some of the young-uns didn't get much sleep as every cicada and peeper frog sounded like the "creature from the bog". The boys had mosquito netting on their tents but I had none. No problem. Right before bed, I put on a set of BDUs, socks, gloves and a hat. I sprayed myself liberally with insect repellent, wrapped up in my poncho liner (because of the temperature difference, it felt cold at night) and blissfully surrendered to sleep. Until around 2 a.m. when OUCH!! It felt like someone was poking a hot wire into my inner thigh!! I quickly reached down and, through my pants, squished what turned out to be a very large ant, which was happily munching on my flesh. I pulled a flashlight from my shirt pocket to see how this had happened as immediately discovered two things: my poncho liner was dangling down to the ground thus providing a ladder for the ant and there were THOUSANDS of inch-long ants moving in a wide column under my hammock. I could actually hear them. I remember wondering how in the heck I would get out of bed in the morning and being glad that I didn't have "use a tree" at the moment. I tucked my pants legs into my socks, rubbed the welt on my leg and went back to sleep.

There was no sign of the ants come morning.

The next morning the Scoutmaster took all of the older, experienced scouts for a hike (Hiking merit badge) that was to last until mid afternoon. He left me with instructions to work on the Environmental Science merit badge with the young scouts; have them work together to make and eat lunch (soup and sandwiches); and gather wood for the evening's campfire. "No problem" says I, and off went the entire troop leadership.

The merit badge activities went fine. Lunch was OK but the boys did not work well together.

Then IT happened. Suddenly. Violently. CRACK! BOOM! WOOOOOSH! A tropical thunderstorm the likes of which few Americans have experienced. They come without warning and the amount of water and wind is something to behold. The boys scattered to their tents. Since they had all set up with senior scouts, they were mostly all alone in their tents..... The tents started blowing down.... many boys started crying.... The storm was furious. I went running around and moved all of the boys into the only two tents that remained standing and then retreated to my hammock. The wind and lightning abated fairly quickly but it poured, and poured, and poured. The boys were miserable, wet huddled masses of humanity. They were having no fun.

I figured the storm would last an hour and then we could all get out and gather wood for that night's fire. The Scoutmaster had lugged a gallon of kerosene up the mountain so I knew we could get one started.

The rain continued and I could not talk the boys out of their tents to help gather wood. They had ponchos but they were not going to play. "They need a morale boost - a paradigm shift," thinks I. So, I took off my shorts and shirt (don't worry, I was wearing running shorts underneath), put on my sandals, grabbed my soap and shampoo and walked into the middle of camp. It was raining harder than the water pressure of the shower in my house. I stood there, to the utter amazement of the youths and took a shower. "Come on out, the water's fine!" I shouted.

They went from morose to happy in seconds. Next thing I know, they are all out playing in the rain and helping to gather a large pile of wood.

It stopped raining. Mid-afternoon comes and goes.... no returning senior leadership. The happy mood is starting to slip as boys start to worry. One boy walks over to me and says, "Mr. Wodan, there's a problem and I don't think they are coming back." He instantly has everyone's attention. "What's up?" says I. "Come look at the creek," says he. We all walked over the formerly swift 30-foot wide creek to see a 40-foot wide raging torrent of impassable river.

"We're TRAPPED!!!" screams one boy. Chaos ensues. Boys start crying again. They are moaning that we'd never escape, we're all gonna die, Yaada, Yaada, Yaada.

They are rapidly spinning out of control when I yell, "HEY!" Silence. "Guys, what are you worried about? It's not raining, we have tents and ALL of the food! They are the ones who need to worry, not us! This water will go back down and we'll get out of here just fine." That worked pretty well but some then started grousing about what the other boys would do without tents, food, etc. I told them not to worry; the Scoutmaster would take care of them. And he did. Using that most essential of survival supplies (the credit card) he bought them dinner at a local eatery and put them up for the night in a local "motel". They loved camping that way.

I organized the boys for dinner, we pooled resources, reset up the rest of the tents, and went to bed at dark. The next morning, just as we were finishing breakfast, the Scoutmaster strolled back into camp with the older scouts. We had the campfire on Sunday night and all ended happily.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  1. Boy Scouts is a great organization - get involved.
  2. When crossing a tricky stream with rucks have a lifeguard with rope down stream, unbuckle waist straps and loosen shoulder straps.
  3. Tuck your clothes in to avoid bugs - I'm sure that ant crawled up my pants leg from my foot. Don't let your poncho liner touch the ground!
  4. Make sure tents are set up correctly the first time.
  5. Think positively and deal with the environment - don't roll into a fetal position, suck your thumb and say, "oh poor, dear me..."
  6. Flash flooding is a real danger in some parts - be aware of it.
  7. Don't allow panic to spread - take charge and take action.
  8. Be flexible, adapt, improvise.
  9. "Don't leave home without it" J

Copyright 2000 Wodan
No reprint or other republication without express consent of author