I wake up in the dark to the sound of rain, barely rising over the monotone drone of the rushing river. It’s 3 AM, says the momentarily blinding face of my watch. I listen for wild and mysterious sounds, but all’s still.
The night of the Sumatran jungle is long. It ambushes you just after 6:30 PM, and won’t let go for a full 12 hours. I went to sleep soon after dark and had a restful sleep in the company of technicolor dreams. Now I lie awake, with several hours until sunrise. For a fleeting second, I wish I had my Kindle to fight the dark. But I left it behind on purpose, to experience the jungle unadulterated by technology.
So I embrace the darkness and let my thoughts run. They’re not happy at the moment. My body is stiff and I have to painfully loosen up each joint. This is my second night sleeping on the ground – actually on a thin rubber sheet aspirationally called by someone a yoga mat. My rain jacket is balled up under my head for a pillow. As I work my way up to a sitting position, I contemplate the relativity of comfort. The basic accommodations of Ketambe, the village from where we started our trek, seem ridiculously luxurious right now.
It doesn’t help to think of that, so I turn my attention to this night’s dreams. They return unfailingly every night, these wonderfully weird dreams. They are emotional, cinematic, and surprisingly coherent in their narrative. I suspect they are fueled by the malaria medication. As I play back tonight’s episodes, a scene stands out. I’m in high school, out with friends. We shine with youth and happiness. A good friend, who in real life has been dead for almost 5 years is making himself tea. How are you? I ask, knowing that I’m talking to a reflection of his spirit. He turns to me with sad eyes and says I’m lonely. My heart breaks and I don’t know what to say to reassure him.