We fluttered down hidden steps, crawled under fallen trees and side stepped razor grass. We reached a swamp with thick grey water that settled at our thighs and filled our boots; it was a maze of hanging vines and reeds, spotted with red eye tree frogs, boa constrictors and wanderers. Other creatures whispered in the darkness escaping the beam of my red headlamp.
Eventually, we clambered out into a great expanse. My eyes adjusted.
For a moment my restless mind encouraged me to believe I was in a black room. Then the lights came on. They came brighter and hungrier by the second until, there was no more room for them. They were a duvet of colour against so much darkness. Stars.
My friend guided my eyes to one brush stroke of smudged stars. The Milky Way. Damn, it was beautiful. The only thing that obscured my view were the points of a palm tree, marking its outline against the light.
The ocean crashed hard against the floor and then threw a sharp white line across the horizon. The silence ripped in two. I could hear it but not see it, so I had to imagine that the white line was the break of a wave and not of a heart.
I placed one foot in front of the other and continued to do so as the sky settled and faded to a soft pink. The hours had gone on unnoticed, my calves burned and yearned to walk on concrete, my mouth was dry and the water was running low. We had 42 sectors to patrol and each sector was 100metres long, a 12k walk.
As we walked I watched like a dog, with its head out of a car window, as each sector plate flew past me. We stopped three times to measure turtle tracks. Two had nested and the other had created an aimless pattern in the sand.
“Go home turtle. You’re drunk.” My friend laughed.
Finally, the forest on my right began to retreat and a wooden post could be seen smeared by heat waves in the distance. Plaque 42, the final sector we’d patrol. We’d reached the finish line.
In front of the forest was a large area of wetland; a huge lagoon with cattle kicking up the moist mud and a rose sky shredding itself into pinks, purples and oranges. Scarlet Macaws dipped in across the landscape and then flew higher than the tree tops, swerving past the emerging branches that grasped for life. Hawks swam amongst the clouds, they saw it all. I could hear the rumble of howler monkeys in the distance.
So few would get to see the sun rise here, it was too remote, untouched and perfect. I prayed that it would stay that way.
We were four young people, alone, in an indescribable place, exhausted and singing The Lion King. Life was this. This was living. We were doing it right. We collapsed on our rucksacks and started to eat breakfast, beef jerky.