Midnight Trail

Location: Puntarenas, Costa Rica

I dashed through the forest, stepping light as a mouse, but quick as a fox. My only guide was the near dead flashlight which I squeezed between two excited hands and the pattering feet ahead. I leapt over a stream of busy leafcutter ants which I had been lucky enough to catch just in time out of the corner of my eye. I wanted to stop and take a picture; to add the beautiful creatures to my photo collection, but there wasn’t time.

“It’s here.” The guide announced in a carrying whisper after minutes of dodging and weaving through the darkened trail. “Turn off your lights.”

Our group came to stop, taking in deep breaths of sultry air. Sweat dripped from my brow even after I wiped it clean with the back of my sleeve. But I couldn’t let these irritations slow me down.

My fingers fumbled into my pocket, searching for my beloved iPhone8. With my flashlight hanging from my neck and the camera app open, I brought my eyes up to the scene above.

And this is what I saw…

“Just wait”, there was an excitement in the guide’s voice, “the security guard said he saw it here.”

“How are we going to see it without any light?” A worried voice peeped.

“It’s eyes”, the guide said, “they glow like a cat’s. We don’t want to scare it away with our lights or any noise.”

I crossed my fingers and hoped my group would heed the man’s words. They had an awful habit of having mouths like horns and ears like rocks. But this time they were quiet. It must have been the story our guide told earlier about the cougars who prowled the paths and would do anything to protect their young.

I waited and waited, heart beating like a giant at its drum. I let the steaming beads of sweat tear itching paths down my face and fall into my eyes. I couldn’t move. My arms were up, hands clamped to my phone, thumb raised just over the glowing white picture button. I would only have one chance to take this photo, and I wouldn’t miss it.

“There!” The guide exclaimed after what felt like decades of waiting. “The eyes!”

He flicked his ten-pound flashlight up to the trees, and my finger tapped the button over and over, like the trigger to a semi-automatic rifle. I saw the animal clearly with my own two eyes, and it was visible for but a second. It disappeared deep into the forest, escaping the guide’s blinding light, but my eyes as well.

I brought down my phone and clenched my teeth, hoping that I had managed to snag at least one photo of the rare creature. The creature our guide – who travelled these paths nearly every day – said he hadn’t seen in more than a year. The creature avid photographers spent weeks hoping to find.

I scrolled through photo after photo, seeing more and more of the same thing:

I scrolled faster and faster, heart breaching its cage, worry creasing my brow. I had taken so many, one of them had to have captured it.

And then I finally came to one that very nearly made my heart burst with joy:

Kinkajou

It wasn’t much, but I got it. Those I showed it to would hardly recognize what it was, but I didn’t care what they thought. This photo was for me, and I would always remember the adventure that came with it. I would always remember that I got to see a wild Kinkajou.

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