Return

We traveled back to Hue through torrential rains. In places the narrow mountain road had become almost completely washed out. Our driver deftly maneuvered our jeep along precipitous paths. Several hours later we were back in Hue. After two days the rain slackened. Thien came to me early one day in the office and said that we could try to go back into the forest. We had only had one week left on our government permit to survey the area and there was a good chance that we would be forced to turn back early again because of monsoon rains—but he would support me if we wanted to give it a try. I did. Despite the still dangerous flooding and the mercurial monsoon weather I felt like we needed to attempt to finish the expedition. I kept thinking back to the tantalizing glimpse we had gotten the previous week: a glimpse of a remote jungle hideaway that still teemed with wildlife. We had to try to get back. Even a handful of leeches from this area could yield incredible results. I asked Thien to be ready to leave the following afternoon.

Heavy rains pushed our trip back yet another day. At that point I feared that we were on a fool’s errand. I spent hours silently brooding. I hunkered down in a small café. My thoughts were as black as my coffee. Thien, I think, was worried, but wisely chose to let me be. It was some small consolation that there was nothing we could do to change the situation. You can’t control the weather. But at the end of the day I needed results: at some point excuses, no matter how valid, cease to matter. I felt disheartened and frustrated. But then the weather broke. Sunlight streamed through darkened clouds. How long would our luck hold? I didn’t know. But I did know that we needed to get back into the forest quickly and squeeze in what work we could while we had the chance. The following day we assembled our team and set off for the jungle. We decided to camp in an area north of where we had last surveyed. Topographical maps showed that this area had good forest. Also the local army patrols claimed to have seen Saola in the area within the past few months. As we hiked back into the jungle I remember feeling a renewed vigor. Yes, we only had a short time to work, and it was likely that our trip would be cut short again by dangerous weather conditions. But we were going to do everything in our power to finish strong. And I think that fighting spirit reverberated throughout our group.

Hiking back into the jungle
Hiking back into the jungle

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