It was cold. Deep down, get beneath your skin, hit you in the gut cold. The kind of cold that fills your lungs with an icy fire every time you inhale. I lay in my hammock. I had on every item of clothing I had brought, and yet I couldn’t stop shivering. Part of the shivering was due to fever. It had been a long and sleepless night. I was dazed and disoriented. A flood of thoughts raced incoherently through my head. I should have bought a thermometer to check how high my temperature was but what good would it do in the end other than give me a number it wouldn’t solve the problem there was nothing I could do this far from medical facilities and why was I working in a place where it was so cold I chose Vietnam partly because Texan that I am it was a tropical country but here I was colder than I have ever been in my life and how was I going to keep pushing myself in this punishing landscape when I felt so run-down bone-tired exhausted?

An com!” came the morning call to breakfast. I snapped to attention. I had no appetite but knew that if I didn’t eat I would be weaker than I already was. I wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag and hobbled to the campfire. Our team sat in a circle, hunched over, silent. Usually there was laughter and joking at the start of the day but now the only sound was the pattering of rain on the tarp overhead: a rhythmic tattoo that seemed like it would never end. Anh Thanh handed me a bowl of rice and cold canned pork. Then, seeing how miserable I was, he kindled the fire, turning the glowing embers first into a flickering flame, then a blaze. The warmth struck me full in the face. It helped, but I still couldn’t stop shaking. We ate in silence. The dull sound of chopsticks scraping against plastic bowls was just audible over the rain. Halfway through the meal I announced that we would rest for one hour before starting the fieldwork. It was met with grunts of approval: no one was in a hurry to get into the forest. I couldn’t blame them. After eating we retreated to our individual hammocks. I lay on my side, pushing my legs up into my chest, making myself as compact as possible. An hour passed by in only a few minutes—or so it seemed to me when my watch alarm went off. It took all my will power to sit up in my hammock. Then I slipped on soggy leech socks and stood up. I was uncertain on my feet. I asked Anh Thanh to cut a walking stick for me. Perhaps, I reasoned, if I had one good walking stick it might make up for two unsteady legs. We gathered under the tarp, checking supplies one more time, then set off into the jungle. My last thought before leaving the safety of the campsite was that it was going to be a long day. And cold.

View from our campsite
View from our campsite

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