Beyond this curtain, he quietly floats beneath rows of long thick pods, each suspended above his head by a single vine. In this jungle setting, he might recall the bodies hanging above the riverine entrance to Colonel Kurtz’s Cambodian lair in Apocalypse Now.
Here the brush scrapes his face and his boat; the light dims; he struggles to paddle through root spikes emerging from the receding swamp. Here the forest not only sees; it speaks. Mouths hollowed through twisted un-green trunks silently howl, “Turn back, Intruder. This place is forbidden.”
Suddenly a sleek white “sik” bird, with its long twin tail, bursts out of the gloom and jets low overhead like a vapor trail, shrieking “no no no no.” And that was enough weirdness for me. I retreated as quickly as my arms and the swamp’s obstructions would allow, and it was not too soon.
I had thought the impending darkness was caused by the shadowy forest cover, but when I reached a wider passage and could see the sky again, I realized there was another, more serious reason. The sun was setting. Then I remembered something my host had warned about an ominous connection between darkness and hopelessness.
My leisurely sightseeing float was now a K-1 sprint final. With the tide at my back, I barely reached my hotel before anyone needed to interrupt cocktail hour to search for me.
I pulled my kayak onto the landing and stumbled, muddy and wet, into the hotel bar. I wanted to announce to the gathered drinkers that a giant snake had surely carved Mutunnenea and that malevolent spirits haunted its upper reaches. But a waitress distracted me with the offer of cold beer. And the moment was lost.