The following morning, the noise of the jungle served as an alarm. The hands of the watch told me that it was just before 6AM. The sky had that unsure colour still present, somewhere between night and day. Stars still shone overhead, but off to the East, the colour of the sky was rapidly turning from black, to shades of blue-grey and then azure blue, as the sun started to makes its presence felt. All around, the sounds of wildlife could be heard. Snuffling and scurrying animals that are no more than a few feet away are invisible in the undergrowth. Birds in the trees competed with what must be some kind of primate to have the loudest cheer for the dawn. And from the other side of the little clearing, in the little conical tent that GG had made for himself, the sound of snoring added to the sounds of the new day. I laid in my hammock, and ran over the events of the night before. We had all sat camped around the fire, chatting politely, discussing what we needed to do over the next few days. It had been agreed, that we should split into groups, some to look for a ‘base camp’ to set up more permanent shelter, others to find food sources. During the discussions, I had tried to ease myself away from Cammie, not because I didn’t want to be near her, but because I did. As soon as it had been decided that I would be in part of the group that looked for the base camp area, I made my excuses and headed for my little tent. Within minutes of me climbing into the hammock, I was asleep.
I had never thought that a tropical dawn could be cold. The heat of the previous day had only lasted for maybe half the night. I tried to be as quiet as I could, so as not to wake the others. Kate in her hammock and Cammie in hers, both slept soundly. Down on the beach, the embers of the fire from the night before cast an orange glow on the surrounding sand. There was just enough light from the new dawn to see that someone had built a fire in the middle of our little camp last night, but hadn’t lit it. After a few minutes of stretching, and yawning, I was completely awake, and trying to light the fire. The sparks from the flint stick seemed to burn brighter than the sun, but had the same effect as if the sun had touched the dry grass and twigs. Within seconds, what had been small flames were crackling skyward in popping bursts. The smell of the burning wood was enough to rejuvenate me a little. Whatever wood it was, it burned with an intoxicating smell. The light from the fire showed a small treasure trove of fruit that someone had gathered the day before. Bananas, types of melon and mango, coconuts. I pulled a couple of bananas from a bunch, and grabbed one of the small mangos. Grabbing a bottle of water from the pack close to where I had set up camp, I took a few minutes to have a pee behind a tree, forgetting I could be on camera, and wandered off to the beach to watch the dawn.
The sky off to the East had turned into a mix of colours. Orange/peach/yellow/gold/red/purple….if I had been an artist, then this would have been what I would only ever want to paint. I sat with my back to a fallen palm tree, and waited to watch mother nature at her best. The sound of the surf softly rolling in off to my left was almost hypnotic.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Her voice came from out of the blue behind me. The sound of her walking barefoot across the sand had been almost silent, and anything that I would’ve heard had been masked by both the hypnotic view, and the sounds of the waves. I turned my head and Kate is stood behind me. For a second, I was lost for words. At the moment I had turned around, the sun had finally lifted over the horizon. At the exact moment I lifted my eyes to look at Kate, she had been bathed in golden sunlight. It was if I had seen her for the first time ever. And I was blown away. I had known that she had been a dancer of some sort, and that she liked to keep in shape even though she was a teacher. Now, as she stood there, doing bends and stretches, her hair in bunches falling around her face, her stomach showing as she bent backwards to stretch her spine….I tried to think of something witty to say, but had nothing. At some point yesterday, she had cut the legs off her trousers making them into shorts. It was with a massive effort I pulled my eyes away from a perfect pair of legs that I had never seen before. It had only lasted a few seconds, and when I turned back to the horizon, the sun was starting to climb. It took a considerable amount of self control not to stare at Kate. The amount of concentration I was putting into cutting chunks from the mango I was eating while Kate was doing her yoga-style stretching was almost Zen-like. From the noises coming from the camp, it was apparent that others were awake too. I could only hope that someone else would come along to help me distract myself from Kate.
An hour later, everyone except Darren and Lilly were sat around on the beach, making plans for the day ahead. GG and myself were to find somewhere to set up a more permanent campsite. Kate and Casper were to look for animal tracks, or places to set traps. Mary and Cammie were to look for edible vegetables and fruits, but it seemed that that had been done already, as we were sitting around eating mangos and bananas anyway. Lastly, Father Flynn and Ash were going to see if they could catch fish out in the bay. As for Darren and Lilly…it was anyone’s guess when they would show up.
I mentally ticked off my checklist, wanting to make sure that I had everything I may need…‘machete, knife, first aid kit, water…’. Everything was ready. It was coming up to about 8AM, and already the heat of the day was beginning to rocket. I could feel the sunburn on my back and shoulders from yesterday already beginning to sting. Hopefully, today I would spend most of my time in the shade. Pulling the half drawn map I had made on the plane flight out, I made sure that the combat belt I wore was sitting snugly on me, and that the knife and drinking canteen were placed comfortable too.
“You love this don’t you? I mean, the whole ‘man against nature’ thing….”
I turned and looked at GG, who was sat in his hammock, swinging back and forth like a child in a park swing.
“I noticed when we were in that training place in Wales, you really got into everything we were being told. What to wear, how to wear it, how to walk in the undergrowth….it didn’t bore you at all??”
For a second, I was tempted to give a flippant answer, but I couldn’t see the point, so just answered in complete honesty.
“To be honest mate, I loved every second of it. When I realised I was in with a chance of actually getting here, to the island, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I decided I was going to do my best, and enjoy myself. I don’t enjoy taking a crap in the open air, I admit, but everything else? Hell yeah, to me, this is fun. Think about it. We don’t need to worry about money, or what time we need to go to work. All we need to worry about are food, shelter, water and warmth. And they're all here, we just need to find them.”
I wondered if I had said too much, and came across as being arrogant. Instead, GG hopped off his hammock, picked up his belt kit, and shrugged.
“Well, then Andy boy, in that case, if we are picking teams for anything, I want to be on yours. Casper is gorgeous, but I don’t think he knows his perfect arse from his elbow when it comes to this nature stuff, to be truthful…”
We walked the few hundred metres along the beach, to where I had seen the break in the trees from the bay the day before. Sure enough, a stream was flowing into the bay, and the water was fresh. GG was all for calling it a day there and then, but I wanted to explore more, so we pushed on into the jungle. Within a hundred metres, even GG was glad I had twisted his arm. We had followed the stream inland, and after it had rounded a bend, I found another reason to thank the people who had found the island for us. It was a pool, maybe 20 metres wide and about 40 long, the water as clear as crystal. From where we stood rocks seemed to make steps into the water. The stream we had followed flowed out from one end, and on the opposite side there was a small waterfall, filling the pool. The bank we were stood on opened up into an area that was about maybe 30 metres by 50 metres. There was plenty of open space, and sunlight filled the whole place. Looking at GG, I could tell he was thinking the same. We had found our base camp. We had a good look around to make sure that there were no nasty surprises. The trees immediately surrounding the clearing were a mix of palm trees and who knew what. Following the stream further inland, after about 10 minutes we could hear the unmistakable sound of a waterfall. When we saw it, we were both lost for words. Another perfect rock pool, only this time, a waterfall that seemed to have come straight out of someone’s imagination. In less than an hour, we had found the perfect spot to set up a camp. Close to the beach and the bay full of fish. A fresh water source, a flat open space with plenty of room for us all. We decided that after our hard work, we deserved a swim. The water was cold, but that was welcome. We had been sweating continuously the moment we had entered the trees, the humidity was that high already. Stepping into the pool was a fantastic feeling. We spent an hour, swimming from side to side, diving to the bottom of the pool, which we guessed was only maybe 3 or 4 metres deep at its deepest part.
On the way back to the beach, we kept our eyes open for other things, edible foods and whatnot. GG spotted a wild pig of some sort snuffling around in the dirt of the jungle floor, so we knew that there would be plenty of meat if we could find ways of catching it.
“ANDREW, DON’T MOVE!!!………”
The urgency in GG’s voice made me stop instantly. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Just as I was about to ask him what was wrong, I saw it for myself. A snake on the floor about a metre in front of me. If I hadn’t had stopped, I would’ve been stepping on him. We had been told that in the jungle, there are many types of poisonous snake, and to learn them all would take a lot longer than we had. Instead we were told that the best thing to do if we saw a snake, was to leave it the hell alone. The only thing was, this one was very interested in me…
“…GG, go find a branch, or a stick, about a metre long, quick. I'm gonna stay here and not move. Come back directly behind me when you return, ok?…”
“…uhhh, ok, but what are you going to do?”
“Get me the stick, and I'll show you mate….”
I could hear him slowly backing away through the undergrowth, then he was gone. For the next few minutes that seemed like hours, I hardly dared to breath. The snake just sat there, looking at me. I didn’t know if it was poisonous or not, but I didn’t really want to find out. I tried to remember what we had been told about jungle snakes.. ‘the big ones generally aren’t poisonous, but they may be Boas or Pythons, so they will try and wrap around you and squeeze you to death…the little colourful ones are the ones to be VERY wary of. They have the bright colours as a warning. Basically, the brighter they are, the more dangerous they are. So avoid all of them and you will be fine…’. The fact that this one seemed quite big AND colourful meant what?…he was both poisonous AND a crusher? It would be just my luck to have stumbled across a mutant hybrid or something…The sound of GG coming back behind me brought me back to reality. Reaching back very slowly, I took the long branch from him. For the next few minutes, I slowly brought the branch around, and positioned it as close to the snake as I dared.
“GG mate, if this fails, and he bites me, I will kill him, then wait here while you go to the beach to get help, ok?”
I hear him agree, and, taking a deep breath, prepare myself.
It was a bit on an anticlimax in retrospect. I jabbed the branch forward, and pinned the snakes head to the ground on my first try. My knife was in my hand in seconds, and in even less time, I had cut the head from the snake. The danger over, I leant against a tree, shaking a little, then, from nowhere, threw up. Nerves or tension, call it what you will. All I know is, I had been scared half to death and had had come through it, and had found some food to boot. The sound of GG sobbing made me look up. I hadn’t thought about how he had felt in all this. We sat there for a while, giving ourselves a chance to calm down. We made a pact to not say what had happened, about him crying, or me being sick. If anyone asked, we were going to say we had been big bad jungle lords, and cold hearted killers. Not two scared idiots who had been lucky.
We made it back to the beach about midday, to find that everyone had been busy, and that there was news galore. Kate and Casper had found wildlife tracks all over the immediate area. They had even managed to set snares, and caught some small funny rabbit looking animals. Mary and Cammie had found a literal Garden of Eden. Cammie, being the resourceful one, had brought back aloe plants, and some sort of sap that when combined with the aloe, made a most effective balm, effective for sunburnt skin. Father Flynn and Ash had spent a morning catching fish, using the basic fishing gear from the survival kits. The dozen or so decent sized fish that they had landed made my tussle with the snake seem rather pointless in comparison.
The other big news from the morning was that at some point, the re-supply boat had been. They had dropped of the remaining part of out kit, and some extra goodies too. Aside from have duffle bags with all our spare clothes, there was a surprise gift from ‘Upfront Productions’ too. We had been given big blow up mattresses.
While the fire that had been lit was continuing to cook the range of food that had been caught, we discussed the logistics of the move to the pool area found by myself and GG. Everyone seemed in agreement that it would be a good idea to move to it, and when I strongly recommended that everyone were to carry large sticks, only myself and GG knew the real reason why they were such a good idea.
Darren and Lilly turned up when the cooking smells had wafted far enough along the beach to reach them. I don’t know what it was, but something inside me snapped. We had been on the island less than a day, and so far, the pair of them had contributed nothing to the group. As we all sat around in the shade, eating from large leaves that we used as plates, the sound of them complaining about the taste of the fish was too much to bear.
“You know, for someone enjoying a free meal, you don’t half moan mate.”
“You what? What did you just say?!”
Suddenly the entire group was silent. I didn’t look up, but I could feel Darren’s eyes burning into me from the other side of the fire. Not only that, I could tell that everyone else was looking at me too. Ah well, 'in for a penny...' as they say. I hadn’t liked Darren from the first day I met him. He had rubbed me up completely the wrong way during one of the selection tasks when he made racist remarks about all Welsh blokes being too fond of sheep. He wasn’t too bright though, as when I had replied that ‘We shag them, you eat them’ he hadn’t realised I was taking the mickey out of him to his face. Instead, he had moved onto to insulting the person next to him, and it was only when I saw him again in the final 20 in North Wales did I remember who he was.
“I said 'for someone enjoying a free meal, you don’t half moan’. You do realise that since we landed here yesterday, you've done nothing except eat, sleep, and God knows what, wherever you and Lilly have set up shop? Today, we've all busted our asses for each other, all that is, except you, and then you sit there moaning about the funny taste of the fish? I would’ve thought that blind common courtesy would have made you thank Father Flynn and Ash for catching your food for you, and then thank GG for cooking it. Have you thanked anyone yet may I ask? Or did I miss it?”
“You cheeky Welsh fat git, who the hell do you think you are talking to? Do you have any idea WHO I am?”
“Actually Darren, I do. You’re the cleaner here right? Or are you the comic relief?, I’m not sure yet, but I do know you are ungrateful. And as for being a ‘fat Welsh git‘….well done on your observational skills there mate. Yes, I am Welsh, yes, I am fat, and I suppose I am a git. But rest assured, if we are all going to die of starvation on this island, I will outlive YOU because of me being fat. And, if push came to shove, I would eat your corpse.”
GG struggling not to laugh almost made him choke, and that broke the tension of the group. Muttering, Darren threw his food into the fire and stalked off, closely followed by Lilly. I let out a big sigh, and looked up for the first time since the conversation had begun. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on me. Casper was grinning, Mary had a look of approval on her face, Father Flynn looked like he was in a state of shock, Kate was wide eyed and GG was still trying to catch his breath.
“What? I’m sorry if that offended anyone, but he does my head in. They haven’t lifted a finger since we got here, and then he has the nerve to moan about his food?…”
GG finally clears his throat…
“Dude, I don’t think you offended any of us….its just that I for one never thought I would hear YOU say any of that. That was pure ‘100% B.I.T.C.H!’ Are you sure you’re not even the slightest bit gay?
GG as ever managed to say the right thing at the right time, making everyone in the group laugh. Looking across at Kate, the way she was sitting cross legged in the sand, and the way she appeared to be looking at me in a new light now too, after I had stood up for everyone in the group sent a tingle down my spine. The smile she gave me almost made my heart pop.
“No sorry GG mate, I'm definitely not gay.”