As my friend and I traveled south from the U.S. border we regaled each other with real life stories. My friend told many stories of leopards and panthers and how they pounced on cattle, goats, and even villagers. Sometimes his stories were embellished by local citizens who wanted to impress us with the dangers and also to teach us respect for the Mexican wilds. The stories became more incredible each time I heard them. Some of the stories were like fish tales, growing as speaker after speaker added his touch. Some of the stories were growing into legends.
I peered into passing jungles, half hoping to see leopards hiding somewhere, but I was glad that none had been evident. In addition, though John and I were wary of the wildlife, we distrusted humans even more. For that reason we decided to make camp in the jungle.
We pulled off the highway as far as we could until brush impeded our way. We discovered a clearing and set up camp. John put his cot close to the car so he could guard its contents. I decided that lights from passing vehicles might interrupt my sleep so I moved to the other side of the clearing.
Mosquitoes hummed incessantly around my head, but I was prepared. I had sprayed repellent on exposed areas and more importantly, I pulled a heavy jean quilt over my head. Mosquitoes had no chance to attack me while I lay on the cot, covered from head to toe. John was amused. “How do you expect to sleep under that quilt in this sweltering heat? I prefer the open air under the stars.” “I can’t stand the mosquitoes,” I replied. “I’d rather be too warm than be eaten up.”
I also prepared for el tigre. In my right hand I clutched a six inch hunting knife. Mentally I prepared also. Even as I fell asleep I envisioned myself facing a leopard in mortal hand to paw combat and coming out victorious.
In the middle of the night I was awakened from my fitful sleep. Something was approaching through the brush, and I was directly in its path. Each step was measured and sure, but the animal’s breathing was labored. I tensed, every muscle and nerve focused on the impending danger. The sounds grew louder and louder.
When I thought the leopard was ready to strike, I leaped up and out of the cot, knife in hand, facing my adversary! To my surprise it was not a leopard! It was a cow, but a terrified cow. The cow went straight up, shocked at my sudden ghostly appearance. I yelled and the cow screamed, or bawled at a very high pitch. I took a few steps backwards while the cow hit the ground running, desperate to escape. In the meantime John had come to life and now he was laughing loudly at the spectacle. “I guess you got your panther,” he gasped. “Now, let’s get some sleep.”
I climbed back onto my cot. My heart was still racing, my breathing still heavy. Finally I fell into a troubled sleep, aware of all the night sounds.
In the morning I scanned the area of the encounter. There was a cow path which led through the jungle. Undoubtedly one of those contented cows had made its way up the path. Once there it had encountered a madman who appeared to be out for hamburger. I had met my tigre, and resolved to listen to all future tales with a grain of salt. I knew I still had much to learn about animals, about myself, and about life.