Taking off my hearing aids inside of a tent at night to go to sleep is letting myself be completely vulnerable. It’s also trusting whoever is in the tent with me to be my ears in case something happens.
It was a hot summer night in September and my girlfriend and I decided to book a 24 hrs stay at a hot springs to soak in its healing waters and to have some some time just to ourselves. She was one of the first Brazilian friends I made since I left our country to come live the American dream in my 20s. Now with a small child, she had decided to go back to Brazil so we decided to honor ourselves this moment together before she left.
When we arrived, we thought it was wise to set up the tent first so we’d be free to enjoy the day without worrying about finding the perfect spot as the day got hotter and hotter. The place is located in a valley and we could chose to camp near the bottom of the mountain, where there are less campgrounds and is more intimate, or further up on the hills where there’s a wide open area and more places to set our tent up.
Having camped in there just recently with my partner, I told my friend that the lower area was a great option and less of a hike to the waters. Plus, we’d get to visit the gorgeous fig tree on the way.
We parked the car right in front of a great camping spot, but someone had already placed a hammock there, claiming the space. So we walked further in, exploring other options. There was a little river that crossed the land, running alongside the campground. But at this time of the year, we couldn’t spot any water, making it very easy to walk across. Right on the other side, we found a shaded space. The smell of bay leaves was strong and there was a little fresh breeze. Seemed like the perfect area on a 100 degree weather. We set out tent there and went off to enjoy the day.
It was about 10pm when we finally made it back. The first thing we noticed is that the hammock where we first wanted to camp was now gone. No one else had set up tent in the lower camp area. We were alone. The moon was practically full, illuminating the entire valley. The air in the night was pleasant and we were tired. Half of our tent was exposing the view, only protected by a layer of mesh. The rain fly for this tent had long been ripped and thrown out, but that didn’t bother me because I knew the night was going to be warm.
It didn’t take long for my eyes to start getting heavy. I had been walking around with only one hearing aid all day and just noticed that the other one was still inside the car in my other bag. Wearing two hearing aids is helpful, but I can get by with only the hearing aid on my left side. Since when I’m in the hot springs I have to remove them each time I go in the water and put them back on when I get out, for practical reasons I tend to only keep one on instead of both until I leave. As I’m used to do when going to sleep around others, I waited until I noticed we both got quiet for at least about 5 mins, then I took my hearing aid off and quickly fell asleep.
I was passed out for about three hours when my friend woke me up. She was sitting up and I quickly put my hearing aid on to hear what she was trying to tell me.
"There’s an animal here," she said. "It’s getting closer and closer. I didn’t want to wake you, but it’s been 30 mins and it’s killing another animal."
We listened quietly. It was hard to make out what I was hearing because the cicadas were singing loudly that nigh, mixing up with my tinnitus and the lack of my other hearing aid, it was a perfect cocktail of audible confusion with a cherry on top. But then I clearly heard what sounded to me like a mad zombie chomping on someone’s guts with a voracious appetite. We heard the smaller animal crying. Then it stopped. Silence filled the air again.
We were sitting on the large mattress near the part of the tent that’s covered, facing the mesh side, staring and waiting for any visual cues. The animal began to walk around the tent, but behind us. We could hear each step as it walked slowly on the leaves fallen on the ground.
I had no sense of sound direction and the outside noises mixed up with my tinnitus were disorienting to me. I relied on my friend to point out where each step was coming from. At that point I regretted not having my other hearing aid with me. Low frequency tones are the hardest sounds for me to hear and having both devices on would have helped my brain to make sense of what I was hearing.
At times, my friend would hear the beast going through the bushes even if I didn’t. When it got louder, I’d notice them too. She whispered to me that she hadn’t slept at all because she was tossing and turning with a headache for a couple of hours until our visitor showed up, adding to her discomfort. On top of it all, she told me, she really had to go pee.
Her almost inaudible voice was interrupted by the creature’s ravenous feast and the helpless prey’s cry echoing in the bottom of the valley. We tensed up. We didn’t know what predator we were dealing with. Was it a bear? A mountain lion? A coyote?
She wanted to get out of the tent and go to the car which is parked across the little dry river, about 100 feet away from us. Her instincts said she needed to run. I told her we needed to find the right time. Running at that moment was a scary idea, but so was staying in the tent.
We were smart enough not to have any food with us in the tent. We also knew that the beast was probably much more content with whatever it is that it caught for dinner than to come after us. It was doing what it wanted to do and not caring whether or not we were right next to its meal. Still, it was frightening to watch the mesh area waiting for it to show its face in front of us. If we stayed, we’d never sleep that night.
I told her I knew that in case of bears, we could make loud noises and make ourselves seem big to scare it away, but in the case of a mountain lion, I wasn’t so sure.
Our phone reception was very spotty, but I was able to search it up, quickly finding out that playing loud music and making loud sounds can do the same to a cougar is it does to a bear.
"I’m going to play some loud music," I told her while she nodded at me.
I knew I had some downloaded songs on my Spotify account. I scrolled through them only to find out all the songs I had downloaded were mellow songs. None of those seemed to be dignified of shooing away a large scary animal. It was probably the first time in my life I wished I liked heavy metal music.
Playing those songs would be a foolish idea, we needed to scare it away, make it leave. Startle it. So I told her that I was going to scream. She nodded again.
I took a deep breath in and began to shout with my best primal mix of Portuguese and English words that I could come up with:
“Go away, Haaaaa, leave, sai fora, shooo, my land, roaaaaarrr, go, go, corre!” and I clapped loudly and moved my arms around inside the tent.
We waited. Did it leave? Every second took too long. My friend squeezed my arm, her eyes dancing around us. I couldn’t hear anything.
"What?", I asked. She shushed me so she could hear. Then I heard it too. It was walking again. Was it going away? Did my screams work?
Then the sound of it chomping on its victim returned. It was obviously ignoring us. What else could we do? Did we need to try to scream for help?
It got silent again. After a couple of minutes, I screamed some more and we waited. We heard steps. My friend said it sounded like it was going away. At that point, I was eager to pee too. I was awake for about one hour inside the tent and my friend for about four. She was exhausted. Her headache was now gone, but the adrenaline we were feeling was telling us to get out of that tent. Coyotes in the distance began to howl under the bright full moon.
We pack our bags. It seemed silent out there aside from the loud cicadas. She peeked out the tent’s door with her phone light. Then she gets out. No sign of the beat. We looked at each other and signaled. Run!
We both made a mad dash to the car, while I screamed words that would make me feel empowered:
“I am protected! I am strong! I am capable! I am safe!”
We got inside the car and laughed hysterically. We couldn’t believe what we had to go through. We moved the car near the restroom, then to the main parking lot to sleep in it.
The next morning, we asked some locals about which predators are seen in the land. They mentioned the Mountain Lioness who is not afraid to make herself comfortable, be seen and heard. We also learned that lions are like cate who like to play with their preys, slowing killing them. It was enough tom conclude that she was our surprise visitor.
Later on, at the springs, an older woman approached up. She was curious about the Oracle Cards I had brought and asked me to see its artworks. As I went through the cards with her, we saw a drawing of a Mountain Lion. I told the woman our story. She was so surprised to be randomly talking to us because she had heard my screams and was in alert mode all night, just waiting for me to ask for help. She was up all night wondering what might have happened and was happy to find out that it was us and that we were safe.
That Mountain Lion made its presence around us. She owned the land. She showed us her power over us all. She was fierce and she didn’t care for us. I still think of her and ponder upon the wisdoms we gained from that experience in the wild hot springs with nature.