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THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!
By Tony James Slater
Average 4.7 STARS
There comes a time in every man's life when he says to himself, "Holy Sh*t! I'm about to be eaten by a bear!"
Tony James Slater went to Ecuador, determined to become a man. It never occurred to him that 'or die trying' might be an option... The trouble with volunteering in a South American animal refuge is that everything wants a piece of you. And the trouble with being Tony, is that most of them got one.
Just how do you 'look after' something that's trying it's damnedest to kill you and eat you? And how do you find love when you a) don't speak the language, and b) are constantly covered in excrement and entrails? If only he'd had some relevant experience. Other than owning a pet rabbit when he was nine. And if only he'd bought some travel insurance...
That Bear Ate My Pants is the hilarious tale of one man's quest to better himself. Whether losing a machete fight with a tree, picking dead tarantulas out of a tank of live ones or sewing the head back on to a partially decapitated crocodile, Tony's misadventures are ridiculous, unbelievable and always entertaining. Long before Sky One got involved, there were already plenty of Idiots Abroad. This is the story of one of them...
“MONKEY!” I shouted, as a brown blur swung out of the cage and onto the path.
The chase was on.
He skipped away with incredible speed, dodging around the corner and heading for freedom as though he’d thought of nothing but this moment for years. I bolted after him, grabbing the edge of a cage to swing me around in hot pursuit. The monkey was a good way ahead of me, and far more maneuverable. But I was faster on the straight. I accelerated down the narrow corridor between enclosures, and was closing the distance between us when he reached the steps down to the main road through the farm. This was my chance - if he paused, if he found the stairs confusing, I’d be on him. But no. Being a monkey, he didn’t have much use for stairs. He just jumped.
He made the ten foot leap to the ground with ease, landed on all fours, and scurried off down the road. Pounding along behind him I had less than a second to make the choice. If I slowed to negotiate the stairs even part of the way down, it would all be over. Once he reached the trees by the first bend in the road he’d be gone for good.
Time was up. I reached the top of the steps at a dead run and launched myself over the edge.
In the seconds I was airborne my entire life flashed before my eyes. I seemed to have spent a disproportionate amount of it chasing monkeys.
Somehow I landed on my feet, with bone jarring force. I was only a step behind the monkey - my leap had taken me considerably further than his - but my body was moving too fast for my legs. I managed to push off with my feet at the same moment as I started to fall headlong on the ground. The result: I bounced forwards another meter, sailing high above the form of the fleeing monkey, then crashed to earth and flattened the f**ker.
The impact knocked the stuffing out of me. It temporarily turned the monkey two-dimensional. Pain shot through me. I felt like I’d fallen ten feet onto a small primate. For the monkey it must have been like being beaten around the head with a banana tree. For a split second neither of us could move.
He recovered quicker than I did. Amazingly he wriggled out from under me and leapt towards freedom, just as I, still lying prone, reached out with both arms and caught him.
Unfortunately I could only catch him around the middle. Which meant that while he wasn’t going anywhere, he wasn’t particularly happy about it.
In far less time than it takes to tell the monkey writhed around in my grasp and sank his fangs into my hand.
The monkey switched his attention to my other hand and bit down hard.
“Arrr!” I shrieked. I let go with the recently bitten hand, but I had no other options – I had to grab him again or lose him. As I tried to grab his neck he bit me again, puncturing the thick leather glove easily and scoring my vulnerable flesh. Again and again he bit down, faster than I could even register the damage.
I lay on my belly, flat out on the floor, both arms outstretched in front of me and both hands wrapped around a frantically flailing ball of teeth and rage. There was sod all I could do – without my hands free I couldn’t get to my feet, and without standing up I had no way of controlling the beast. It was not the first time I had the thought; what the hell was I doing in Ecuador?
All I’d asked for was a little more adventure in my life. Now, I appreciate that in hindsight this is obviously a huge mistake. There’s even a proverb designed specifically to warn against it. It goes something like ‘Be careful what you wish for - you could end up with your fingers in a monkey’.
The thing is, I’d spent several years trying (and failing) to be an actor. I’d been forced to give up when, after a lot of soul searching, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere because I was crap. It was not my happiest hour. But to console myself I bought a book called ‘Work Your Way Around The World’.
It seemed like the answer. All the dead-end jobs I’d done whilst pursuing my theatrical dream suddenly revealed a glimmer of potential; translate any one of them to a different country and they became a lot more exciting. Why work in my local pub when I could do the same job in a bar in Bondi Beach or Miami?
And so I set out on my grand tour, aiming to do a different job on every continent. I would visit the far flung corners of the world, explore their secrets and discover all there was to know about life in the process.
I got as far as France. After three months of picking prunes on a baking hot plantation south of Bordeaux, having lost the ability to walk normally due to spending sixty hours a week on my knees, I decided to give up.
It wasn’t that the place broke my spirit, though it came perilously close; it was when the boss got drunk with us one night and confessed to drugging a gypsy who worked for him, and feeding him into the prune drying furnace. That made up my mind. By daybreak his entire workforce had evaporated. By midnight the next day I limped through the door to my parent’s house, exhausted, malnourished and penniless.
All in all it had been a bit of a shitter.
So on my list of preferred career choices (the one they get you to make in school) I’d already crossed off ‘Actor’ and ‘Explorer’. Number three was ‘Astronaut’ and to be honest, I didn’t fancy my chances. So I did what I usually do when I get depressed; I bought a book. This one was about volunteering abroad. And that is how I found Santa Martha Animal Rescue Centre in Ecuador, South America.
Santa Martha’s website described it as a volunteer-run wildlife refuge perched high in the mountains of the Avenue of Volcanoes. At any given time it was home to monkeys, parrots - even big cats - plus dozens of other creatures I’d never even heard of. All of them had been rescued from cruelty; chained up in market places, kept illegally as pets or destined for the black market. The job of the volunteers was to accompany the police on raids, rescue the animals, look after them and eventually release them into the Amazon rainforest! It was the most amazing job description I’d ever read.
I signed up instantly and Toby, the English co-ordinator of the refuge, approved my application despite me having absolutely no relevant experience. I convinced myself that this was the shadowy hand of Fate, rather than a blanket policy of employing every idiot that sent them an email. Surely there would be some kind of training program before they sent me in to feed the lions...
And before you could say ‘eighteen hour flight’, there I was in Ecuador. Heavily in debt to my credit card company and strapped into a rucksack the size and weight of a chest freezer full of dead rhino. I wish I could say I was happy about it.
Nestled into a hollow in the Andes mountains, Quito is the highest capital city in the world. Even the airport is over nine thousand feet. Planes that land there don’t need to make a descent, they just go straight on. It’s a banana of a place, curving halfway around the side of a gigantic active volcano. And nestled into the center of Quito is the ugliest bus station in the world. Terminal Terrestre it’s called, which has a disturbing ring of finality about it. This is where I found myself on Day One of my adventure.
Through clouds of exhaust fumes I could just about make out... Well, nothing actually. Visibility was about three and a half feet. Petrol was clearly not too expensive in Ecuador, as the drivers seemed keen to leave the buses revving the whole time they sat in the station. Or maybe they were just afraid that if they ever turned them off they’d never start again. A squint through the haze told me this was the more likely of the two reasons. Thick black smoke was coming out of the back of every bus. In fact thick black smoke was coming out of the front of quite a few of them.
Their destinations were displayed on little signs in the windscreens, ranging from a ‘proper’ plastic thing to bits torn off a cardboard crisp box and scrawled on with a felt-tip pen. I was looking for somewhere spelled ‘Tambillo’ - though how it was pronounced could be anyone’s guess…
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