Monday, May 14, 2007

Of course, you will be sharing sleeping space with Ratus ratus

Mount Cameroon
May 1

Welcome to Hut Two. Been a long day, no doubt — eight hours, all up, weaving through tropical rainforest and across alpine savanna, into the clouds that shroud this mountain ridge. When the mists part… there… you can see tomorrow’s task. That’s the next ridge, where Hut Three is. Beyond that — you can’t see — is the summit ridge. And then the long way down. Tomorrow is the toughest day, so you’d best rest your weary legs, eat a hearty meal and get good night’s sleep.

Of course, you will have company tonight. Presumably veteran hikers like you — the sort who would travel halfway round the world to spend three days trekking up and down an equatorial volcano — have slept with rats before.

No? What, no rats in Canada? But it’s the most common, worldwide rodent. Ahh, squirrels, we have them too… well, the visitors you will meet tonight on your wooden sleeping platform are sort of like squirrels… big, hairy squirrels… with long naked tails… that don’t climb trees but nest instead in the straw and refuse that clutter the floor of your evening’s tin-roofed chalet.

Come again? What garbage? Oh, you mean all the trash… well, you know, that’s something to think about. Maybe you’re right: if we packed out all the trash — all of it, as you say, which would certainly take a team of porters several trips up and down the mountain — we might be able to get rid of the rats.

But that’s not likely to happen. It’s a pity, but people will just continue to litter. What’s the big deal, anyway? Granted, all this trash makes for a bit of an eyesore, but it’s not really hurting anyone. And the rats can’t hurt you either. Oh, you don’t need to stay up all night, on guard with a flashlight. Don’t be such a white Western wimp.

What’s that? Rabies? Never heard of them. What, like, germs? Everything has germs. Look, relax; the rats won’t bite you. The worst they’ll do is scuttle by your head all night, or crawl over top of you while you try to sleep. But you’ve got a good sleeping bag, donated by the Norwegian army. The rats hardly ever get inside.

Who do you think you are, anyway? Those rats were here before you, and they live here year round. This is their home; you’re just visiting. So pay some respect. And if you feel them start chewing at your toes, just pretend like they’re harmless Canadian squirrels looking for doughnut crumbs, and everything will be all right. G.

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