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An Unexpected Encounter
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By Reinaldo M. Alcazar

For a nine year old boy, born and raised in a small town near the high mountains of the Bolivian Andes, I was an avid enthusiast of life and customs in the countryside.

Daily life in the village where my grandmother’s farm was located fascinated me greatly.

The native Aymara people that lived and worked at our family’s farms were very interesting, friendly and happy. I admired and enjoyed their culture, traditions, and especially, their positive outlook on life and Mother Nature. “Pacha Mama”, as they referred to Mother Earth, was always present at festivals and acknowledged with expressions of respect and gratitude. Among my daily activities, other than playing with the native children of my age, was going hunting for wild pigeons in the wilderness.

The only hunting weapon I had was a slingshot. This device is made of a piece of wood cut in the shape of the letter “Y”. The lower portion is the grip, which is to be grabbed with the right hand. To the two upper pieces, two long elastic rubber bands, about a foot in length are fastened. These rubber bands, in turn, were fastened to a small piece of leather cut in the shape of an oval. This piece of leather was to be used to hold the pebble that would be directed at the target, and is to be held in the left hand.

Every time my grandmother would make plans to go on one of her routine trips to the farms that our family owned, especially during harvest of sowing times, it was an excuse for me to take time off from school and join her convoy.

It was in one of those times of the year that I decided to join my grandmother’s group of travelers. The day was bright and warm, and the journey on horseback was delightful. After a little more than three hours, we arrived at the farm house. By then, the day was just about coming to an end. We could still see the sunlight on the top of the mountains, and the sunset was on its way. It was surely a beautiful summer afternoon.

After taking a short and needed rest, I approached my grandmother to ask her if she would let me go for a short walk on the trail leading to the nearby creek. Actually, I was more interested in going to see if I could find some pigeons along the way. With a slight

concerned look on her face, she said, “ok” . However, she did give me a warning, saying that I should be very careful. She said, “it is that time of the day when wild animals come out from their dens looking for food. It could be dangerous to be walking alone in the wildness.” She told me not to be gone too long, since we should be eating supper soon. She also mentioned that after unsaddling the horses and letting them go free onto the pastures, the members of the convoy would go home to rest for the night.

With my slingshot hanging from my neck and with hopes of finding some wild pigeons flying over the top of the tall trees, I walked onto the trail. Along the way, I went picking up pebbles and putting them in my pockets. I was feeling very upbeat and completely engrossed in my own thoughts.

When I arrived at a clearing in the road, I perceived a strange and eerie feeling in the air, a sensation I had not noticed before. I realized then that the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of the cicadas had stopped. It was all calm and a bit frightening. A through crossed my mind. Could this be a premonition that something bad could happen to me? A chill went up my back, but I tried to regain my composure, Suddenly I heard a horrifying growl of a wild beast. Immediately, I looked in the direction of the sound and saw the imposing figure of a mountain lion standing on top of a huge boulder, staring intensely at me. A distance of about 50 yards and a high and rocky cliff separated us.

I was practically paralyzed with no idea as to what I should do. Instinctively, I grabbed my slingshot and was ready to shoot him, but my hands were numb. I wanted to scream hoping to scare him away, but I was frozen and mute. The mountain lion and I stared at each other for a few long minutes, which seemed like forever to me.

Eventually, the feline changed his posture, turned his body around, stepped down from the big boulder, and disappeared into the bushes right behind the pile of rocks. I, in turn, after getting back to my senses, also turned around and started to run in the opposite direction, toward the farm house.

I ran and ran at the full speed that my small legs would allow. I was very certain that the animal would come after me. At that moment, I wished I had wings on my feet so I would run even faster. Soon I started to feel that my heartbeats were intensifying, and I thought my lungs were going to explode from the huge amount of air I was inhaling. Nevertheless, I kept on running and running, focusing my eyes on the trail that I hoped would eventually take me home.

As I was running, my head was flooded with terrifying thoughts. There were moments in which I had the urge to turn my head around to see if the animal was coming behind me. But I did not dare do it, thinking that if I did, I would lose my concentration, trip on something on the rad, and fall to the ground. So, I kept on running, never taking my eyes off the road and knowing that soon the mountain lion could be catching up with me.

Suddenly I heard noises behind me. It sounded like thunder in the distance, and I also felt like something was moving. I tried to get a hold of my nerves, but I couldn’t. I thought: “Could all of this be just my imagination”? Soon, my head was flooded with outrageous images. Just then, I saw the mountain lion coming right behind me with his eyes totally focused on my body and with his mouth wide open. “I said to myself. “Soon I will be feeling his sharp claws grabbing my back and my shoulders. He will then throw me on the ground and reach for my neck. He will sink his sharp fangs into my throat and cut off my breading. “However, I kept on running with what little energy I had left in my legs.

While cruising along, I noticed that the trail was not only becoming rather rocky but also started to ascend towards the top of a nearby ridge. Nevertheless, I kept on going as fast as I could possibly go. When I reached the very top, I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and also see how much further I would still have to go to get home. Just then, lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised to see, at close range, the gray rooftops of the farm houses in the village. I could also hear the dogs barking. Oh my Lord! What a relief! “I am finally getting home” I said. Moments later, I was right at the front gate of my grandmother’s farm house. From there, I could see the courtyard where the farm workers were still there sitting and listening to her instructions.

As I entered the courtyard, and saw where my grandmother was, I took a big leap and heavily landed near her feet. I was totally exhausted, out of breath and sobbing uncontrollably. Everyone looked at me in surprise and shock. I wanted to say something, but I just couldn’t utter a word. There I remained sitting on the ground for a long while, until I could calm my nerves and stop crying. All I was able to feel at that moment was my grandmother’s arms around me. She was trying to calm me down with tender and loving words.

Just as I got over the terrible ordeal I had gone through and was about to talk to my grandmother, a young man with his rifle arrived at the courtyard. Moments later, I found out that this man was the one who my grandmother had sent, without my knowledge, to shadow me while I went for a walk looking for wild pigeons. More than anything. I realized that she had done this as a precautionary measure.

As the young man approached my grandmother, he told her that his mission had been fully accomplished. Then, as he sat down and took a deep breath, he related to all of us, in a clear and eloquent manner, what had really happened to the mountain lion. He said that as soon as he saw the animal coming out of the bushes, and was getting ready to chase me, he grabbed his rifle and fired two consecutives shots into the air. The cougar stopped in its tracks, looked bewildered and stunned. Soon, he turned around and went back into the bushes and disappeared.

Thanks to my grandmother’s helpful intuition and the timely action of the young man, I am here alive and telling this story.

(Permission granted by author to reprint/published 9/21)





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