It’s hard not to feel a bit intimidated, when you open your eyes to greet the day everyone’s been talking about in hushed tones. In all the boomph we got sent before we even set off, it said day four of our trek was the hardest and now it was here. I sort of had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, you know the one…it felt like I was about to sit an exam, or walk the green mile to the gallows.
It didn’t stop me eating a hearty breakfast mind, come on we were staying in a proper hotel. The night before, at dinner, the absence of rice and green beans was a cause for celebration in itself and the buffet had been superb, so despite my love affair with the lumpy mattress and wafer thin pillow (which wasn’t a tent and a ground mat so who really gave a shit about the lumps) I was out of bed as fast as my poor worn out chunky legs would carry me. Which wasn’t that fast, to be fair.
Safe to say that by the time we walked out of the hotel, I was carb’d up and ready to tackle the day head on. It didn’t start badly, apart from another one of those killer hills. But we soon started heading down into a sort of national park area so the paths were well walked and not bad at all. I kept checking in with myself, you know? Well that’s another ten minutes done, and that wasn’t too bad. Only six more hours to go…I wonder if this next bit is the really hard bit..?
We ended up deep in a valley after a couple of hours’ worth of walking and we had a pit-stop and posed for some pictures next to a waterfall, which was beautiful. We were dwarfed by the cliffs rising up either side of us and that’s when it dawned on me that there might be a bit of climbing involved to get out of here, you know? We were maybe three hours into the day at this point so I knew any minute now all the stuff that made day four qualify as the hardest day was about to jump out and say BOO.
Call me Mystic Meg, but I wasn’t wrong. As we started to retrace our steps, my spirits lifted when I thought that perhaps we were just going to go back the way we came, and they’d been winding us up about this being a tough day but our pocket-sized guide was waiting by what couldn’t even be described as a turning off the path, pointing with his machete and indicating that we should follow him. And that’s where the day started to live up to its advance publicity.
After fighting our way down a very muddy and treacherous slope, clinging onto trees which dispensed a waterfall of red biting ants every time you touched them to steady yourself, we emerged from the forest briefly and crossed the river using a succession of smooth, slippery and very wobbly stepping stones which were not arranged in a very customer-centric way…Mother Nature, eh? What a bitch.
How on earth I didn’t end up arse over tit in that river is beyond me and there was nothing graceful about my progress. Tom Thumb was watching me with that look on his face and you know what, I’d had enough. As he put his arm out to steady me on a particularly wobbly stone I could see the for fuck’s sake expression about to make an appearance and I lost it. He got it both barrels.
Don’t you dare look at me that way! I might be old and fat but do you see me giving up? I can do this the same as everyone else so take your head for a shit and let me get on with it…okay, I didn’t say the take your head for a shit bit out loud, I just thought it. But he got the message, and credit where it’s due from that point on for about the next six kilometres he man-marked me as we made our way through the jungle.
This was the hard bit. This is what they’d been saving up for us…no national park walkways here, in fact it was completely virgin rainforest. We were climbing, with a sheer drop to one side of us and he was actually clearing a path with his machete as we went. This was the one day I wasn’t at the back of the pack, I suspect because after my outburst he took personal responsibility for getting the fat cranky old woman up the hill.
And that was a mixed blessing. I couldn’t linger, or pause to catch my breath because I had to watch his feet, and plant my feet where his had been a moment before. Thank God he had short legs, right? I would have split my difference otherwise. There was no pausing to admire the view because we were so deep in the jungle there was no view apart from trees as far as the eye could see, falling way way down to the river that we’d crossed, and towering way above us as we climbed out of the valley. I didn’t dare look down because I’m terrified of heights and we were literally clinging to the hillside we were climbing.
And so it continued, for a good two hours. Stepping up and over tree roots, fighting with the biting ants, slipping in the mud as we climbed and climbed some more. Every step took us about a foot higher, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever climbed anything so steep. I recall listening to the sound of his machete swinging at a branch here and a vine there, all the time trying not to actually shit myself with fear. My heart was doing its best to beat its way out of my chest and I thought it was never going to end.
But then it did. We emerged from the canopy of trees and clambered down some rocks which looked like a giant staircase and there, right in front of us was the most stunning lagoon, with two waterfalls cascading down from a monstrously tall cliff, I mean it was spectacular. And what made it all the more special was the fact that very few people will ever get to see it. It’s buried deep in the jungle but we were there…and we’d fucking well walked there.
I’ve got to admit, I had a moment. I shrugged my backpack off my shoulders and sat on a big rock overlooking the lagoon, and before I knew it there were tears rolling down my cheeks…I couldn’t help it. It was so beautiful, but it wasn’t even that, you know? I couldn’t help thinking about twelve months before, when every step had been painful and I’d struggled to walk beyond a couple of hundred yards. This felt like the moment that I could officially declare I’ve claimed my life back. I’m doing things I never thought I could possibly do, and I’m living the dream.
I’d found it really hard, that killer trek between the two waterfalls, and I totally get why they’d called out day four as the hardest day…they weren’t kidding. But you know what, I didn’t find it any harder than anybody else. We’d all found it hard, because it was bloody hard but we’d all done it. I’d done it. And the emotion of it all caught me unawares. I thought about my dad, and wondered whether he’d be proud of me as I sat on my rock and cried like a big girl’s blouse.
We had another long steep climb ahead of us to get out of the jungle and meet the truck, and that nearly polished me off on top of what we’d already done. Nearly, but not quite. One foot in front of the other, and repeat.
I had a finish line to cross tomorrow after all… 🙂
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