Photos from India

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Jungle Trekking

As we pulled into the small bay near the village of Mapamoiwa, I was overwhelmed by the steep mountain peeks looming above. It didn’t look like it was too high, just a beautiful and rugged series of peaks that stretched toward the sky just beyond the village. The surrounding jungle on the island gave way to a gently sloping area covered in tall green grass, followed by the rough and jagged surface of volcanic rocks cresting in a couple of points that seemed to be competing with each other to be the first one to touch the afternoon clouds that were rolling in. Arriving at a reasonable hour, the local children led us all on a path that follwed the coast line out to the Western point of the island. We passed rocky coastline and white sand beaches in our leisurely afternoon walk and even had a bright green parrot named Boss as an escort for most of our jouney. Along the way, we met many differnet people from the villages that were scattered out along the length of the coastal path. With each one, I asked questions about trails to the summit of the mountains we noticed coming in and how long it would take to climb them. I heard everything from two hours to two days. Looking up at the mountain, I knew I had climbed mountains a lot higher and further off in one day and was confident that this would be an easy hike. All I needed to find was someone to point me in the right direction.
Across the island there are so many differnet paths that pass through peoples homes, villages and gardens. One follows the entire coast of the island and connects all of the different villages together, winding in and out through the many different bays and inlets that cover the coastline. Many other paths lead across the island to hunting areas and places where the villagers cut timber. A lot of these pass through dense tropical rainforest and are rarely used by the villagers as they don‘t have any need to climb up the hillside. I have decided that in order to conquer this small mountain peak, I needed a guide to show me the way.
Sitting on deck reading while Bill cooked dinner down below, I heard the bump of a canoe at the side of the boat and began to speak with a twenty three year old man named Able. He had brought us some fresh coconuts and wanted to come out to the boat to say hello. After talking to him for a while, I realized that Able was a pretty inteligent and fit individual. We began to discuss the trek to the top of the mountain and he offered to take me to the top beginning early the next day.
The next morning I met Able at 8:00 in the morning. Irina our Russian crew member who in my opinion has a personality as cold as the Russian Winter, decided to join me. She did not bring any shoes on the trip other than sandals so I insisted that if she was going to attempt this hike with me she had to wear socks with them to avoid blistering her feet too much. I had warned her that it would be a full days hike and very difficult and she would have to keep up the pace in order for us to reach the top. Able led the way with me close behind and Irina following along with an entourage of about twelve of Able’s friends and family. Five minutes into the hike, before we had even started heading up the hill, Irina had her first fall. Nothing too serious, just the disadvantages of trying to hike through the jungle in a pair of sandals. She cut up her knee and part of her leg, nothing too serious, but immediately I realized we were never going to make it to the top.
As the trek went on, Able elected to stay back with Irina holding her hand mostly to make sure she didn’t fall down. Another member of the party grabbed his bush knife and led the way hackining out a path through the jungle. I stayed up front with him while the rest of the party made sure that there would not be too many more subsequent falls for Irina. At first the trail was failry orderly, passing through several gardens and bannana plantations followed by a trek through grassy fields before finally disappearing into the jungle. Inside the jungle, it was very humind and water dripped off all of the trees. You could hear a multitude of birds screaming overhead but since our guides liked to signal each other with some form of a bird call, there would be no chance of spotting any other animals. We sounded like a gang of wild monkees screaming out to each other the whole time while clawing our way through the jungle. Any animal within a ten mile raidus would be long gone before we arrived. It is no wonder everyone here tells us about the poor luck they have every time they go out hunting.
Our hike continued over the steep and slippery sides of mountains with little more than vines and tree roots to hold onto to keep us from slipping down the muddy hillsides and being dashed upon the rocks below. We eventually ended up at a large stream that we would follow for the rest of our trip up. We hadn’t seen much of a path in a while other than the one that our guide was making with his bush knife for us to pass through. Now at the river, we proceeded to follow it up, crossing over it with every opportunity that we could. I couldn’t figure out why these guys insisted on crossing the river every two minutes. The rocks were extremely slippery and the banks didn’t look like they would be too difficult to walk along. After a while, I realized that with our guides not wearing shoes, walking in the water was much easier on their feet. Accepting defeat, and to avoid slipping, I had no problem submersing my entire boots in the water to avoid falling down and possibly ruining one of the cameras I was carrying.
The journey progressed up the river for a couple of hours,. Along side our leader, he and I stopped every ten minutes to wait for the rest of our entourage who were helping Irina over the difficult climb. At each stop, Irina would pull out another prepackaged moist tissue to wipe down her face and clean out her fingernails. This will be our last hike togther, I can assure you of that. Not all of the waiting was that bad though, the stream became more of a series of waterfalls that were breathtaking to behold. At each one I stopped and regretted not having my tripod in order to take better photos of them. Each waterfall was taller and more extraordinary than the next. They cascaded over enrmous rocks and down cliffs that were sometimes a couple of hundred feet tall. It was pretty remarkable to see so many waterfalls in one spot, especially ones that hardly anyone other than the local people even knew existed! As we neared the highest extents of the jungle, the river became steeper and steeper, eventually to the point that I had no idea how we were going to get up and over the last waterall. The hills were sloping straight down in the direction that we were headed and I could see the edge of the tree line a little further up so I knew we were getting close to the top. At this point, our guides consulted with one another and decided that it was too late and we must head back to the village. It get’s dark in the rainforest fairly early and we did not have time to go any further up the mountain and still make it back to the village before dark.
It was an incredible day of hiking and getting to see so many wateralls was spectacular. While Irina slowed us down and probably kept us from reaching the summit that day, I have to say that it was still an incredible journey. Reaching the top would have been amazing, with views to the boat and all of the islands around but seeing as how it had been raining off and on all day anyway, we probably would have been surrounded by the clouds changing the rewarding views into a sea of gray mist. The journey back led to a slightly more developed path where we weren’t using our hands to hold on to anything and everything to keep us from sliding down the mountainsides. The jungle trek down had just as amazing scenery as the way up. Without the distraction of wateralls around every corner, it was incredible to look up at the canopy of the giant trees and try to spot all the birds that we could hear over head. With a much easier hike down, we made our way back to Able’s home near the main village. He invited us to his porch for a rest while his brothers and sisters climbed the trees to get us some fresh coconuts to drink. Sitting on his porch, sipping on a coconut after an incredible trek through the junlges of Ferguson island was a perfect way to spend the remainder of the day. I think our guide was just as happy as we were to have made the trip. The only difference was that while Irina and I were fascinated with the scenery and the experience of hiking in the jungle, Able was fascinated with the expericne of leading two white people through the jungle!

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