The group leader woke us up with his typical “Wakey wakey.” By my watch, I should still be in bed – but there is no rest for the weary, we travel as early in the day as possible to avoid the heat of the midday sun. I’d taken down the clothes I had hung the night before, some were still damp but mostly dry enough to pack away.
At breakfast, a group trekkers walked through the village – it was motivation enough for us to down our brekky and consolidate all our strength, ready for the hike ahead. We made way by 6AM, I could tell it was going to be a tough day.
The rain had abated and it was humid, so I wasn’t wearing my windcheater when we set off. But I had a niggling thought at the back of my mind that I had left my jacket hanging in the house – so I sent Auda back to check. Of course, seconds later I came to the realization that it was in his backpack and not my daypack – so when he returned to me several minutes later, I felt guilty and embarrassed and could do nothing but apologize for the mishap.
The group had continued ahead of us, which meant we had a ways to close the gap. Minutes in the jungle can sometimes mean the group will leave our line of sight, particularly on the flat ground. Auda and I jogged a little to catch up and as soon as the back of the group was within our line of sight, we could comfortably slow back down to regular walking pace.
This path was a short ascent and mostly a winding descent down to the river. Because of the recent rains, the river was swollen and the flow was rapid – but the log crossing was stable and held its structure well enough for us to cross it. This was a fairly easy crossing, though the porters stood in the river to support us.
The second river crossing was nothing like we expected, nothing like the porters expected either. The current was strong. You could throw a log in and watch the river carry it away within seconds. At this crossing the depth was about waist-height and we could ordinarily wade through the water. But today, the porters needed to swim across and hoist ropes.
One at a time, the porters carried our backpacks above their heads and swam across the river, with one hand grabbing the rope to help steady themselves against the strong current.
I removed my boots. I didn’t even think it was really worth putting on my swim shoes on because my entire being would be submerged. I took off my shirt, at least that article of clothing could remain dry on the other side of the river. Auda took of his shirt, but instead of putting it in the pack to keep dry he wrapped the rope with it to prevent us from getting rope burn.
I waded in to the water up to my knee. I could feel the force of the current, it was strong. With every step, I felt as though I might be swept away with any wrong footing. Auda was supporting me to my right, and one of the other porters was supporting me to my left. All of us held onto the rope as the guideline as we pressed forward deeper and deeper into the river.
Before I knew it, we were neck deep and I was on my tip-toes. At that moment I could feel the current sweep me off my feet and were it not for the two porters by my sides, I would have been belly up down the river. The porters were basically dragging me across, with my feet just floating under current behind me. On the otherside, the group cheered for us as each trekker made it across safely – it was a challenging crossing but very memorable one.
Once we were all across safely, the last porter was pulled in with the rope and we took a moment to drip dry in the sun before putting on our boots again. Although my shirt was dry, my bottoms were wet and were dripping water into my boots – a mild inconvenience.
The next 1.5 hours was a trek through mud, deep mud. In some parts it would almost suck my boot and the mud could reach the top opening of my boots. I decided it was time to chuck on the gaitors – brilliant invention, truly. With the gaitors on, I had no worries about squelching through deep mud, even up to the knee – thankfully i didn’t encounter anything that deep.
The path began to ascend and soon became a steep incline towards the next village where we’d break for lunch. We passed nine false peaks, each time feeling like we were almost there, but quickly realizing that we were nowhere near.
On one side of the path was a sheer drop to the forest floor below, on the other side a steep climb up the mountain peak. Nowhere really to go other than forwards. We all hear the group leader call out “STOP!” And he had a calmness to his command, but it was loud and we obeyed.
Up ahead there was a snake. And in these parts who knows what kind of snakes lurk around the corner. Thoughts flooded my mind: are these venomous snakes? Are they pythons and could they wrap around us and constrict us to death?
As we passed slowly, we realized it was only a baby snake. But for those Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) a slithering reptile of any size would strike fear in their hearts, that was certainly the case for me.
The day was getting away from us and it was becoming dark more quickly. We still had another 3.5 hours of trekking ahead of us before we’d reach our destination, Irobaiwa village.
As the sun began to set, we had reached the final peak of the day and began our descent down into the valley. By now it was pitch black darkness and we needed to use our headlamps.
I was able to grab my lamp from the daypack quite easily. It’s the kind you wear around your neck and has two arms, each with a light. I propped it on my neck sideways, so that I could point one light forward for Auda and me, and point one light backwards for Sarah and her porter.
It took us an hour to descend to the village, by the time we reached camp everyone was already there and unpacked for the night. There was a tap, but the flow wasn’t super strong. I washed off my boots and had shower in a can to freshen up.
I could not wait for dinner. The day’s hike was taxing and burnt up a lot of energy, energy I was ready to replace. The porters served us mash and corned beef, I remember helping myself to several servings that night. While we ate, the porters sang their usual songs to us – a beautiful reminder that although the trail was difficult there was still a life for us at the end of it all.