the leader, chapter 2
September 25, 2015
Day 2 held the main goal of our trip: hiking the mountain. This time, we would follow the leadership of a proper guide. His name was Charles.
The office where we purchased our tickets informed us that, due to the poor trail conditions, the long hike was closed: we would need to hike the short trail to the Falls. Disappointed to hear this, our trip organizer questioned if there was any way to hike the long way if we wanted to. The answer she was given left just enough ambivalence that, shortly after starting out, she asked the same question of our guide. He gave about the longest, circular answer, I could imagine, involving tales of other hikers asking to do such a thing, tales of other guides asked to lead them, and descriptions of the amounts of money involved. “I never talk about money,” he repeated finally, “but if one were to pay 10 or 15, or maybe 25 or 30, each person . . . because your safety is on my shoulders.” We solemnly nodded and repeated that yes, we would like to go the long way. This decision would be revisited (and questioned) over the course of the next 5 hours.
Several hours into the hike, nearing the summit, we had grown silent, slowing down in our chattering and singing . . . and encouraging each other that we would not die. We had grown weary enough that the feeling-like-death-was-imminent was just a fact of our existence. I was jolted out of my hiking trance, then, by the sight of Charles suddenly sprinting ahead of me, springing back and forth across the trail. Stopping after a bit, arms flailing and legs kicking, he hollered “Stop!” Then he said, “Ants—biting ants. Stop where you are and then run as fast as you can to pass the ants.” Adrenaline pumping, we each did as we were told, the others following my lead as I was the first behind Charles at that point. In the middle of my sprint, however, I looked down at myself at began to scream. I was absolutely covered. The others pitched into a party of helping me pull off articles of clothing and pull the ants off me as I cried out each time I felt a new bite, grabbing for them and crying out angrily. Once the majority had been removed, we kept going, with me periodically stopping to grab at a hidden one. “So guys,” I began, “you know how I was telling stories of my lack of animal fear?” (I had been telling tales of Zambia, and of being the “snake dancer” to scare away the snakes that had been spotted near the school dorm). “Well, I lied . . . I’m terrified of biting ants.” And of course I, who had been forever scarred by a near deadly run-in with the little monsters early in my childhood, would be the one in our party who managed to sprint straight into their welcoming arms.
On a brighter note, however, we had now reached the summit. It was all downhill from here.
From this point on I was a horse heading for the barn—or, perhaps more accurately, a sea turtle heading for the sea. With itchy crawlies from ant bites, plus my general watery inclinations, I was single-mindedly zeroing in on that waterfall, and on my dive into its pool.
We reached a fork in the path, at which Charles informed us that we were free to pay him: he would be leaving us now, as this was the point when we could go to the falls on our own, swim as long as we liked, and then make our own way back. It was an easy path back and he was too hungry to come with us. This last point made a great deal of sense, as he had completed the entire 5-hour hike with a single packet of crackers in his pocket (and no water with which to wash those crackers down). He was also carrying nothing, except for his hiking stick, and wearing flip-flops, to create an appearance of skipping along (periodically plopping down on a rock to wait for us to catch up) while we painstakingly trudged along.
Being free to pay him, we did so, and said our farewells before continuing on to the Falls.
It was all I could have hoped for.
That night, once we had all recovered, Peter and I went for a walk. The girls laughed at us when we announced our intent, asking why in the world we would want to walk after the day we had already endured. We explained that the concept is so relaxing that where we have been there is a specific word for an “after-dinner-stroll.” They were not convinced. We went for our sanbu. Peter followed some village men to find out about the strange giant “fruit tree,” and to learn its medicinal uses. I followed a trail of little ones, singing various language versions of “Jesus loves me” as we went.
And the next day . . .to be continued :-)