Monday, May 6, 2013

Lost Long Time, and Logs.

It’s fortunate that all the teachers watched The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on Wednesday night. Watching everyone run tirelessly over the mountains, sweating, groaning, joking, every now and then suffering some wounds. I think it prepared me for our hike to Comayagua.

Thursday there was an epic thunder and lightening storm. The rain on the tin roof was borderline gunfire instead of soothing, and the rivers rose high. On Friday, as three of us tried to cross to the other side, all ways were flooded, until finally we found a ridiculously high fallen log. Shimmy, shimmy, THERE ARE GIANT ANTS ON HERE!, shimmy shimmy, and we crossed (splintered).
The start. Not the end. Trust my words, as my camera was not invited on this adventure.

We were lost from the very beginning. Douglass, the toothless “sheriff” of our backcountry district, had drawn us a penciled map on a piece of lined paper: the bad roads marked “NO” and the ones we wanted marked with landmarks. It was not to scale. It was not totally accurate. And it had no starting reference.

So Friday afternoon we spent all our time climbing the wrong trails and backtracking. Frustrated, we eventually camped right across the river from school, though with an incredible star view. The boys set up the hammocks and rain flies, and I am the fire maker.

Saturday the trail unfolds as I decide to follow horse tracks and poo. We find a wide road with car tracks: We’re golden. So we walk, and walk, and walk, and make a wrong turn because the map was a little sketchy. We run into a little boy on a horse who tells us in really difficult Spanish that we are going the wrong way. We go back, uphill, a mistake we don’t make again: If you’re going to attempt a direction you aren’t sure of, make sure it’s uphill to begin, so when you’re disappointed, at least you can just roll on down.

We get lost again. Everyone tells us to look for a sign and there is NO SIGN. We run into a pueblo, and they tell us someone will guide us to the trail. Out comes a 4’10” very tanned gentleman with only one hand and a giant machete. It turns out he is like the worst of the high school football movie coaches. Silent. Swift. Doesn’t stop. Doesn’t feel pain. He insists on carrying one of the boys’ backpacks in a hilariously demeaning way. I get to keep mine, and my pride, but that doesn’t mean I liked it.

He’s taking us because it’s the same path he’s taking home. You think your hour on the freeway is bad? How about two hours each way up and down two small mountains? This is the most ridiculous commute I have ever seen. We used “shortcut” trails that increased the difficulty and steepness of the walk, through a forest that I’m sure Jurassic Park would envy. Thus begins the cycle we would learn quickly: steep down the mountain bottom, steep up the other side to the top, do it again. It wouldn’t have been quite as bad except instead of putting us back on the right path, he led us off our map to his home – a beautiful farm and house with nine children where he gave us chairs (no water…) and let us rest a few.

It wasn’t over, because he decided to not show us the road, but rather take us diagonally away from the road over a self constructed path up the steepest, most ridiculously high mountain side ever. It’s at this point I think, I have never, ever, been so tired, or challenged, or hopeful to stop moving in my life. It kept going, almost an hour passes, and finally we make it to a big village. We thank him, but insist he is not needed anymore.

We ask people in their gardens if there is food in town: there is! A terrific woman with a lovely family makes us lunch with fresh real corn tortillas and all the drinking water we want and bananas from their farm. En serio, I won’t ever be able to eat a banana outside this country again. They ask if we will consider staying over night, but we can’t: we have no idea how much farther it is to Comayagua.

We have no idea because the map has no distances and everyone we ask gives us about a two-hour range of time to our next destinations. “Oh yes! It’s only 30 minutes!” “Oh no! It’s about two hours!” “10 kilometers!” “5 kilometers!” It’s always a long way, because the trend is still UP DOWN UP DOWN the mountain faces, of which I counted seven in total, I think. We run out of daylight while trying to get to the next *village on our map.

We somehow find a semi flat spot down a hill off the trail to hang our beds, and pass out promptly after eating cookies and sardines, dinner of the tired yet hopeful.

Sunday: We wake, put on our still drenched-with-sweat clothing, and walk. And walk, and walk, a little more quietly. We ask families for water, we stop asking them how far things are. And about thirty minutes after we hit the final downhill, the descent into the Comayagua valley, we get picked up by a truck full of twenty-something brothers with a corn grinding machine. They could have had a bag a pig heads in the truck bed and I still would have gotten in. They drove us the final leg, shaving maybe two-three hours off our walk, into the heart of the city.

We didn’t have a city plan. It was simply to reach it. We bought giant baleadas and ate them on the sidewalk, went to the grocery store but didn’t really buy anything. We tried to find coamas ­– big bottles of beer – but it seemed the like whole country was out for the day. So, dog in tow – he followed us the entire way – we hitched a few rides across the valley, only to end up stranded in ranchero land: hot, dusty, and not a lot of generous truck drivers willing to take three dirty gringos and a dog.

The story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the bar. There was music coming out of a wood/bamboo shack across the road, so we went to investigate. A “biker” bar. With big bottles of beer. So we sat for a cold one, which tasted more or less like water at this point, before setting back to the road. I am glad I travelled with two men and the dog: I was the only female those men had ever seen drink, I think.

Eventually we had to catch a bus, even Flacco the dog, who had to ride in the luggage compartment. When we arrived in Zambrano (the city at the bottom of our mountain,) we struck gold by getting rides equal to 3 ½ hours walk up the mountain, leaving a final 30 to shake it all off. The rivers were still high, and there was yet another log to cross, this time standing. The sun was setting and it was my favorite time of day. We estimate we walked 50km. 

*Village not meaning cutesie houses with a town square and a school and a little shop. Village meaning a handful of houses spread across a mile or so…and that’s it.

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