“Day Two”, I say to myself with conviction before realizing I was convinced of nothing. Where am I? What have they done with my horse? Is Denzel still alive? I have to alert the others – Huh? Back to the story.
I woke up at seven well rested on account of the silence and despite the mattress springs prodding me through the night in very uncomfortable places. They were so prominent I could probably tell you the diameter, metal composition, and layout pattern of the coils. Breakfast was served at 8:30 so I had some time to read and get myself prepared for the day. All I planned on bringing to the ‘Killer Hike’ was a bottle of water, bag of almonds/pistachios, my D60 – a.k.a. ‘Beast’ –, rain jacket, Five Finger shoes, and a bandana. It did look like it was going to rain a bit, but I felt prepared.
So breakfast was had – eggs, bread, butter, and coffee – and by 9:45 the host guy and I were off with two jovenes (youths) in his car. It was a relatively quiet ride, as I was looking at the mountains that came straight out of Jurassic Park II and he was trying to maneuver the old brakes down hills and around bends and find the correct gear for the steep inclines. About fifteen minutes into the ride, it started drizzling a little bit, and about fifteen minutes and thirty seconds in it started full-on pouring buckets. Five minutes later, we had arrived to a red mud path leading down the hill off the side of the road. The host told me he’d be back in six hours and if I was ready he was, so I yanked out my jacket, ready to roll. Usually you’re supposed to break in new shoes with a one to two mile light trek in comfortable conditions, but baptism by fire is my preferred method. If I could transition straight from comfortable hot showers to straight James Bond-style, from A/C to dorming with mosquitoes, then I could manage a measly six hour jaunt through the mountains in the way my ancestors did.
When it rains here, it saturates everything almost instantly, and by the time we were navigating fist-sized rocks, Frisbee-sized mule dumps, and the steep decline of the trail, rivers of water were adding another element. Luckily, the shoes had really good grip and I never really slipped on anything, nor twisted my ankle. Yet I was still struggling to keep up with my guide, who by the way was wearing jeans, a wife-beater, USA baseball cap, and flip-flops from the 90’s. Oh, about my guide:
The first thing Ariel asks me is “Tienes una esposa?” [Do you have a wife?]. I chuckled respectively and answered that no, I was only 23 and was not looking for marriage yet (sorry grandmothers). Well, he has one, she’s 14 (he’s 16), and they’re waiting three years until they’re going to have their first child. Kentucky really has nothing on this – I take that back. Moving on.
He wore flip-flops the whole way, which I was still coming to grips with alongside the fact that he was married. I’m not very good at multitasking, so it’s a miracle that I was able to continue walking and rubbing my belly. Anyways, both of us got down safely to the first encounter with the mountain river. It’s not on the scale of the Columbia River, but it was a sizeable 30 feet across and maybe 2 feet deep at its worst. What’s amazing is that it carved out the deep canyon we were in, which was about 90 feet high or so. To do that in the 6,000 or so years of Earth’s existence is incredible. We crossed it and embarked upon the first uphill, at which point I started montage-ing the hell out of this story.
On the walk through, he wasn’t shy about imparting his knowledge of the area upon my naïve skull. I was shown all the fruits and things that grew naturally along the trail, which included bananas, coffee, cacao (chocolate), mangoes big and small, water apples (I don’t know, manzanas de agua is what he described though), rice, roosters, donkey poop, empty bottles of Presidente, chinola (passionfruit), guanabana and jasmine, as far as I can remember. I had a mango, some cacao seed (you chew along the outside which is surprisingly sweet and fruity tasting, the pit is what’s roasted and made into chocolate), chinola, a water apple, and some Halls candy that he bought for us. We stopped through a small mountain town, at which either side were foot-wide mountain paths as entrances. We passed through his grandmother’s house, which was a tin roof 2×4 deal (pictured), painted baby blue 40 yeras ago. We eventually came to a small pueblito named La Seba, which had a newly built school donated, some shacks that you only see in charity videos, some relatively large houses being constructed (2 stories, maybe 3 rooms total), but always smiling and tranquil people. Stopping for lunch – a couple rolls split with cheese and ham each – with his uncle and his house at the end of town, we let a little drizzle pass and continued on. At this point we reached the land his family owned, which was growing rice to be ready in “4 months and 5 days” exactly, he said. They used to have a few cows to sell the milk, but they all got sick and died, so they may or may not buy some more. We went up and down and up and down to again, and reached the waterfall at the end of our journey.
Oh, I didn’t tell you about the waterfall? It must not have made the montage scene, where we could see it across the river valley just before reaching La Seba. At that point, it was probably two hours of walking away. We climbed a steep path down the side of the mountain to a road, and walked it for a mile or so alongside the dam which powered the Bonao area until we reached a little path that led into the forest again. Crossing a little small stream, he immediately encountered a wall of rock and moss….and proceeded to scale it 7 feet up until he found good footing – with his flip-flops I remind you. ‘Okay’, I thought, let me just put my camera into my backpack and follow him, because there’s no way this 16 year old super nice chump is going to make me feel too old for this. I followed his lead (by this point he transported 20 feet ahead), and started traversing the ledge. While 7-10 feet isn’t that high, it’d still hurt into a 2 foot deep river full of rocks and backwards onto a camera. So we came to a first little eddy in the stream, and reached a wall of about 20 feet high, where there was a small waterfall. Of course, we scaled this, losing my footing once but continuing on unscathed. Repeating one more time, we reached this waterfall, which was completely worth it. There’s not really much to say besides that it’s a low-flow waterfall of about 100 feet in height, but it felt good at the end of a long day. The way back down was just as dangerous, as it always is, but I made it no worse and a little dirtier for wear. Then the wait.
We finished the hike in about 4 hours, very quick in his experience. I didn’t stop along the way except for lunch, and didn’t actually find it as taxing as I thought I would. There was no lack of energy output, but the surprise in my ability to do it was countered by my surprise in how much more interesting it was, something I haven’t really thought about until writing it down now. The time spent waiting for the ride back (about 2 hours even though he gave a heads up all the way back in La Seba via phone) was spent throwing rocks at a cement wall and learning that he was a first baseman and a boxer in the Bonao area and lived with his wife and his family. He was a great guide, and I later tipped him 200 pesos for the experience (the hike itself cost ~800). Also, I may or may not write more about the Five Fingers, but they held up fantastically. I wasn’t sore the next day at all, my feet weren’t tired after the trek, and they pack smaller than my rain jacket. I’m starting to wonder what the whole deal is with all this cushioning in hiking and running shoes.
I think this part of the narration has lasted long enough, so I’ll save the rest for Part III. Stay tuned, maybe you’ll see some midgets.
Listening: In Light, GIVERS (thanks, MF)
Reading: The Stranger, Travesía
Learning: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Nude, Take Me to the River