We’d walked for three days. We’d trod through dust that was a white powder like flour it was so fine, along sun baked paths of mud, walked up and down the sides of mountains, sometimes a cool breeze, lifting one foot and then the other, we traversed low rivers, open fields, we passed indigenous villages and camps, soldiers on patrol, and the sweat poured out of me and into my clothes and my shirt got soaked and dark.
In the early mornings we ate eggs and arepas and bowls of fruit and we saddled up and moved on. It was always cold in the morning. We walked and people would stop in the track and grow small behind me. There were natural pools to cool off in along the way, usually at eating times. There were showers. We played cards in the evenings and talked and always we put ourselves to bed early.
To reach the Lost City you must climb 1200 ancient stone steps, steep, through thick jungle and that is just the beginning. The foundations only begin at the top of the staircase. They continue up to the main centre of the city situated on a mountain ridge overlooking a lush valley. Stone paths descend back down to other parts and in these parts the jungle presses in on the remains from all sides.
It is amazing.
I woke on a stained mattress with the dirty blanket wrapped around me. It was my birthday. My feet and my legs hurt and my clothes were on the line outside. Everything was cold still, everything was damp.
It was the last day of the tour.
(Man, this is hard. I’m pushing but I can’t push and write)
We went on, deployed in a long file through the jungle, all of us already sweating. I walked gingerly on my path. The blisters that had started the day before were hurting.
There was a big hill early in the day. Going up some of the hills was like any other impossible job. You got tired and you wanted to stop but you knew it would be so much harder if you did stop and you wanted to finish it and the minutes didn’t move, you lived forever inside of one minute, too afraid to stop, nowhere to go if you did.
I had to stop. My legs had gone. I sat in the dirt to rest. A sharp pain in my left ass cheek caused me to jump right back up. Something had bitten me.
I looked down at the dirt and the leaves. There was nothing. There was no place to go but up.
After a short break, there was another hill and there was only the beaten path and the bright yellow sun and the heartbeat pulsing in my head and the lactic acid in my legs and then we were at the top of the biggest hill of all.
We started running down it. It was best like this. We ran down it kicking up clouds of white dust and in those clouds we appeared as shades of figures.
It went on and on.
I couldn’t believe that we’d actually walked up it in the first place. We had taken lots of breaks going up. I figured Enrique was assessing the fitness of the group. We’d encountered mules labouring up the mountain, bearing our food, wheezing and scrabbling in the dust and the men harried them on. I remember washing my face with water from a barrel thinking phew, that was tough, then Enrique telling us that we were only a quarter of the way up.
We ran all the way down.
At the bottom of the hill we knew we were close. There was a natural pool five minutes from it’s base and we had time to stop before lunch. After the pool it was only another thirty minutes or so.
There was a pool at the very first camp. The only way to get in was to jump from a boulder two or three metres high. It looked a bit much to me, although I didn’t get nowhere close to the edge to figure this. I stood and waited for a while and watched, but really I knew there was more chance of me getting the recognition that I obviously deserve.
There was a big black guy also, and he said in his London accent
“Nah, man, it’s not for me. It’s a bit dangerous”
Careful, I thought. Careful just like me.
Everybody else was throwing themselves off the boulder, then scrambling up the side of an even higher cliff to jump off that. I could have clambered down to the pool but what would that have looked like with everybody in the water watching?
So instead I turned and walked to the dark shower.
Now, as we reached the pool at the bottom of the mountain I could see that it was the same set-up. A boulder. An extinction leap. A cruel test to see how much you really wanted it.
I took off my boots, I took off my shirt, I took off my trousers and walked to the rocks above the pool. I went for it. I went for the water. The big time. I stepped to the edge and lunged in.
The cold water enfolded me, all at once, and everything was suddenly good, a miracle on my birthday.