While the strike continued on and off over the past few weeks, I did what I could to be productive with the time away from school. However, as what often happens when you focus on a task for too long, it’s easy to become a little restless and go a bit ‘stir-crazy,’ if you will. Last week was one of those weeks. I was accomplishing a lot of personal tasks at hand, but it came to a point where I simply had to get out of the house. I was getting restless, my routine had gotten so out of sync that I simply just didn’t feel like myself. So upon hearing of a fellow Volunteer, Stephen Verran’s, plans to hike to a waterfall I hadn’t been to before, I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
What followed was an absolute adventure in every sense of the word. We had a general idea as to where we were going, but we were mostly delving into the Grenadian bush on a whim to see if we could find Tufton Hall Waterfall. Along the way, we got a bit turned around and, dare I say, a little ‘lost.’ That being said, I learned a few lessons along the way from my day getting lost in the bush…
When venturing into unchartered territory, all you need is an open-mind.
As with most hikes here, we followed a paved road up into the hills until breaking off into a footpath trail. The trail followed along the ridges of the mountains overlooking the St. Mark’s River on our right-hand side. The mountains peered down from above us and as I looked back toward the coast, the Caribbean Sea could be seen rising between the crevice of the mountains. The trail we were following, however, soon reached a point where it was no longer distinguishable. No footprints, no downtrodden paths, nothing but thick, untouched, knee-high grass. We paused often, debating between ourselves which way we ought to go. We’d try one direction, then upon reaching what seemed to be a dead-end to nowhere, turn back and try another route. This happened for the better part of the first half-hour.
There was one particular time early on where we legitimately thought we had made a wrong turn. Trees climbed up the ridge to our left, while the high-grass we were standing in sloped sharply into a hidden ravine below. With no way up and no way down, we were beginning to think we had missed something. But just as we were ready to turn back, Stephen stepped into the heavy wall of forest ahead of us. As he did this, a footpath was discovered and we had found our way forward.
In a situation like this, it’s easy to get frustrated or impatient. However, when venturing into unchartered territory you have to embrace the fact that things aren’t going to come easy. You have to approach it with a general goal in mind and a flexible plan on how you’re going to get there. We knew we had to follow the river up into the hills to find the waterfall. Therefore, every decision we made was to ensure that the river stayed on our right-hand side and if not in visibility, at least within earshot.
The lesson learned here is simply to take things as they are with whatever the situation is at hand. It’s important to take our time and understand we are not going to find all the answers right away. Sometimes we need to check every direction, leave no stone unturned, no branch not brushed aside, in order to find the path that we’re looking for.
Not everything is as it seems.
About an hour into our hike, we were into the highlands of the bush. We continued on the course we set, keeping within earshot the rushing sound of the river. However, along the way we found ourselves at numerous ‘forks’ in the path. Whenever this happened, we always took the path to the right to stay alongside the river. But at one particular junction, the sound of running water resounded convincingly from our left. Curious, we turned our backs to the ravine and went further up into the ridge until the path vanished in the bush. We paused, crouching under the low-hanging branches and listened; the sound of the river was gone. Befuddled, we back-tracked and took the other path that we deemed would more likely follow along the river.
Soon thereafter we found ourselves climbing up and down the hillsides of the ravine. While navigating steep, muddy slopes such as these, I made sure to grab hold of any branch, vine, or tree trunk I could find to support me. On more than one occasion, a vine or branch I grabbed gave way, nearly sending me tumbling down the muddy slope.
In both instances, what I learned is that not everything is as it seems. When we thought we heard the sound of rushing water to our left, we were simply hearing the wind blowing through the trees. It was pretty convincing, I must say, to the point we thought we inadvertently took a wrong path and somehow ended up on the wrong side of the river. On the numerous occasions that vines or branches broke in my grasp, I was often caught off guard, but ultimately not surprised. It’s for that very reason one ought to test their support system before bearing any weight on it.
Consequently, over the course of the hike I became a little more cautious, as I realized not everything is truly as it seems.
It’s okay to not only receive help, but to ask for it, too.
After climbing halfway up a cliffside adjacent to a small waterfall, Stephen and I found ourselves sharing a small ledge with barely enough room for the two of us. Truth be told, the whole scene was laughable if anyone were to have seen it. The rocky cliffside we were clinging to was more clay-like in substance than hard rock. This was evident when with any grip or foothold we tried to put on the cliffside, the rock would crumble under pressure. There were various branches and foliage above us, but none of them were promising enough to ensure a safe ascent (cue once again that not everything is as it seems). It was at this point, we eyed a particular tree trunk just out of reach that would be sturdy enough to pull ourselves up. So gathering what foothold I could, I leaped up against the cliff. Crashing against the ground and clinging desperately to the crumbling clay and soil, I eventually was able to claw my way to the trunk and pull myself the rest of the way up; but that was not without the help of Stephen pushing me up from below. Once on sturdy ground, I was able to turn around and help Stephen climb up, too.
In another instance we were crossing over the river. The water was rushing steadily over the rocks, making them slick and somewhat unreliable. Stephen had already crossed over to the other side and was standing firmly on the surface of a large, dry rock. The stepping stone to get there, however, was an awkward distance from the rock on which I was standing, with water gently passing over its surface. Therefore, I asked for Stephen to stretch out his hand. As I stepped across, I used his support to get safely to the other side.
Both of these occasions, are evident to the fact that not only is it okay to receive help, but to ask for it, too. Pride can get in the way of a lot of things and lead us to take a lot of unnecessary risks. So why risk that misstep, slip-up, or fall? Why not go with whatever support system you have around you? After all, like they say, that’s what friends are for.
There is such a thing as a ‘happy accident.’
After a couple hours of following the river deep into the bush, we discovered that the water had just simply stopped. For no rhyme or reason, what we found was not the source of the river, nor the waterfall we hoped to find. A bit puzzled by this, I climbed up the steep hillside to the top of the ridge to see what else I could find. Scrambling to my feet, I found myself in somewhat of a clearing in the trees. Weaving my way through the large rocks, the sporadic pencil-thin trees, and leaf-covered forest floor, I made my way to the far side of the clearing.
For an unexplained reason, an excitement began bubbling up inside of me. Could it be that the Tufton Hall Waterfall is right around the corner, and we never realized it? I continued on, trying not to get my hopes up but secretly allowing the excitement bubble inside. At the end of the clearing, the soft ridge sloped gently up before dropping sharply over the other side. Hopping over another large rock and hustling to the edge, I held my breath as I peered over. The sharp slope dropped to the bottom of another ravine, where another river could be seen. Then peering through the gaps of the trees, I followed the river up the ravine to a point where it disappeared underneath the overhang of a few massive rocks. On the rocks, I quickly noticed, a stream of water cascaded down into the river. Leaning to my right to get a better look through the trees, I followed the stream of water as it traced its way up a narrow channel of rock that was tucked into the forested hillside and rising roughly seventy feet in the air.
I looked on in awe at Mother Nature’s spectacle. The waterfall was quiet, peaceful, and every bit the definition of tranquil. The green leaves of the branches bowed in a strong, passing breeze. With the onset of the breeze, a cold rain began falling heavily through the canopy. It was all so surreal, a moment that you could only envision when imagining what finding a waterfall in the heart of a tropical rainforest would be like. The cold rain sent chills down my spine, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s wild to think that we were that close, and in truth very easily could have missed it. Discouraged on losing the river on the hike, we could have turned around and gone back home. But as we later realized, at some point we evidently had followed the wrong river up. Thankfully, an unintended peek over into the next ravine lead us to exactly what we were looking for.
I guess there is such a thing as a ‘happy accident.’
Sometimes all you can do is let go and hope for the best.
After finding the waterfall, we were left with two choices. Try and re-trace our complicated, aimless path back to where we came from, or go the surefire way of following the river out. We decided to take the river, for everyone knows that all the rivers eventually flow into the Sea. What we also learned, however, was that following the river down to the Sea also meant re-discovering the laws of gravity.
As we followed the river out, we came across an incessant number of flowing waterfalls. Some were easy to climb down or around, but others were so steep that we opted to climb up the hill before returning to the river at an easier point of descent. Then we found one that was so intimidating, we contemplated a plan of action for quite some time. We had just used a worn and weathered rope to repel down one waterfall into a small pool. At the end of this pool, another waterfall on our right-hand side was flowing roughly twenty feet down into a small, log-riddled basin. The ravine to our immediate left was a steep, rocky, muddy, barren cliffside. There was simply nowhere to go; nowhere but straight down.
At our feet was another vertical, muddy, and rocky slope down to a flat ledge adjacent to the basin of the waterfall. From that ledge, we could easily continue down the river. The problem was just getting down to that ledge. With no other options, we resorted to the only one we had. Stephen went first, sitting cautiously down in the mud and digging his heels and hands into the ground beside him. Tenderly, he let his momentum slide, picking up suddenly as he crashed down the rocks onto the ledge below. It was a little rough going down, but he had made it safely.
Now it was my turn. As I sat down in the soft mud, a large rock was jarred loosed and bounced violently down the slope before landing at Stephen’s feet (a super encouraging omen, by the way). Nonetheless I dug my heels and fingernails into what ground holding I could. Gently shifting my weight forward, I dropped abruptly, sliding violently down the side of the waterfall. Tightly holding my breath, my backside bounced repeatedly off the rocky cliffside as I tried burying my heels harder into the ground, a vain effort in slowing my descent. Then, suddenly, I crashed to a stop a few feet above the ledge. My heels had somehow caught a holding. Exhaling softly, I lifted my now burning and bleeding hands from the rocks and tactfully navigated the quarter inch of holding beneath my feet, before sliding the rest of the way down.
What I learned from this, was that sometimes you’ll find yourself literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes in those situations, all you can do is let go and hope for the best. Now, I’m not suggesting this strategy for all difficult circumstances (for obvious safety reasons). But given certain risks at hand, the moral of this lesson is to ultimately let go and trust that everything will all work out.
As the old childhood adage says, “Head home when the streetlights come on.”
At this time of year, relatively speaking (given Grenada’s location near the equator) the sun sets pretty early. Usually setting during the 6:00-7:00 p.m. hour, it’s now setting quickly between 5:30-5:45 p.m. Stephen and I had been deep in the bush for the better part of the day, having first stepped foot into the forest at around 10:00 in the morning. By 4:30 in the afternoon, we were still making our way out along the river. Now, when the sun sets here, it gets dark quickly; given that we were still deep in the bush with a thick, forested canopy over us, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned with the suddenly dimming daylight. The last thing I wanted, or needed, was to be stuck in the Grenadian bush at nightfall.
Nevertheless, we pressed on, kicking up our pace in a race against the sun. We eventually made it out of the river and climbed out of the ravine, only to find ourselves in the high-grass hillside of the early mountain bush. We hiked on, climbing over the top of a ridge and looking over its edge, finding ourselves looking down on a small, country farm. Encouraged, we hiked past the crops to a paved road on the other side, finally reaching a reliable path back to civilization.
As dusk began to fall, we hiked back into the town of Victoria. Kids rode past us on their bicycles, as men and women sitting on verandas and concrete guardrails gazed in passive amusement at the two muddy foreigners walking down the road.
“Is that my Scott?” a voice calls from the side.
I had to double-take, unexpectedly hearing my name but smiling upon seeing Hillary, the local cook we had at Camp GLOW over the summer. During the camp she was the only one working in the kitchen, so the counselors took turns helping her prepare the meals for the girls. I had the duty of helping her prepare breakfast the first morning of the camp and we had hit it off from the start. I’ve run into her a few times since Camp GLOW, each time being as pleasant of an encounter as the last.
Reaching the main coastal road, Stephen and I parted ways to return to our respective communities. Beginning my walk South, I crossed a bridge over the very same river we had just delved deep into the bush to follow. I stopped in front of a large home sitting on the coast as I waited on the side of the road in hopes for a ride home. A man sat on the second-floor balcony of this home, peacefully reading something under a faint, overhead light. To the right of the house, the out-flowing current of the river met the incoming waves of the Caribbean Sea in a harmonious matrimony. In the distance off to the left, a massive, brightly-lit cruise ship drifted across the Sea’s horizon. Yep, cruise-ships are back in season.
At that moment, the bright headlights of an oncoming pick-up truck caught my eye.
“Gouyave! Gouyave!” I call, gesturing down the road. The truck barreled past but slowed to a halt. Running up to the passenger window, I peeked inside to find a woman smiling in the front passenger seat, as the man in the driver’s seat leaned over in curiosity.
“Can I get a ride to Gouyave?”
With a soft smile underneath a graying mustache, he nods and thumbs to the bed of the truck.
“Thanks!” I smile back.
Throwing my backpack into the bed of the truck, I step onto the wheel and hop in. Once settled, I knocked the side of the truck and we jerked forward to begin the drive home.
The fading lights of the town of Victoria quickly disappeared around the bend of the mountains. The palm trees along the coast flew past in a blur as I looked out onto the deep blue horizon. The cool breeze from the moving truck was a soothing relief to my muddy, sore, and now-aching body. Leaning back with my arms stretched out, a wide smile spread across my face. Although exhausted physically, internally I felt rejuvenated. For the first time in the awhile, I finally felt more like myself.
It was in this moment, cruising down the Caribbean coast in the bed of pick-up truck, that I learned what was perhaps the most important lesson of the day…
Sometimes you need to get lost, in order to be found.