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Adventure partially to hell and back through the Cumaca Forest

By Charlene De Gale
September 07, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn late in life
Ever hiked in drenching rain, knee high mud, with impending landslides looming overhead and crossing swelling rivers to the Cumaca Caves, literally hidden in the Cumaca Forest in Valencia, Trinidad? Not too long ago, maybe just last year, I went through it all and when I thought I'd never go back in that neck of the woods, on August 15th 2008, I was back! This time not to the caves but to do several compulsory visits to farmers whose estates go far beyond the distance of the caves!

The sun was out dancing in the morning skies and I had not an inkling of an idea what lay ahead. I got up with a bad cold and was feeling very miserable, never the less I had myself a very simple breakfast, said my prayers, donned my tall boots and dashed out very enthusiastically without a knapsack on my shoulders, a blade around my waist, first aid or snake bite kit. What I thought was going to be simply routine was wasted and I was in for a rude awakening.

I parked by the Sampson's, jumped into Maurice's van, and with the two farmers in the tray, we were off! With nothing on my person, the farmers laughed and said, "after this hike you don't want to see hiking again for a long time..." and I laughed along with them because I pride myself in being an experienced hiker. Upon hitting the Cumaca Road, Maurice drove, drove and drove some more. After several miles deep into the forest, we abandoned the vehicle and the adventure began.

With nothing on my person, I began trekking, laughing, giggling, talking and conversing. My breaths became shorter as time progressed and we were going uphill. Soon there was silence, no one talking, we were just walking - going and going. We crossed the first stream and continued, in the eeriness of the damp lush forest, the animals in their habitat kept us from being bored with their melodious tunes; chirping birds, monkeys arguing, ocelots snares and I suppose snakes hissing. The bamboos were whistling and our feet were swishing against the mud, stones and rocks on the ground, and we just continued going and going.

Rain drops tickled my glasses and poked our clothes but that was just to add to the fun. We crossed the second stream, I gladly washed my (by then) mud coated boots and we were off again, only to realize washing my boots was completely nonsensical. The conditions got worse, the terrain became more challenging and there was so much more mud, and boulders. I whispered "are we almost there?" and it was as though I asked something silly, because they all turn around and smiled at me! The answer was evident. I then asked Maurice the time and when he told me, I realized how much hours had pass and we were not even close yet. Our feet just continued marching along — left right, left right and we continued; endurance for so...

We took a couple extremely steep shortcuts only to save time, and I got stuck. Knee high mud, my boots were completely lost in the mud. The guys came back and loaned some hands, I had to pull my foot and they had to pull my boots; and after several minutes I was out. I had damaged my left ankle. Ouch it hurt. Swelling in the boot, we just pressed on; no time to waste, it was already after 12 pm.

And guess what they said, we're almost there! A sigh of relief (to some extent) because the other farmers allocated land was even further inside the forest. I thought to myself how dynamic and great God was for mapping my past experiences and connecting the dots to my current reality as I reflected on my stint as a past president of the UWI Hiking Club. We were waddling through a river when we got to the first farmers land. I walked through and through doing my assessment then I sat on a bucket and relaxed. What a breath of fresh air. After 20 minutes what I then saw was divine intervention, a Suzuki Jimny. Yes, how the hell did that make it to where we were, I don't know! It must have been a dam rough ride I could tell you! How it did not fall to pieces was the sentiment echoes in my head.

Anyway, it was the brother of the farmer I went to visit. He came with his wife who underwent a brain surgery and their daughter who swore she'd never, ever come back. The ride must have been rough. He volunteered to take us in the Jimny to the other farmers land and it was to all our hearts delight! We went willingly driving through a river and about to mount a hill, BANG! The spring broke, and the axle came out of alignment. We jumped out, parked up the Jimny and footed it! We were going and going... again, seeming like a never ending journey. I asked Maurice the time, this time it was after 2 already and we were just going and going. I wondered, if the Jimny was not working, how were we going to get the guys wife out of the forest and my thoughts began to spiral ahead. By then I was not studying the time, my pains, nor the hell I was putting myself through but the well being of an individual I didn't even know!

I was beginning to feel dehydrated when finally we got to the second farmers place and God blessed me; spring water and a neatly built wooden two storey house. I drank to my hearts delight. I felt sorry for Maurice though, I couldn't go on but Maurice had a further visit to do, so because I was completely exhausted and it was not mandatory, I assessed the parcel of land and gladly rested at the wooden house along with the driver of the Jimny (the first clients brother) while Maurice pressed on. The guy and I chatted and after 45 minutes, Maurice and they were back and we were ALL on our way out. It was late and all I echoed to Maurice was I hope we get out of here before nightfall to which he continuously assured me that it would all be over before nightfall. This was our job - mission accomplished?

We trekked back to the first farmers land, mere meters away from where the Jimny stalled and after much contraption, they pushed the Jimny up a hill and it was working. How well? Because of my swollen ankle the guys asked me to go into the Jimny driven by the first clients brother (carrying his wife and daughter), and they agreed to walk and so I was in the Jimny going. It was horrible, I felt like throwing up. Imagine a tractor climbing rugged stairs — only thing was, it was two hundred percent worse than that, something snapped this time and all his daughter screamed out was "Daddy! We are going down a precipice!" My life flashed before me! He was frantically telling his wife to get out, to get out; the Jimny was being held by two plaintain trees on the precipice. She was telling him that she was unable to — remember she was slow and just had a brain surgery. She was in pain but he didn't understand — get out, get out... then he stopped and encouraged her and after she was out, they slipped up her seat and the daughter and I climbed out — YES IT WAS TWO DOOR. The daughter and I had to push the Jimny back onto the "road" or the track in the bush (more like it)!

After that, all my pains subsided and I agreed, no matter what contraption they do this time, my life was worth more than that. I trekked in and I would hike back out. With that adrenaline rush, my mind took me out of that forest. Time was no longer a factor, space and distance wasn't a bother, I know I would be out, tonight, tomorrow, next week, I didn't care anymore. Minutes past six I saw Maurice's van, we were back where we'd abandoned his vehicle! I changed my clothes, ate a coco crisp, a slice of cheese all given to me by the farmer and jumped into the van and we were off.

I couldn't help but notice this shiny full moon that looked so beautiful. We were out of the Cumuca forest by 7:30pm. I was all nasal, and couldn't breathe. I felt worse than how I felt that morning. God is great because even though I am familiar with Maurice, I can't say I know him, but he was generous to take the initiative and follow me to Super Pharm in Valsayn to ensure that I got medication. Once I acquired it, perhaps more comfortable, he left to go home. I subsequently called him to tell him I reached home safely after that tiring drive, to no avail.

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