Sunday, January 16, 2011

El Mogote

The next morning, the first day of the new year, to everyone's surprise (and chagrin) Mark was the first up.  It was our last full day in Jarabacoa and we had foolishly planned to climb a nearby mountain.  Mark held us to it.  With superhuman effort, he beat us all out of bed with a pillow at 11:00 in the morning.  We bought food for lunch, found a taxi and, at the timely hour of 1:20, had stepped out onto the side of the road at the trailhead, more or less ready attempt "El Mogote".  

Music from some of the clubs was still blaring in the town below, echoing up the valley.  Heavy, gray rain clouds crowded the sky.  The air hung still and muggy.  Heads throbbing, bodies shaking, we began our ascent up the muddy trail.  Mark and I brought up the rear.  Each step was agony.  Fifteen minutes in, dizzy and light headed, soaked in sweat, I wanted to turn back.  Shame kept me going.

The trail was made of hard packed, red clay, worn smooth.  In softer spots, the deep hoof prints of passing donkeys could still be seen, half filled with cloudy water.  As we went up, the trail became steeper and more deeply rutted by rain storms.  In some places the washouts were waist deep.  

An hour up, we passed a local man hiking down.  He had a sturdy walking stick with a metal spike in the end and a plastic sack of oranges.  Although he could see we didn't, he asked if we had walking sticks.  We told him, "no."  He peered into our pale, sweaty faces and laughed softly.

"Buena Suerte," he said, "good luck," and then continued on down the trail.
"Feliz Ano Nuevo," I called after him with a forced show of enthusiasm.  He waved back but did not turn around.  

As we got higher, the air grew cooler, the breeze picked up, Mark and I began to feel better.  We surged ahead of Nate and Becca.  The donkey prints in the trail disappeared.  Soon, the clay was scalloped and smooth, broken only by the occasional rocky knob poking through the clay.  

On one side of the trail, a barbwire fence.  On the other, a wall of thick jungle vegetation hiding a sharp drop down to the ravine below.  The clay was sticky and easy walking but, where the trail was still wet, the water had mixed to form a thin layer of mud, like axle grease, over the hard clay beneath.

"This will be fun if it rains," I observed to Mark, an eye on the dark clouds above.  He grinned at me, breathing heavily.  "Like a slip'n'slide."  An hour later, it was raining.  We kept hiking up.  The clay grew slick.  We moved slower.  

By four in the afternoon, we crested the summit.  A radio tower, a lone caretaker's shack, an observation tower, graced the large flat summit, mowed bare by a grazing donkey.  Chickens ran past.  The heavy clouds rolled silently by, covering the summit intermittently in fog.  We ate lunch.  Occasionally, breaks would appear in the fog and we caught glimpses of the views surrounding us.  It started to rain again.  We headed down.

The rain was light, not enough to create little streams or fill the washouts in the trail.  It was just enough water to wet the surface and cover the whole trail it in that axle grease, red mud we'd noticed on the way up.  With almost no switchbacks, and nowhere to leave the trail to get out of the mud, there was almost no way to stop ourselves once we'd picked up momentum.  Now, we understood why the local man had laughed at us and asked about walking sticks.

Faster and faster we moved down the trail, keeping our feet underneath us with varying degrees of success until, either with our feet or our butts, we discovered the sharp points of rock poking through the mud and were able to stick and stop.

Nate and Becca, in smooth soled sandals, had the worst of it.  With the slightly deeper tread on my sneakers, I had the easiest time.  Mark and I once again surged ahead but, with dusk approaching, we didn't wait for the others to catch up.  We pushed on, propelled by a deep desire to be off the trail before dark.

We'd sent the taxi driver home after it had dropped us off that afternoon.  Now, at night, at the end of an empty dirt road in the mountains, we began the long walk down through the valley and back into the city.  The rain had stopped again.  We were soaked to the skin, covered in mud, tired and hungover, but still, the walk through the little mountain pueblos was fun.  The little stores and bars along the way were open.  People were out drinking and dancing.  Music was blaring.  Mark and I picked up a roast chicken dinner along the way to our hotel, ate and took long, hot showers.  The rain started again.  It was much harder than before.  It pounded the sheet metal roof of the hotel with a low roar.  I fell fast asleep.   

Sometime in the night, Nate and Becca arrived.

1 comment:

  1. Where are you at Pete? I hope all is well and that you are in exotic locations which offer no internet services. My thoughts are with Strolla and her crew.

    Keep kicking ass.