Monday, May 13, 2013

Birthday Hike in Trinidad, and Happy Mother's Day.

     Maybe using a birthday as a benchmark for life is significant.  I feel like I've done more in thirty years than many get to do in a lifetime.  I feel fortunate and grateful for my opportunities and teachers,  I can only hope this coming decade can teach as many good lessons, and give as many rewards as the previous ten years has.  
Something I've learned on long hikes, always
stop in a pretty place and swim when you can.
     While I was twenty-nine I made a decision to leave everyone I love, take a huge pay-cut, and do something adventurous.  I'm coming up on two months aboard Vivid, which isn't very long, but already it is feeling like home.  When I see her after a day away, I feel like I'm returning to where I belong.  When other yacht owners compliment how the hull looks or how clean everything is, I feel like that's something I've done.  
     Last year I was on a the Paul R. Tregurtha for my birthday.  I was sailing as first mate on the biggest boat on the Great Lakes, and in way over my head.  The year before that I was on the Hon. James L. Oberstar unloading iron ore in the Rouge River, red ore dust blowing in my eyes and getting caked in my ears and the stink of the sewage treatment plants of Detroit somewhere upwind and sulfur and manure and an overly controlling captain and a wheelsman who smoked two packs a day and constantly cleared his throat with a grunt, and I was dreaming of being anywhere else.  
     Today I'm in Trinidad.  I woke up around seven and tried to get directions to a good hike somewhere on the North shore of the island.  Driving is a nightmare here in traffic with everyone at top speed on straight-aways and slamming their brakes on for curves, and the damn steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, and no matter where you go there's only one sign for directions which says, "Airport- 8 kilometers."  
     But with TIm's help I figured out where I needed to go and I took the car, a map, a pair of shoes and a shoulder bag full of snacks, and left for the day. 
     Two hours of driving, never actually positive I was on the right road, got me to a place that resembled a description of a hike I read about online the night before.  I drove across a little steel bridge, parked the car, hid the keys on the back tire in case I got robbed on the trail (that happens here), and started walking.  
     The walk wasn't great at first.  A few cottages scattered around, and a couple trucks rolled by with their windows up, AC cranking, thumping some awful pop screeching song that sounds like it's being sung by a twelve year old girl with a sleezebag molester boyfriend working the mixer, and I just wanted to get away from society for a while.  
     So I walked in the heat, in and out of sun and shade, thinking that maybe I shouldn't do this hike because it wasn't working out so well, and then I came up on a truck idling and the owner walking back to it, and he says, "Hey, you going to Paria Falls?" And I said that I was, and looks past me and then back at me and says, "You going alone?"  
     And I explain that I do a lot of things on my own; and this whole time I'm thinking about everything online that says to watch out for people robbing you or kidnapping you for ransom in Trinidad, but I see he's smiling and his girlfriend is in the passenger seat and she seems nice and he says, "I'm just out exploring with the truck, you can ride for a bit if you want."   
     So, because I choose to trust people rather than fear them, and he wasn't one of the guys blaring bad music, I hop in the back seat and off we go.  And we chit chat and they're both from Trinidad with the thick island accent I'm finally able to understand most of, and they're great people.  The guy is friendly and happy and the girl pretty and kind, and in the back of their truck I can't help but feel sorry for the people who go through life in fear of people, rather than grateful for a quick friend.  
The nice guy who made sure I called
him when the hike was over, so he
knew not to send a search party.
     We get to some roots and wash-outs in the road we can't drive over, and they decide to walk with me for a ways.  After twenty minutes or so we get to the first beach of the hike, and it's a beautiful beach with a rough break right on shore, but volcanic rocks around you can use to protect yourself from the surf if you want to stand hip deep in the water and splash around.  
     After a while they decide to head back, but not before making sure we have each other's phone numbers and me assuring them I'll call them when I get done with the hike, because they're afraid I'm going to break a leg or be abducted in the jungle and they want to be certain I get out all right.  And then they go right, and I continue going left.  
     Steep, loose rock, trails up and down gullies and hills, with streams in the low-points and openings on the high-points to see out into a hazy ocean, slick with clay and rocks that roll out from under your foot as you shift your weight onto them, it is a dangerous hike to do alone, and I don't recommend doing it that way.  
My birthday beach.  All mine.  
     I've been asked a few times why I work out and exercise like I do, and I normally respond with something about wanting to be able to eat whatever I want, but that's only half true.  The other half is that I want to be able to climb steep hills like this.  Or surf all day.  Or kite board, snowshoe, ice-climb, swim, swing, run, leap, tumble, and then get up and do it all again.  My lifestyle requires physical fitness.  
     The trail was bad and made me roll my ankle a couple times.  But then I'd get to a place below a flowering tree and there'd be a path of yellow blossoms carpeting the jungle floor, and all would be well again. 
     I don't know what time I was born.  I'm sure Mom remembers, but I do know the moment today felt like my birthday.  I'd crossed a deserted beach, the kind of place that looked like I'd been the only person there in years, and I headed along a trail beside a river, and I came to the falls I'd been searching for.  I swam in a tropical pool, freshwater washing away the sweat and salt of the hike and short ocean swims to cool off along the way.  And then I went for the waterfall.  

The pool below the falls.  Cool freshwater and a breeze and sunshine
and life is exactly as it should be.  
    The current pressing back against me, I had to switch from breaststroke to front crawl, and then to a struggling front crawl, and then it was a full on sprint to barely stay in place as the water was trying to slam me backwards.  And then clawing at the rock to just hang on and breath, rest, relax my muscles in the flow of the current while hanging on with one hand.  

I'm under a waterfall in this picture.  The look on my face
is jubilation  
     Then a scramble of pulling on the rock and kicking in the water to get closer to the falls.  If my hands slipped I was pressed back, losing any ground I'd gained.  And then I had to stop and take pictures along the way, which is no simple process when you're under a waterfall.  And at the cusp of being directly beneath the falls I lost my hand holds, and blind to where I was going, I dove for the falls, streamlining my arms and dolphin kicking my way forward through current and whitewater and downpour, coming up in a cave behind the falls.  And I whooped.  And I screamed into the rock and water, "I'm under a waterfall, and it's my birthday!"  
     I felt in that moment a sort of celebration.  An adventure and a struggle and the sweet payoff of a memory I'll have forever.  I turned thirty under a waterfall in Trinidad.  
     The swim out was easy, just letting the current push me back into the cool tropical pool, slowly drifting across it, ending up by my bag and shoes.  I ate my lunch and drank some water.  I had a couple mangoes I'd found along the way, and sat on a rock in the sun picking the mango strings from my teeth and washing my face in the clean water, not thinking of much of anything, just being present in a beautiful place on a great day.  
     And then the two and a half hour hike back, trudging at the end as fatigue and heat wore on me.  And once I was in the car I made the phone call to my new friend, letting him know I'd made it safely. And then back to the boat in time for dinner, and then early to bed.  Because according to my older sister, I'm an old man now, and it's nothing but metabolism drops and being tired by ten from here on out.  
A flower waiting on a tree for me to walk passed.  

An arch a little off the beaten path.  Had to
do a little bouldering to get this close.

This is how grocery shopping is supposed to be,
picking mangoes off the ground and inspecting
for bugs.  

A small beach at the end of a stream I walked through
just to see where it'd lead me.  Was not disappointed. 

Yellow flowers sprinkled on the path for me
to walk over.