The proposed idea of a casual morning hike seems like the perfect way to spend your Sunday, especially after you have collectively polished off endless cans of beer, a bottle rum and topped it off with tequila. It’s hard to feel unstoppable when sprawled on the beach drifting in and out of sleep as the starts whizz by over head.
The morning after, on the other hand, is a different story as I hauled myself out of bed, trying to come to terms with what I had agreed to do… How could something call Black River Gorge be anything other than a stroll? It couldn’t be that bad! Could it?
Having all conveniently forgotten it was a bank holiday we spent a happy hour standing or leaning at the bus stop. Finally it arrived and we pilled on desperately trying to compose ourselves as the bus lurched over endless speed bumps and swerved round corners, all this being choreographed to blasting reggae music, was just the hangover soother we needed. Our friend, and elected leader, cries to us that we had missed the stop – a good start but to be expected for us.
An hour and a half walk later in the blazing midday sun along tiny forest flank roads brought us finally to the entrance of the Black River national park. Suddenly all the stories I had heard about how awful the track was and how difficult the climb to the summit is came drifting back to me.
As you can probably guess our motivation was already ebbing slightly due to our already long walk and as we sweated out the remaining tequila we began to realise that we were already low on water. Unfortunately, we are all stubborn and, not wanting to look like a weakling in front of our new friends, we each played it cool, heading off at break neck speed to try to prove that we weren’t already thinking that we would rather be at the pub.
Now, I love walking…. a casual stroll in the woods sounds ideal… but this?!? The track we had chosen to follow wound its way – sometimes vertically – for a full 6km up the mountain side and was covered in dense jungle with the occasional river filled with slime covered rocks to jump across, just for good measure. Relying solely on the words of our leader – who had completed the trail the weekend before and agreed to do it again with us again (obviously he must be mad). “Not long now” his cheery German accent would call to us as he sprung up yet another root covered cliff face, nimbly prancing across the slime covered rock leaving us to haul our way across the rocks and mutter grumpily to ourselves.
After what seemed like forever we met some other walkers who had chosen to brave the trail , the first we had seen all day. Mutiny almost descended as they assured us that we were still half an hour form the top. The cheery reassurance of “Come on! We walk much faster than them” just made me want to beat our leader with my own , now mud covered and sweat filled, walking boots.
The terrain became much rougher and we began to swing ourselves along crazily narrow paths, hanging onto the thin rope rail tied to the trees or grappling frantically with the huge hanging vines that swung across the trail. Bursting though the trees we hurtled into a clearing where the huge waterfall was waiting for us. Plummeting over a hundred feet down the mountain towards us. As we hauled ourselves across the massive rocks towards the pools, numerous birds swooped above and the spray washed over us in a heavy mist adding to the feeling of being Indianan Jones on an intrepid adventure.
After posing for the obligatory photos, vaguely wishing we weren’t as sweaty or disgusting, we promptly began the journey back down the mountain. This was all well and good until we realised that whilst we were at the waterfall a mizzley rain had started to fall which in true Mauritian style, quickly turned into a major tropical downpour. The steep slopes and rocks quickly became a mine field.
Slipping and slithering our way downwards we began to meet other people heading cheerily up the mountain. To be confronted with a motley crew of six dripping wet tourists – it could either have been sweat or rain, I don’t think any of us knew by this point – must have been a terrifying ordeal for these unsuspecting day trippers.
Being in the company of some expert highwaymen we managed to flag down a willing pick up truck that whooshed us back to civilisation, saving us the extra 2 hour walk. It can only have been divine intervention that meant that this truck was also heading in the direction we were and they happily agreed to drop us off on their way.
Speeding home in the pissing rain perched on the back of a pick up, huddled up amongst friends a sense of joy and exhaustion over took.
When it came to leaving the truck we realised the true extend of our wildling appearance. Frantically pulling twigs out of my hair and wondering if I had mud on my face to match the splatters up the back of my legs we climbed onto the bus on our wobbly legs.
My advise for those who plan to climb the Black River Gorge…. Do it! It’s bloody good… especially with a tequila hang over and the best company.
Also a great team building exercise, once you’ve seen, shared water with and smelt someone covered in mud and crusted in sweat after a hike and a stint in the back of a truck there is not much left to find out.