Last week, I woke up in Saint Lucia to the reggae melody of Ely, the Rastafarian fruit seller purveying his delicious finds out of his brightly colored wooden boat, entitled People’s Choice. It was a Babylon moment. After buying some papayas, coconuts, and sugarcanes, I went for a wake stake in the flat green waters and wondered if it was all a dream.
At 8:30 a.m., I was all ready and energized to walk up the Pitons Mountains—a challenge featured in Oprah’s bucket list. The trek started with eagerness and excitement. I was looking forward to getting to the top.
Five minutes into the journey, I realized that this was one ruthless hike. It was steep, grubby, and the lush green blanket we see from a distance is actually all hard rocks and hard brown roots.
The climb went on and on, an endless, steep ascent that was only getting steeper and harsher. Some of my wise friends admitted defeat and climbed down before reaching the top. But I was not about to abandon my trial, and my legs kept climbing. Once I reached the ropes, it suddenly became like the rappelling that I did in Costa Rica, but this time without being attached to anything! With no helmet, or any security measures—and a guide who was climbing completely barefoot and screaming, “No matter what, don’t leave the rope, even if you FALL, DON’T EVER LET GO OF THE ROPE.” The first thoughts of giving up began streaming into my mind, but they were fought by pictures of my 10-year-old saying, “Mami, you can’t give up now,” and therefore I climbed the endless rope up the first mountain.
I thought that this was it, but it turned out that there was much more Tarzan-…or, rather, Jane-like rope climbing to be done. Panic struck. When will the nightmare ever end? Will I ever make it all the way down again to see my kids, or was this it?
I was trying to think of a shortcut, like descending by hot-air balloon, paragliding, or even by helicopter. Any way to bring me back down without having to live the horror of going down the same route I came up. There was no way out. I would have to go through the pain and suppress my fears or live in the Pitons forever. The euphoria of reaching the top was overtaken by the horrors of reaching the bottom.
I swore like there was no tomorrow, prayed like never before, and slowly started climbing down the never-ending nightmare, while being devoured by mosquitos…using my bum to go down, hugging the tree roots and branches, which became my best friends. The trail took us forever; we ran out of water, a headache started drumming in my skull, and the guide’s promise of forty-five minutes to reach the bottom took us two hours.
I made it down in one piece, but my nerves were in tatters, and, unlike Oprah, my advice would be to admire those mountains from afar and enjoy Saint Lucia to the sounds of reggae music.
Photos: Courtesy of Mira Mikati