I hit Boniface. With Bloody Crusty.
PING! I briefly wonder what Ugandan prisons are like, and freeze in horror at my actions. But Boniface maintains his dignity and gently pries Bloody Crusty from my hands and neatly leans the 2 halves against a nearby tree. He then tells me that he is so upset by my trials, he invites me to go trekking again the next morning. At no cost! Now that I realize I am not going directly to jail, I have the presence of mind to think I cannot possibly do this all over again tomorrow. And I tell him so, all the while, blathering like a total idiot. No problem, Madam, he says, there is a gorilla family 15 minutes(15 MINUTES!!!) up the road from here.
I am momentarily stunned, but quickly calculating in my head- 15 minutes trekking, 1 hour with the gorillas, 15 minutes walk back. This trekking group had been out and back before we had even reached the research camp!!!! Mouth agape, my head swimming with not so charitable thoughts, I briefly considered grabbing Bloody Crusty and rapping him over the head again. PING! If I hit him again, he might decide to rescind his rather generous offer, and I may just find myself an unwilling resident at the local big house.
I am still crying when those 3 very young, very fit Israeli lads come sauntering up the road. I point to each of their chests in turn..."You bu**ers...very nearly...killed me...", and then, since it suddenly occurred to me that J was not with them, I blurted "And what the hell have you done with the Kenyan???" He's coming, they said. He slowed down a bit. They tell me they had caught up to the gorillas after an hour and a half, only by using machetes to cut their trail, and that they had only just met up with the gorillas when that very same thunder boomer that had battered me hours before, had hit them. The gorillas had scurried off into the thick undergrowth to shelter from the rain, which is more than I can say for their supposedly bigger brained fellow primates! Disappointingly,they had spent a grand total of 12 minutes(12 MINUTES!!!! Bahahahahaha!!!) together!!!! "Don't worry, Fran" says one of the lads, "You didn't miss much." Didn't miss much??? Didn't miss much???? Before I could go and grab Bloody Crusty, with the full intention of beating them about the head, there was poor J, struggling up the road with David and the porters, walking in that peculiar herky-jerky way, that I am now quite familiar with.
"I can't believe tourists actually pay to do this!" J says in all seriousness, but it starts off another round of laughing and we are directed back to the hut where all of this started. I watch in a very disconnected way as the boys remove their sodden footwear, wringing the muddy water out of their socks and, seeing their blisters and chaffed skin, I feel immense gratitude for my own well worn Keen hiking boots, since my feet seem to have gone relatively unscathed. PING! The nails on both my great toes fell off in one complete piece 3 weeks later. They are still deformed and summer sandal season is fast approaching. Sigh.
Now the lads, including J, are called up one by one to be congratulated and receive their Certificates for Successfully Completing Gorilla Trekking In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. They were beautifully made, bore each individuals name, with a lovely background picture of the forest and a handsome silverback, and embossed with the official seal of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. I know this because, as I graciously congratulated each of them when they proudly showed me their certificates, I dutifully looked each one over, knowingly leaving a little bit of myself on the paper in the form of sero-sanguinous fluid still oozing from my blistered hands. Please don't judge me.
J and I offer the lads a ride back to whatever village they had pitched their tents in, but they politely decline. They will(gasp, sputter) walk back stating nonchalantly that it was only 10 kilometers. I am pretty sure I was not capable of 10 meters.
We soon part ways, and after much hugging and back slapping, J and I are on our way back to the Gift of Nature Lodge. The light is fading quickly and another thunder storm comes rolling in. It is raining buckets and the lightening flashes, and in a nanosecond, we have slid off the road and into a shallow ditch, becoming deeply, but not helplessly stuck in 6 inches of mud. One of us is going to have to get out and push. PING! I must learn how to drive a standard transmission. I get out and push.
Arriving at the lodge, we are greeted by an appropriately sympathetic staff tsk, tsking and quickly ushered to our rooms, where I am encouraged(!) to take a shower before dinner. I turn on the water to heat and look in the mirror. I am hideous! PING! This is an eco-lodge with environmentally sound solar heated water. The water remains cold and I can only bring myself to splash around a bit outside of the main stream. I am shivering, so I wrap myself in the bedspread and collapse fast asleep on the most comfortable bed I have ever been on in my life!
A polite knock wakes me. "Dinner is ready" I still do not have an appetite, but I have not eaten all day except for the egg and toast which I remind you I left on the side of the trail, and I am thirsty. For wine. I try to dress. PING! The prickles in my nether region(did you forget about them? I can assure you I did not!) have dried and hardened in my sleep. It is now impossible to pull on a pair of pants.
I am a grown, somewhat educated independent woman, and I demand my brain to come up with a solution for this quandary. OK, I have tweezers and a mirror, but I very quickly realize I am unable to assume the position needed to self de-prickle. OK, I need help. The only person I know is J. Oh dear God. Despite the fact that we have come to know each other fairly well during my several travels with him, and despite the fact that I am in dire need, I CANNOT bring myself to ask him. Ok, so if not J, well, there are female staff here at the lodge...perhaps for a good tip...nope I just can't picture it. I am alone with this dilemma and, like Captain Kirk, I will come up with a solution!
Aha! While rummaging through my bags looking for a pull on skirt I knew I had stashed in there, I come up with a partially used roll of medical tape. Thinking triumphantly, I roll strips onto my hand, sticky side out, and pat the nether regions down, much as if I were removing lint from my favourite little black dress. Glowing with the success of 'Operation Prickle Removal', I dress and head out for dinner, which consists of a bowl of hot soup and the contents of a congratulatory bottle of wine. Already dreaming of bed, I stand to say my good nights. PING! You cannot stand up after a congratulatory bottle of wine and seized trekking muscles. I fall. Thank goodness my chin hitting the table broke my fall, but my tongue has not gone unbitten. On the bright side, I still have all my teeth!
After regaining my feet(but not my pride), I shamble back to my room, swallow Ibuprofen in amounts exceeding the recommended dosage, and finally, mercifully put an end what has become a rather trying day.
I wake up with the sun shining and my mood soaring! I am going to see gorillas today! If only I could get out of bed. No, I am not going to see gorillas today. I cannot walk without moaning, my head is pounding, from blows to the head or too much wine...your call. No, I am not going to see gorillas today. Or ever.
I gave it my best shot, I put my heart and soul into that trek, convincing my not so young body to push harder than I have ever pushed before(or ever will again!) Through blood, poop, blisters, vomiting, blows to the head, thunder storms, safari ants, wailing, howling and prickly leaves.
I will hold my head up proudly and say... I tried.
Now really I should just end the story here, but I want to share that I have impulsively booked a flight back to my beloved Kenya for January 2015 and...I wonder...I wonder...should I make that side trip back to Uganda? PING! PING! PING! PING! PING!
Sigh...perhaps I will get up the courage to tell you about the day I picked up a puff adder in a plastic baggie in the Maasai Mara...but, of course that should wait for anther day and another forum.