The night before we left, Jack and I had agreed to split some things: he brought toothpaste, I brought sunscreen. We filled up our water bottles with the remaining water in our 5 L we had brought from Santiago. We packed our things. Here’s what we brought:
– a rain jacket ( mine is bright pink, which Jack called garrish. His was orange.)
– toothpaste, toothbrush, sunscreen, bug spray, small first-aid kit, moisturizer, lip balm, some tioletries, wipes, toilet paper, hand sanitzer
– extra socks, underwear
– long pants and long-sleeved shirt (SO IMPORTANT! It got really cold at night)
– change of t-shirt
– camera, iPod, cards, passport, money, flashlight (I should have brought mine, thankfully Jack had his)
-refillable water bottle and water bottles given to us by the guide
*What we should have included – a sleeping bag or something, sweater, change of climbing shorts, MORE snacks
We had breakfast at our casa, asked the owner if we could keep our bags there and headed down the stairs to the Villa. This is where you sign up. We made the mistake of following the instructions of the owner of the Casa and headed to the entrance of the park. Nope. The EcoTour desk at the Villa is where you sign up and pay. They only required one passport (which meant Jack could do anything he wanted..and he did… and they would only have me on file) and paid $57.00 for the two days each. Which was cheaper than the guidebook said. So I’m not sure what the difference in cost was.
Thankfully, Jack ran over towards the Casa and got cheese sandwiches for us. We all jumped into the car and headed towards the Alto Narranjo, where we would begin the hike. We were 13 people: 9 Czechs, two Portuguese, one Canadian and one Brit. We had noticed a bunch of walking sticks – everyone grabbed one (and some of the Czechs grabbed two) except for me. I figured I wouldn’t need one, plus the Czechs had taken all the rest and they seemed like they needed it more. Guys, GRAB A WALKING STICK.
We quickly realized that, at the rate we were going with the group of Czechs, (who were quite lovely, just they were a bit older.. like 65-70 to our 24-26), we would never make it. Having becoming friendly with the lovely Ana and John, we decided to head up by ourselves. The guide agreed. And so began our hike.
Ana and John were just the loveliest people and thank god for them, because I’m not sure Jack and I would have made it to the top of the mountain by ourselves. We stumbled up the mountain. Some parts were quite steep. It wasn’t a straight assent. As Pico Turquino is actually surrounded by other mountains, we had to walk through the range to get to the top. Halfway up, I realized I really needed a walking stick. It was constant up and down and some parts were quite muddy. Jack gave me his and John found him another one (#bromance). We finally reached the camp at around 1:30 and decided to keep going. We wanted to reach the summit. It’s 8 km to the camp. You’re suppose to do the last 5 km the next day and then hike all the way down. Well, we didn’t want to do that.
A quick snack, John told the guides at the camp that we were going to continue to the summit and that our guide below said it was fine. THEY AGREED! This was their advice: come back before dark, turn right when you get to the top, the first 900 m are the steepest and most difficult and here’s a flashlight. SO COMFORTING. We combined our backpacks so we only had one and I left my camera in Jack’s pockets. John and Ana did the same. (Though the girls did offer to carry the bags.)
The first 900 metres past the camp were the most difficult. It was so steep. There were even some spots where you had to climb a ladder. It was excruciating. Once we past this, there was a sign that indicated that the peak was to the right. Because we would be coming back in the dark, the boys decided to put sticks in an ‘X’ formation so we would be sure not to miss the turn-off. And off we went. Climbing. Hiking. Walking. Up and down. Jack taught me the rules of cricket. And the rules of rugby. We talked about our lives in Canada and the UK. And he waited behind me while I struggled. I had to stop so often. I felt so embarrassed. Here I was, a fairly athletic person who has done multiple races, endurance activities, climbed volcanoes and mountains and I felt I had to stop every 10 or so minutes to catch my breath.
When we finally got near to the top, Ana and John yelled out that I wasn’t going to like what was next. I groaned and kept going…and walked into the clearing where they were waiting. It was such a relief! But a bit of a disappointment. You can’t actually see over the edge. There’s no view. There is, however, a statue of José Marti, which Jack felt he must climb and sit on his face.
We took some photos. We rested. We spotted the rainbows, the boys repeating “double rainbows,” a hundred times before explaining it was a youtube video. I found it. Meh. Not that impressed.
After a while, we determined we should start heading down so that we can make it back before nightfall. I’ll spare you most of the details, but we didn’t. In fact, John also dropped the light they had given us and we took a few moments to sit and catch our breaths, Jack and Ana having wildly outpaced us. Though we did get to witness a beautiful sunset.
We started down the very steep part and it was dark! We went slowly, refusing to use Jack’s flashlight so our eyes could adjust to the dark. Having had just a bit of rain, the gorund was muddy and uncertain. We carried on slowly, slowly, slowly, until we got to an area in the path with tons of fireflies. Near the bottom, we turned on the flashlight and made it safely to the camp.
Where we devoured plates of food. Like I am not kidding. Plates and plates of rice, chicken, vegetables and 5 or 6 cups of tea that were filled with sugar.
After dinner, we played cards before going to sleep. And it was freezing. And Jack, very gentlemanly gave me his blankets. And where we were lulled to sleep by 5 Czech’s men’s snoring.
But the stars. They have never been clearer to me than they were with that night. A black sky stretched across mountains. Stars of every size just cluttering up the night scene. I just wanted to keep staring, to commit to memory the sheer number of stars that hung right above me, that if I could climb just a bit higher up the mountain, I could possibly scoop them a few hundred in a bag and still leave millions for everyone else. They were just breathtaking, the tapestry of constellations. I wish I could have been able to take a picture, but these things cannot be contained in one screen.
The next day, after a bit of arguing with the guides over the lost flashlight (it wasn’t really lost), we climbed down the mountain. And then began our trek to Baracoa.
There are more stories, more moments that I could write about. But in the end, they seem trivial. Complaints about taxi prices and bus schedules. Trying to find a shower and encountering that sexist casa owner again. (I’m so sorry Jack. I wish I could let you shower. I’m so, so sorry Jack. Jack. I’m sorry) Changing in a park. Trying to find an ATM or a bank that could exchange my money. Running from one end of Bayamo to the other with pizzas in our hands. Except for this. Jack had wandered ahead. And I wandered through the trail, pondering what I was doing here in Cuba, thinking of how hard this had been, and imagining a hundred different things. There were flowers and plants and trees, beautiful birds chirping, lizards scurrying around, and peace and quiet. Blue skies, puffy white clouds and utter silence. And seeing Jack at the end of the path, patiently waiting like he had waited for me climbing up to the summit, it made me happy. That’s all I really wanted out of my trip. To find moments of pure happiness.
We took a “look we made it” selfie. And we did. We successfully climbed Pico Turquino in one day.