By Aaron Aroriza:
Joseph sighed as he hopelessly gazed into the sky, letting raindrops fall onto his tongue. It was 2pm and we had been walking in circles in the rainy Rwenzori jungle for the past three hours. My trusted ranger-guide had lost track and we were now in a part of the mountains he had never been to.
He clasped his wet gun and softly asked me what we should do while throwing a glance at my sprained ankle and struggling to conceal the worry in his eyes. We couldn't go back – I still had one more place to do a site analysis on. Even if we could, it would take us two days to reach the first cabin. We couldn't set camp here – we had already run out of food and it still wouldn't make any sense since we would wake up the following day with the same dilemma.
The most viable option we had was to try our luck at finding a trail that would lead us on to the next tourist resting camp which we were supposed to have reached two hours ago. He knew that was the only option we had but he was asking me because what he was about to suggest to a tired, limping, weather beaten bachelor was too much to bear.
His idea was that we get into the virgin bamboo jungle and cut a fresh trail of our own heading east in the hope of getting to a lake at some point. The lake was important because it was the only feature from which we could accurately re-establish our bearings. I looked up in the sky hoping to find the east. There was no sun in the sky – only dark clouds that were spewing freezing raindrops onto our already over-burdened bodies.
It hadn't occurred to me three days back that I should carry a compass. I had been told the trail was straight forward and that I was going to be with the best guide they had in the Rwenzoris. Our two porters had been standing a few meters away as we discussed the way forward. They were crestfallen and had every reason to be covered in shame. They had contributed a lot to our getting lost. The guide had trusted them since they claimed to know every part of the jungle. They had been telling us of their glory stories as hunters trekking the entire Rwenzoris before the government had gazetted as it a national park and chased them all away. They therefore (at least that's what they had said) knew this park like the back of their hands. Now I know these men never take a good look at their hands. They too didn't know from which direction the lake was coming in, from where I stood.
I had been limping in pain for the last five hours, hoping to get to a warm resting place and now here I was, in the middle of nowhere, about to get into a bamboo forest that had no path, accompanied by the frustrating rhythm of the chilly falling rain drops, without any certainty whether we were headed in the right direction. Our only hope was that perhaps we could see Lake Mahoma before night-fall.
“But what will happen if we don't find the lake before night-fall?” it was a stupid question but I asked Joseph anyways. He looked at me and shrugged and for the first time even he couldn't conceal the worry that was creeping in on everyone! Our tent was so huge we would never get a place to set it in the thick bamboo jungle with a very sloppy ground. We would have to curl ourselves in our wet sleeping bags and sleep under the unforgiving rain. Whereas everyone was worried, we all seemed to think it was better we got into that jungle and keep moving no matter what.
I asked Joseph where his instinct told him the east would be. He showed me. That too is where my instinct had led me. I fastened my bag, pictures of Helga reeling in my mind, trying not to give the pain in my leg any attention; he got a machete from his bag, evidently in preparation of what would be a long, long journey. We headed for the bamboo forest and the porters followed each carrying 30kgs of luggage on their backs. They kept throwing glances at me as I hurriedly limped in pain probably wondering how long I would survive in the rugged terrain we were about to embark on. That was the last time we saw any sky that day.
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