This is not a path!

My family and I were reminiscing over Christmas lunch when the subject of my emails home from my first overseas trip came up. It was 15 years ago now. Thought it might be fun to share an excerpt from back then. Hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas.

This is not a path!

This was the constant cry from Michael John Robinson, intrepid explorer and mountain biker.  We pick up the story of our hero as he is joined by fellow explorers Dean and Gary, setting out to traverse the Isle of Wight on a bike riding expedition.

Our exploration team set down in the port township of Ryde. The tune on all our lips was the Beatles song “He’s got a ticket to ride, he’s got a ticket to ri-i-ide.” We waved to locals as we sang and cruised out of the town. It was the kind of morning that made it important to acknowledge our fellow man. Off we set for the sunny seaside village of Sandown which was a mere 15 clicks away.

Half way to Sandown however the novelty of the song had well and truly lost its shine.  My bicycle was a heavy framed boneshaker from the seventies with a bony seat, tread-less tyres and gears that enjoyed skipping for no apparent reason.

We made it to a cosy Bed and Breakfast in Sandown owned by a likeable English chap named John Robinson. I asked him if I can call him “Robbo” and he replied “you most certainly cannot”. I told him that’s what I am called and he brushed it off, changing the topic to his garden and how we are not to park our bikes on it because he had won the Sandown Garden Competition three years running.

Let me give you a tip. You don’t have to be Don Burke to win the Sandown Garden Competition. The state of the garden is what first drew us to this B&B because it looked like the cheapest place to stay… in the world.

That evening we had a couple of hours until sunset and we could see some big white cliffs in the distance so we figured we would ride over to them, check out the view and return back before dark. Seemed simple enough.

 We took the coastal path.

 It seems though that the English do not know what a path looks like. I know what a path looks like and it doesn’t look anything like a near non-existent trail, crawling with rabbit burrows and diggings with giant saffron thistles thrown in for laughs. My bike was not built for this kind of off-roading. We pressed on however despite my protests to our exploration team and anybody along the way that would listen that this was not a path.

It was a gruelling ride but we finally made it to the top, the boys checked out the view. I checked out the freshly punctured flat back tyre. We found the puncture, repaired it and turned for home. The sun was now dipping distrustfully below the horizon.

The incident happened about 8pm I guess. There was a slight breeze from the ocean. The moonlight looked to have covered the water and surrounding terrain in tinfoil. Any remnants of the goat track we were picking our way across were now not visible at all. We got to a part of the descent that had troubled me….. ever since I struggled getting up it a few hours before. A hill, so steep I initially confused it as the cliffs we had seen from the B&B. The other two boys paused for a brief moment before giving out a “yahoo” and like lightning they were away, disappearing into the half light.

I slid to a gravely halt, alone, pausing in an extended moment of introspection. The fear beading on my forehead and tracking its way down to the corner of my eye.  In that instant I had what I could only describe as a brain explosion and began pedalling madly down into the abyss yahooing also.

It became apparent to me seconds into the downhill run that I was going way, way, way too fast for my skill level to have any semblance of control. I pump the brakes, but since my tyres were slicks, meant for the main roads and proper paths, this just had the effect of sliding my back tyre out and back in a wobbling fishtail effect.

Keeping my cool, I decided to pedal myself out of trouble. Just then the gears popped from first to last, my pedal caught the lip of a rabbit burrow and it was then that I noticed my bike flipping over my head leaving me cartoon style in mid air.

It is never the fall that hurts, only when you hit the ground, and this was no exception. It was an ungraceful fall. A spectacular fall. A fall that was surely similar to the original fall that spawned the word akimbo.

I rolled, bum over head, feet over navel. Through the thistles. Possibly near the path, who could tell. Finally I came to a halt. I lay there for a minute or two, skin itching from the burr patch I was catapulted into. I looked down at my knees they were bloodied, checked my elbows same result. Rubbed the bruises on my back, legs and shoulder. Spat the dust from my mouth and wiped the claret now trickling down the side of my head.

 I once again muttered that this is not a coastal path only this time adding a few expletives. After five to ten minutes it was clear no one was coming to my aid so I picked myself up, pronounced myself alright and continued down the hill. This time walking next to my bike.

Dean laughed so hard when I reached the bottom that I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Little did we know that this was to be my one and only bingle and my jolly friend Deano was on the brim of three.

That night we decided to have an early one because 70 km of mountainous terrain lay waiting early the next morning. Another brain explosion saw us get to bed at about 4am after checking out the local nightlife for “one quiet drink.”

Up at 7am and after a lovely breakfast made by John Robinson, who still wouldn’t let me call him Robbo, we departed.

Not much more to tell you, we saw a lot of amazing scenery, visited a castle and some abbey ruins and arrived back in London completely exhausted. Long gone are the days of jumping on my BMX off the side of gutters, my bike skills are not what they used to be.

 

In summary:

  • Bike riding around the Isle of Wight – very recommended.
  • The coastal trail up to the cliffs at Sandown – not recommended at all.

P.S. I got a full time job that I’m supposed to start tomorrow but I’m too tired so I think I’ll be a no show and sleep in. It was a very dodgy commission based sales job so I think my time will be better served looking for something else.

 

Karma Police

Karma has a funny way of repaying you for the childish antics of your youth. My mate Herman is Namibian and I found it quite hilarious over many years of travel to make subtle comments at the immigration desk as to whether Namibia was even a real country. This would often invoke twenty questions from the officials and would send them scurrying for their manual that had the list of recognised countries.

Sometimes countries, like Slovenia for example, have not updated their manual since Namibia was known as South West Africa which compounded the situation, making the following ten minutes increasingly uncomfortable for Herman as he attempted to justify the existence of a country the size of Texas; and increasingly funny to his infantile friends……

I worked out pretty quickly JFK doesn’t like me. In a bizarre occurrence that would be repeated in some shape or form over the next decade I made my way to the immigration desk. The lady behind the desk, unusually polite and upbeat processes my passport and welcomes me to The States.

“Thank you Mr Robinson, have a nice…..”

Then she stopped and gawked at the screen, before her hand reached down and furiously seemed to hit some sort of hidden button. Immediately two men appeared heavily armed and escorted me to another room sitting me down with a bunch of men who looked to be Mexican.

What an adventure I thought. Feeling comfortable I had nothing to be worried about, I sat there in the back room, scanning the men with their massive guns. Slyly glancing at the Mexicans, there were about seven of them. They sat there steely faced, silent. This is great, what a story. After a while I leaned over to the bloke next to me and whispered “what are you in for?” He however was no muy bueno! no muy bueno at all.

In New Zealand they ask you if you have prescription medicines, weapons, ammunition, explosives and narcotics as one question on the departure card. This puts the average migraine sufferer in quite a position by ticking that box. You’d think the Kiwis would separate out the prescription medicines wouldn’t you? Did I accidentally tick a wrong box I thought?

I started thinking about other countries I have been to, where they appeal to the honest jihadist by asking whether the flyer has engaged in terrorist activities. I have felt like asking if they can be more specific but thought better of it as Border Security rarely have an effervescent sense of humour. Why am I thinking about this? What’s taking so long?

Clearly keeping me here for such a long time was a tactic to start to breakdown the most hardened of criminals. I could see cracks appearing in the Mexican mafia next to me. It was probably only then that I started to feel some pangs of apprehension. Maybe this isn’t some exciting misunderstanding. I start to search my mind for some reason why I am being detained.

Maybe I should have paid that damn TV licence in the UK? Maybe I mistakenly left a debit on my Barclays card when I left England and it has caught up with me? Maybe my over stay in the UK has put some sort of flag on my file? My mind starts to race. Maybe the Malawi Gold my mates smoked in Africa has left a trace on my clothes?…. oh shit, maybe someone has put something in my luggage?

I started to sweat. What is my game plan I thought? Could I plead the fifth? I wonder how much a lawyer costs in the states? I’d probably end up with My Cousin Vinny. I wonder if Guantanamo Bay is nice this time of year?

After a while the guards took me to another room. One stood watch with his weapon trained while a man behind a computer started his interrogation. The next hour or so I was subject to the most frustrating interview ever. I will spare you the transcript but in sharing the below excerpts you can clearly see that as a younger man when I got bored or frustrated I had a tendency to get  a little cheeky.

“Do you have a drivers licence with you?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“I don’t intend to drive anywhere”

“How can you prove you are Michael Robinson then?”

“Um, it says it right there on my Passport next to my picture?”

“What nationality are you?”

“Australian”

“How can you prove you are from Australia?”

“It says it there below my picture, also on my Passport”

“Do you have any other evidence you are Australian?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“I’m confused, it’s my first time to America, you guys do use the whole Passport system here don’t you? I thought that was the generally accepted form of ID”

It was about here that I started overstepping the line.

“Sir, please evidence you are from Australia.”

“maybe by saying something?”

“huh?”

Baramundi’s a bloody big fish

“What are you doing sir?”

“Crocodile Dundee, It’s a little obscure a reference I know, but I didn’t want to use the ‘that’s not a knife, this is a knife’ line given where we are. You understand.”

“This is not a laughing matter.”

“I’m not laughing”

“How does this prove you are from Australia?”

“I don’t think it does…. but can you do this accent?”

Probably should rope it back in I thought.

“Have you any tattoos?”

“No”

“Have you had any tattoos removed?”

“No”

“Have you had any reconstructive surgery?”

“You mean like, was I born a woman?”

Answer the question sir”

“No….. Listen gents maybe if you tell me why I’m here I might be able to help you.”

Eventually, the lads gave in and informed me that the FBI are looking for a man with my name and age. I put it to them there may be more than one person with the same name as me and they accepted I was probably not the felon they were looking for.  Also the felon was African American….

They wished me well and sent me on my way to explore New York. Unfortunately, each time I enter the States, I am still subjected to the Spanish Inquisition at the immigration desk. I haven’t been transferred into a back room again but I usually have to put aside an hour and a half on arrival. Lately I start the engagement with “it’s not me but I know I am going to spend the next hour convincing you of that.”  It doesn’t work.

Herman finds this hilarious. As I said…. Karma.

The Bucket List

I finally found my travel bucket list. It was the list that was supposed to remind me to keep living. It consisted of the exotic, the dangerous, and the far off places. It embodied my traveller past and beckoned for me to dust it off, or more to the point to put it to use and get it dusty again.

I shuffled through the list of destinations and experiences. Dive sites. Monuments. Villages. Drawing a line through those I had conquered. Pondering the next secretly, never to be shared. Worried to some a list of this type would seem boastful and privileged, and to others unsophisticated and pedestrian.

To me it was a plan. A purpose. A structured approach to whimsy and spontaneity. An insurance policy to assure myself I wouldn’t lie in my grave wondering if I gave myself completely to using my days on earth well. I lay back, remembering. Perhaps the memory is still an important part of the journey.

But I shouldn’t confuse travelling with the journey. The journey lingers. As I grow from a combination of experiences. The journey lingers through reflection, through a change in perspective. As the past settles and cements, the journey continues. Travelling however can only exist in the today.

I hope my travel bucket list inspires a journey in you and I look forward to your comments and any helpful additions to my journey.

Taj Mahal, India

Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Three Games of Man, Mongolia

Blue Hole, Belize

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Humpback Whales, Niue

Great Wall, China

Machu Picchu, Peru

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Petra, Jordan

Qin Terracotta Soldiers, China

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Whitewater Rafting on the Zambezi Rapids, Zimbabwe

Deer Cave, Borneo

Foz Du Iguazu, Brazil

Arora Borealis in Tromso, Norway

Tulum, Mexico

Cinque Terra, Italy

Wildebeest Migration, Tanzania

Island Hop in the Caribbean

Captain a sailboat through the South Pacific

Amazon, Bolivia

Galapogas Islands, Equador

Madagascar

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Parthenon, Greece

Over Water Bungalow, Bora Bora

Havana, Cuba

Full Moon Party, Thailand

Hogmanay, Scotland

Dive with Great White Sharks, South Africa

Gorilla Trek, Democratic Republic of Congo

Antarctica

Anzac Day, Turkey

Whale Sharks, Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Munich Beer Fest, Germany

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Cruise Route 66, United States

Dive Sipidan, Borneo

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Sky Dive over the Namib, Namibia

Bungee Jump Bloukraans, South Africa

Running of the Bulls in Pampelona, Spain 

Grand Canyon, United States

Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

Masaii Mara, Kenya

La Tomatina Festival in Bunol, Spain

Easter Island

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Dive the Yucatan Cenotes, Mexico

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Moments that take your breath away

It took the briefest of moments for the excitement to build. The distractions of working life distant. Her back arched and then down below the cresting waves she dove, her tail seemingly beckoning we follow as it glided into the water. I looked at my dive master. “Robbo, jump in and tell us where she goes.” I nodded and I was in.

I didn’t think and I didn’t have time to hesitate. I was on the verge of something truly remarkable. A moment that embodied the word wonderful and I was seizing it.

The water off Niue, a small rock island in the middle of the South Pacific between Tonga and Samoa is warm and clear. There is little dirt or sand on the island to reduce visibility off its shores.  Its soft embrace rushed my skin as my mask plunged into the water searching frantically. Sunlight streaming in shards through crystal clarity adding a further tranquillity to the whale song in the sub terrain.

Then I spotted her in the distance. I called out to my eagerly awaiting comrades on the boat and I swam. I swam for all I was worth until I caught up to her. I swam until she was directly below. I swam, keeping my eyes fixed on her. Twelve metres of grace and power. Her knobbly head looking up at me. Dorsal protrusion, bumpy pectoral fins and greyish skin shimmering in the water.

She slowed. Watching me curiously. Almost not moving she floats next to me. I imagine she is as inquisitive as I. Maybe I was the first human she had seen. Closer to the surface she rises until she is about 10 metres below me. She rolls slightly to one side, eying me off. This is when her calf makes its first appearance peeking out from below his mother’s belly. She guides her calf to view this strange looking creature on the surface before tucking him away.

I stop still, giving her the respect of distance from her and her baby. She gave a flick of her tail and shot ahead about twenty metres. Again she arched her large back. I stopped to watch her, expecting her to disappear into the blue when she turned and swam back towards me. Maybe wondering why our encounter had ended, maybe she thought I was too close. I floated still. Rotating in the water she hovered, vertical, opposite me. Her white underbelly and large white fins outstretched. We watched each other. Silently she scanned. I looked away only to grab a quick breath and returning to gaze deep into her eyes.

Then in one swift move, her tail beat and fins pushed in a downward motion. Up towards the surface she rushed. Her magnificent body effortless through the water in front of me. Her head breeching the water as I raise my head from ocean to air. Up she climbed, so close I could barely take in the whole of her frame. Further until her whole body was now out of the water. Almost pausing as if trapped in suspended animation in the sky a metre or so above the water.

And then down, her splash causing waves of wash over my head. Breaking through the wave I choke for air and frantically return my mask to the water.

Looking down I could make out the distant figure of her disappearing with her calf into the blue. I say a silent goodbye and thank you, watching on ‘til the eyes could no longer determine her and my lungs panged for air. I surfaced, breathing in a deep gasp, eyes wide, staring to nothing, treading water in some kind of amazed state right on the edge of where language fails.

House of Cards

I leave the crew at the coffee shop and venture into the square. The market is a buzz, I look around and absorb the vibrancy. An old man is standing near me, his old wrinkled face, worn by the years was inviting and warm looking. He looked at me with a magnetism so I try on my best Italian to ask this lovely old guy if he knew where I can find a good calzone. I refer again to my phrase book, practice a couple of times in my head. Ok, lets give this a go. “Mi scusi signore” I walk over towards him and his expression opens up in reception. “Dove posso trovare un negozio di calzone.”

He looks at me and smiles. “Sorry no” he responds

“Do you… parla… English?”

“Little bit” he holds his hand up with his forefinger and thumb a centimetre or so apart. We stand there for a moment, I look at my phrasebook to attempt to make small talk with this old guy. He turns and looks at a table where a short man was dealing out three card monte. I look over and then nudge the old man, “You know this game?” I ask him. He shakes his head and starts to move towards the makeshift table. He looks at me and says “See this one” pointing at the game.

I walk up beside him, “No I don’t think you want to play this one…. This game is a trick”

He looks back at me a little confused. As we are talking a tall scandanavian looking backpacker approaches the table. “Ello” he says in a cliché sing song manner. The dealer shows the scando three cards on the table, all slightly bent in the middle, one card with a big red star on the underside. I nudge the old guy and whisper “watch this”.

The dealer shows the card with the star on it, turns it face down with the other two cards and then continues to swap the position of each card swiftly. He again shows the red star to the scando, places it face down and again swiftly moves their position. A third time he shows the red star to the scando and shuffles the positions of the cards, this time letting them lie. The dealer looks up, “sceglierlo” telling the scando to choose a card. The old man and I watch as the scando points to the middle card. We both nod to each other in agreement that he has chosen correctly.

The dealer says something to the scando and he looks down to his bum bag strapped to his hip and unzips it. He turns away from the table and the two men looking on and looks down at his bum bag as he rifles through euro notes.

While the scando is looking away, the dealer stealthily switches the middle card with one on the outside. “Hey, he can’t do that?” I say to the old man.

The scando turns around with 50 euro in his hand and places it on the table. ‘Hold on mate” I reach over and grab my fellow traveller on the arm. “He swapped it mate. It’s not the middle one, it’s this one.” I point to the card on the left.

“No, no, this one” the scando points to the middle card.

“Nah mate, this bloke swapped the card on you when you were looking away. The one with the star is this one” I replied in ernest.

“No” he says “Not that one, this one” the scando again points to the middle card.

I point to the card on the left “This….” But it was too late, the dealer turned the card on the left over and as I tried to tell the scando, there was the card with the star.

“Winner” the dealer declares and picks up the 50 euros.

“Told you mate” I shake my head and turn back towards the old man.

“Winner” The dealer says again.

“Nice to meet you” I say to the old man and scan the square for a calzone vendor.

The old man pats my arm “You win” he says.

“What?”

“You win”

“I didn’t win. I wasn’t playing” I look across at the scando, he is standing there all confused trying to ask what happened to one of the men on looking. They were giving him nothing back and were probably both friends of the dealer. The old man was still patting me on the arm. I look at him.

The old man says “You win, your money” and he points back at the table.

“I don’t want anything to do with it, its not my money, I don’t want it” I respond

The dealer calls to me in Italian and holds the 50 euro up in his hand. “What is he saying?” I ask my old friend.

“He say this money is yours, you win, take it” the old man replies. I look at the dejected scando as he turns and walks past me. Shit. “Hey buddy hold on” I grab a bit of the scando’s shirt and capture his attention. “I might be able to get you your money back” He looks at me with eyebrows raised. “Come with me” I turn on my heel as he follows me the 10 feet back to the table.

“This is my money yes?” I reach out for the 50 euro

“You win” the dealer says, he then pulls the note away and says something in Italian rapid fire at me. I look at the scando he raises his shoulders in a shrug, I scan the two Italian men looking on, they were no help, I turn back to my old mate. “My friend, can you help me? What does he say?”

“He says that you need to show you had the 50 euro to bet with before you take the money”

Now I had seen this game of three card monte before in a square in Barcelona. There the hoods let you win and see which pocket you put your winnings and then they rob you as soon as you get around the corner. I look at the men standing next to the pint sized dealer, they were not much bigger, I figured if these guys try and rob me around the corner they will find me in a pack of my 10 travel companions. I look back at the dealer, he stands there shuffling the cards and laying them back down on the table, presumably for the next game. “Ok” I said, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a 50 euro note. The dealer holds his note up and motions it towards me, in one move he has my 50 euro, he puts the two notes together and looks down, with the other hand he flicks the outside left card over. “Your card, you lose”

“What?” the dealer folds the two 50 euro notes and puts them into his shirt pocket.
“Hold up fella” I say to the dealer “I already won that money”

He points back at the overturned card, “You lose” he says again, this time more urgently.

“Back me up scando” He takes a couple of steps back. I furrow and turn back to the dealer “You said I won, I wasn’t playing again, I already won”

“No you lose”

“Look, you listen to me, give me my 50 bucks back” The dealer started to raise his voice at me in Italian. I look at the old man, “Can you please tell this guy to give me my money back”

The old man and the dealer exchange some words, he walks beside me and I turn to look at him. “What did he say?”
“He say, your money is gone”

“No, its not gone, he has it right there” I look over my shoulder at the dealer and point at him in a manner that was as intimidating as I could muster. I turn back to the old man

“My friend, your money is gone”

“Its not gone, this guy has it, tell him I am going to get fucking mad if he doesn’t give me my money back” I glance back over my shoulder and scowl at the dealer.

The old man looks up at me, places a hand on each shoulder and looks me deep in the eyes. He says it slow, deep and clear. “Your money… is … gone”

“You don’t understand, I am getting angry and if this guy doesn’t…” I turn to point to the dealer. He was gone. Where the fuck did he go? The fold up table was gone, the dealer was gone, the dealers two mates were gone.

“Did you see…” I turn to the scando, he was gone too. What the fuck was happening. I scan the crowd.

“where the fuck…” I turn back to the old man. He was gone too. I turn around and turn again. The crowded square was spinning around me. It was movie like. I was in one of the most crowded places on earth and I had never felt more alone. I had been duped, scammed, fooled, swindled.

“Faaark” I stomp my foot like a scorned child and bewildered I make my way back towards the coffee house a mere twenty metres away.

Still seething, I recoil to the coffee shop and explain to my travel buddies how I was totally suckered in the square. I was quite quickly convinced that I did not want to mess with the locals and whilst losing 50 euro was not ideal I could have been hurt or worse if I had have got into a fight with the street swindlers. It looks like I may have literally dodged a bullet. I was so annoyed still though. We finish up in the coffee shop and we walk back into the square. And then I see it, through the crowd. The dealer. He had his stand set up again. Cards out, waiting for his next victim. Around him, his two skiffs. I felt angry. Then I see him, the Scando, backpack on, walking innocently through the crowd up to the card table “Ello”. I feel stupid now. He was a part of it all along. What an idiot I was.
“Oh no” The old man was standing ten feet away, flashing his friendly smile to passing tourists. “Bugger”

Well, that was surreal!

I hate the misuse of the word surreal. I hear people say things like “I bumped into my friend at the train station the other day, it was so surreal.”

It wasn’t. Unless you friend was a pink elephant with your undies on his head telling time from a melting clock, it wasn’t surreal.

I look around me though and there is no other word that can really describe what I’m seeing. I’m dressed in lederhosen, so are five of my closest mates. Our drinks are oversized one litre plastic cups filled with Vodka and Redbull. Around us monks, hillbillies, centurions, minions, Donald Trumps, flamingos, creepy baby heads, a wardrobe with legs (presumably from the lion, witch and the wardrobe), Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, Muy Thai fighters, pirates, jockeys, unicorns, T-rexs, leprechauns carrying blokes, pregnant cheerleaders, fighter pilots, snipers, lifeguards, policewomen, dictators, the Chinese army, a clergy of nuns priests and bishops, a couple of Harry Potters, numerous Where’s Wallys, a handful of broadcasters, some tinder screens, Oompah Loompas, prisoners, geishas, pharaohs , TMNTs, Tetris pieces, the odd Mother of Dragons, a trace of rabbits, bathers from the 1940s, guys with dressing gowns and shaving cream, Shrek, Asterix and Oblisk, Storm Troopers, Budgie Smugglers and the Super Mario Bros.

David Hasselhoff is singing in front of me surrounded by Baywatch babes and bizarrely accompanied by a Chinese midget also dressed as a lifeguard sitting on a tower.

South Stand at the Hong Kong Sevens. Where have you been all my life. Oh and some rugby was played too – Fiji won. I think.

Searching for Giant Anaconda

Night time we negotiate through the jungle floor, the guidance of the dappled moonlight through the canopy the night before, now replaced by our makeshift ‘explorer torches’. In an act of manliness, Herman split some bamboo in quarters at one end and stretched them across an old tuna can which he tied and mounted with some twine. Dousing some oily torn cloth in fuel and placing it in the can, his explorer torch was assembled. Not to be outdone I hurried to make one of my own and this night, guided by the 10 foot light cast from the flames of our Indiana Jones style torch, we ventured into the Amazon. Our mission was simple, the local tribe had seen some large Anaconda and Herman and I hadn’t, so we were about to rectify that. We left the village in a line, one torch at the front and one at the back, the middle in almost complete darkness but for the sparing light from the moon and a couple of inadequate dimly lit head torches. It was romantic in a dangerous first explorer sort of way. The moist leafy floor crunches underfoot as we negotiate vines, fallen branches and the dense foliage, traversing intermittently onto what seemed to be a path from what certainly couldn’t have been. The vegetative smell of damp leaves and rotting wood.

The group walk silently, their footfall the only sound we add to the sounds of the jungle mammals, birds and insects. The jungle kneading me as we walked, habituating to us from an initial shyness, now insects and birds go about their business around us and sometime on us.

After an hour of trekking we encountered our first challenge. A cliff, maybe 15 to 20 metres above a rushing river. The foliage so dense that a small dirt path barely a foot wide from the cliff was the only route through. Some of the group voiced their opinions that this path was far too risky but our local seemed unperturbed and Herman and I urged us forward. The group left with no real option but to advance, we held hands, backs to the scrub, eyes diligently sizing our next step in the darkness and shuffled sideways along the ledge to the next clearing. The odd slipping of a foothold with the associated heart skip the only mishap that did more to add to the realness of the adventure. We make our way to a stream, our local “guide” commented that it was most likely we would see big anaconda here but we had to get to the other side. The nimble footed locals had walked across and back the log that stretched across the fifteen meters of water. I was to be the first gringo to attempt the crossing.

I have never been the most coordinated guy in the room and already had serious doubt I would make it across the precariously thin “bridge”. My first step, shaky, the mud caked on the sole of my shoes compromising the necessary traction required to balance. I place it down and immediately slip off the side of the log and into the mud.

“What are you doing?” Herman shouts from behind.

I pull my wet muddy leg from the muddy quagmire and attempt to place it on the log. Again it slips off. I step back deciding barefoot is the only way I am going to get across this log. I toss my shoes on the bank and call out to Herman to throw them to me when I get to the other side. Again I step onto the log, uncertain. My toes curled, gripping at the smooth cool wood. So far so good, I slowly move my way to the middle of the log, wobbling, arms out. I hold my position. Still myself and look down into the dark, possibly anaconda filled, waters a metre below. One more step, an overbalance and I was off the log and into the water. What usually would have been a hilarious scene now sent panic through the group. Except for Herman who battled his explorer torch and camera whilst heaving with laughter. My feet make the bottom and I stand in waist deep water, quickly assessing my options and for the first time thankful I could not see an anaconda. I push for the far bank quickly, sloshing through the water and clambering up the bank through the darkness and flashes from Herman’s camera. The group are relieved and I sit back in the dirt, panting, adrenaline pumping.

“Herman, can you make yourself useful and throw me my shoes” I ask quite amused he thought only to immortalise the moment rather than attempt to help me.

Herman throws my shoes but predicably they fall a metre short of the bank sending me scurrying back into the water after them, knowing Herman has a better arm than that.

Looking back across the water I see Herman’s hulking frame carrying the explorer torch pushing through the team and stepping onto the log to be next to cross. Within seconds he was across the log without so much as a sway. He jumps off near me, his grin evident in the flickering light. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to. He just patted my back and grinned as I put back on my muddy shoes, both of us knowing that we would probably have to come back this way and cross the bridge again.