Saturday, 22 September 2007

I'm A Medical Student GET ME OUT OF HERE!!

Is this a crocodile I see before me?
This morning we went for a pleasant morning stroll. The weather was warm but not too hot, the rain was nowhere to be seen and the scenery was very pretty. Wonderful you might say...well...not quite.

We failed to realise just how much of a psycho the Austrian doctor here is. I suppose we should have guessed by now: him being in the middle of nowhere at the other side of the world; the nightmare boat trips he just laughs off and a heart rate of 34. His manic fitness regime would probably kill a lesser man. Unfortunately he seems to have lost all concept of normal human physiology. He is a lovely guy and very friendly, just a bit of a lunatic when it comes to excursions.

So....back to our pleasant stroll. We left at about 10am and after a brief car journey were ready for what we thought would be a relatively brief and easy walk to a waterfall! Little did we know! After the first 5 minutes of walking through a rice field we were up to our knees in mud (literally) shoes became useless as with each step they were sucked into the mud with a wonderful slurrrrrp and farted out again apart from occasionally when you'd find yourself shoeless. By now we were in the jungle, what was supposed to be a track looked to me just like the rest of the jungle. The Solomon Islands are humid at the best of times but the Jungle was even worse, sweat was pouring off us for most of the trip. Anyway we trekked on, between huge trees and vines, over stumps and buttress roots, cascading down mud. After a brief descent which was more like a mud slide than a path we came to the river, the same river in which a giant saltwater crocodile was shot (with a bow and arrow) a couple of weeks ago. We crossed over, gone were the clear waters of the other rivers here, the murky depths could have held all sorts of beasts. It was decided that we should go back into the jungle rather than follow the meandering river. We made it across and I was thankful we hadn't been eaten, if only I'd known what was to come!

Another half an hour or so of up and down in the jungle with cries of "I think this might be the way" and "duck under these leaves or hundreds of biting ants will drop on you" from the crazy doctor, who was by now motoring ahead at his own pace leaving us almost lost, we were brought to another muddy, almost vertical slope which we had to clamber down (mostly sliding on our arses) after sliding 6 metres down missbliss joyfully informed us that she had mud in her knickers. At the bottom of this delightful deathslide was the crocodile river we'd crossed earlier. Now we were to trudge up the river (GREAT!), it was waist high on me and up to missbliss's chest. It was exceptionally uneven and huge holes in places almost swallowed us whole. Fortunately the holes where the only thing that almost swallowed us, I kept my eyes peeled for 'moving logs' or other crocodile shaped items. The doctor made light of the fact there were potentially crocs by constantly mentioning them, apart from when he was telling us to avoid the razor sharp snails (which were everywhere!)

After about 25 minutes of wading up the river that was becoming increasing shallow (thankfully) we reached our first destination, a quite magnificent waterfall. At this point it was suggested that we stay here whilst the doctor and another couple of guys went further up the river to a little pool for a swim. I didn't need much persuasion as I was more than happy to sit and relax for an hour or so! Me and missbliss spent an hour relaxing in the waterfall, it was nice to be able to wash some of the mud off. I was most disappointed to find that my stash of biscuits had been destroyed as my bag had spent most of its time underwater whist we waded through the river (I managed to just about rescue the camera and held it high) When the rest of the party returned it was a question of whether to go back the way we came (NO THANK YOU!) or scale the vertical waterfall (Bloody wonderful!) We took another leap of faith, not knowing how tall this waterfall was, and elected to go rock climbing in the middle of the jungle with ABSOLUTELY no safety equipment what so ever or way of contacting the outside world should anything happen (not that it'd have made much difference as there is nobody here to rescue us here anyway!)

Off we went, foot holes here, vines there, slippery and crumbling rocks in-between and water EVERYWHERE! The first bit wasn't too bad, there were good rocks (Still covered in razor sharp snails) and it was relatively easy. By now we had some idea of how tall this waterfall was - FUCKING HUGE! By now we could only go up as it would be impossible to go down. I can't overemphasise how sheer and vertical this waterfall was (when we have the ability we'll upload a picture.) It wasn't till we were about half way up that it suddenly hit me that if we slipped (on the slippery, snail ridden, crumbly rocks) we'd have gone down like dominos to a rocky, watery death! SHITTERS! By this time we'd been climbing for a good 25 minutes and were perhaps just past half way although the foot holes were getting fewer and those that were there were less secure. We must have been running purely on adrenaline and the will to survive! Missbliss (who was for some reason quite enjoying the climbing aspect) only has little legs so struggled at some of the mammoth leaps (her dad taught her well on Dartmoor but her mum is probably having a heart attack reading this). The Doctor did manage to help her up some of the tougher parts but I was left to clamber around on my own, occasionally pushing missbliss from behind to help her up.

The relief when we got to the top was indescribable, we'd spent no less than 45 minutes climbing the waterfall. We'll never know how high it is as it isn't on any maps but it was at least 75m but was probably more like 100m even though it felt like 1000m! We stopped (albeit VERY briefly) for a drink and pictures (fuck knows how I managed to keep the camera from falling, in fact, as a party we only lost a couple of pairs of sunglasses, a bottle of water and a handkerchief)

Now we just had the hour walk back to worry about to complete the circuit (easy peasy!) Sadly it wasn't quite so easy as a) even the Doctor had no idea where the fuck we were b) it was as muddy as ever and c) we were bloody knackered d) out of adrenaline and e) we were hungry. I didn't even have my biscuits if we were to be lost in the Jungle! The doctor was marching ahead, most of the time we couldn't even see him and had to take an educated guess at which way he'd gone. A casualty in the form of the doctor's shoe, which was sucked into the muddy depths, didn't even slow him down. "Shit, Shit, I just a snake!" was the next exclamation from the Doctor, by now I just about wanted to shoot him (although I wouldn't have been able to catch up with him to do so). Shortly afterwards came a "OUCH! I've just been bitten by a spider" from the man behind us. I think we'd all been bitten and attacked by ants, mosquitoes, thorns, snails and mud! It seemed like the jungle would never end and now we had snakes to look out for too. I've never sworn so much in my life, particularly as I fell down into deep mud going back across the river. The Doctor made another quip about crocodiles which was just about all we could take and caused an uproar from myself and missbliss (perhaps it wasn't the best idea to call my elective supervisor a twat.) There was another indescribable feeling of relief when eventually we got through and saw our truck. I took some quiet, alone time to calm down whilst missbliss squatted under a water tank to clean herself up.

By now it was 3:00pm but there was one last bit of walking to do, fortunately the destination was a beautiful fresh water pool/lagoon. I couldn't get in there soon enough, it was cold but wonderfully refreshing. After about 15 minutes swimming around and relaxing we both felt a million times better and I no longer wanted to throttle the doctor. A coconut replenished our now very depleted water stores whilst we took a truck back to the township.

On reflection, I think we're both glad we put ourselves through it and we thanked the doctor for not quite killing us. It has confirmed that the doctor is a total psycho, but a nice one at that. A reconciliatory game of UNO is in order this evening. If, like a cat, humans had nine lives, I think we'd be down to our last few by now on this trip! Apparently in the Solomon Islands you're either a bushfella or a salwaterfella, which means you're either a jungle or coastal person. I can safely say that me and missbliss are neither.

FUEL UPDATE: "onefella ship brought thisfella fuel this time" Unfortunately they only brought 5 barrels, 3 of which were used in a flight today. We are assured another boat is bringing more and should be here on Monday but we've been hearing that for the past 5 weeks!

WATERFALL PICTURES ADDED January 2008, courtesy of the doctor:

A natural shower

Can you climb it? Yes, apparently you can - it should be noted that this was the aformentioned easy bit and that the waterfall carried on for another 40 minutes of climbing after this

A perilous snap of one of the guys scaling the waterfall - do you see the razor backed snails??


Ms-Ellisa said...

Oh MY Gooooooodddd..........!!!!!!
I would probably have been crying all the time in the jungle...! Such stuff scares me to bits...

Elaine said...

I second that, but probably sooner than ms-ellisa (I am a total wimp)

Anonymous said...

jeeze LM that really does sound terrifying!

well dont on not getting eaten alive though, and to missbliss.

hope the fuel comes soon, I shall eagerly await the news.

PhD scientist said...

Cracking tale of implacable Teutonic-ness.

BTW, there are ways it could have been worse, at least psychological torture-wise. I used to have a girlfriend who regularly insisted on such expeditions (without the waist-high water and the jungle, natch... in short supply in the Peak District) when I would rather have been having Sunday lunch at the pub. She worked on a "ratchet system", so every time we completed one 12 mile yomp-fest, the next weekend's one would be longer, or hillier.

Needless to say it didn't last. I went back to being a slacker and she bought a head-torch and joined a mountaineering group.

At least you and Miss B are united in adversity...!

Calavera said...

Oh my goodness! That sounds like a wicked experience! Ok, it can't have been too wonderful at the time, what with the mud and getting lost and all that, but it's so gonna be one of those experiences that you'll laugh at and reminisce about over a glass of wine by the fireplace in the years ahead.

I really want to see photos of all this stuff, especially the waterfalls... Have you just taken photos of the scenery without someone in the foreground? Cos if so, you could just post those ones up...

rich johnson said...

Ah,what a wonderful time you had. I did my elective with Gunter in 2005, and i must say that our climb of tinakula was the only time i genuineluy thought i would die....what a wonderful few weeks. He is totally barmy though, i agree.