Monday, May 16, 2011

Horse Trek from Hell - Part 2

So we’re on horses now, ambling across the coal truck road, down a small alleyway, squeezing between two houses and across a bridge. The fence line breaks and the harsh landscape explodes in front of us, opening up to massive mountains and deep valleys, tall pines and prickly scrub. Goats and bulls and yaks are peppered across the horizon, moving at an indeterminably slow grazing pace so that from far away they appear to be standing up but dead. The occasional bleat or moo or grunt (repectively) can be heard surprisingly clearly, echoing through the ranges, so it sounds like it’s coming from everywhere. As if there are animals all around you. Five minutes into the trek I realised that actually this is because there really are animals all around me.

The initial path from village to mountaintop is treacherous, strenuous and tiring. I imagine the horse I was on top of also found it difficult. We finally came to a long plateau and my fingers released the knuckle-whitening grip on the reigns, allowing my mind and gaze to finally wander. I looked out at the sight in front of me. It was a strange kind of beauty, really. Very unsettling. I spied a small traditional tent on the mountain next to ours. A small wisp of smoke rose from between its folds, and two goats were tethered nearby. I asked our guide, in Chinese, ‘Who is there?’
      ‘Where?’ He replied, looking out over the hills.
‘There.’ I pointed, ‘in that tent over there.’
      ‘What is it?’
‘A tent…’ I was confused as to why he was confused.
      ‘I cannot see anything.’ He said, and turned back.
‘That tent! Just down and over there!’ I was pointing straight to it. There was a tent, with a wisp and some goats, I was sure of it.
      ‘I cannot see.’ He said calmly, not even looking at me or my irritated, indicative gestures.
‘What do you mean you can’t see it? It’s right there! Who is in the tent!?’
      ‘No.’ He shakes his head.
      ‘I cannot see that far.’

‘Oh. Yeah. Ok. Sorry. Right. Sorry. Doesn’t matter anyway. I’m sure it’s nobody. Probably nothing. ’

What an idiot, I shake my head to myself. I feel absolutely rotten. This man can’t see properly and doesn’t have glasses, and his profession is climbing treacherous mountains with idiots on horses. I am soon absolved of my error though, when he turns to me with a black, rotten grin-
‘Are you married?’ He asks in English.

I cringe and sigh, considering my current situation. I am on a horse, riding in the opposite direction of the last outpost of civilization for a long, long time. Nobody really knows where Songpan is, let alone where the heck I am right now, let alone where the bloody hell I will have gotten myself to in eight hours time. I have no phone reception, no food or water, and my only guide is a man who can’t see who wants to know if I’m single.

It’s not like I’m seriously worried about my personal safety, there are three of us travelling after all, but my exasperation is more coming from a place of extreme physical and emotional discomfort. My ass hurts because I’m not normally a horse-affiliated person, I toggle between sweating and freezing depending on the sun deciding to show its face, and parts of my body take it in wondrous turns to just go numb and then get pins and needles just to remind me they’re there. A dull ache in my skull is peeping through the panadol I took just half an hour ago, and every now and then I catch myself blinking a lot. Like, blinking way too much. And I’m not entirely sure why.

So what I don’t need right now is exactly what I get:
‘My boss also thinks you’re interesting.’ Says Mr. Rottenteeth, doing the raise-my-eyebrows—suggestively-with-smirk.

I think back to that man with the gnawed-down filthy black fingernails on his fat fingers that he licked to keep counting cash. In all his greedy, pufferfish glory. I begin to wonder what countries actually have pufferfish, and how many people have died from stepping on one. I am considering how dissatisfied I would be if I died from a fish. What an anticlimax that would be to my life so far. And how I would be found in my swimwear, presumably because I was at the beach, and how I hate swimwear. So then I start planning what I want to be wearing when I die, and all I know is that I want it to be Doc Martins, and then I start thinking of what would be a cool way to die and-

‘SHIT!’ I scream out, as my horse screams too, trying to regain its footing from the greedy edge. I quickly throw my body weight to the path-side. The horse is scrambling for a steady foothold, the dirt and rock at the edge of the path falls away. I turn back in time to see a large rock loosened, plummeting down the cliff face further than I can see. The horse’s head is thrashing side to side, panicking and neighing urgently. In vain I try and pull the reigns away from the edge, my body almost toppling off the saddle. I realise that he still has both back legs on solid ground and I shift my weigh backward, off of the scrambling front legs. One short blink, and my steed has found his footing again. I can almost still hear my cuss echoing over the mountain ranges, and the horse and I take a moment for a deep breath. As we continue down the path I continue with a different train of thought. Grateful to be alive, I ignore the fact that my eyes are kind of swimming now.

Very soon after, we are told to dismount and that we must walk for a while until the path becomes more solid. I was unsure of what he meant by this until we started travelling downhill a short while and found that our path had transformed from dirt and rocks into a big mud slip’n’slide. This was the pivotal moment when the ‘horse trek’ turned into a ‘trek’ for which, once again, I was unprepared.

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