Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Horse Trek from Hell - Part 3

You know that moment when you stand at the bottom of a really high mountain and you look up to the top and it’s covered in snow, and it looks like a big pudding with icing dripping down, and you think about what it’s like right up there, all the way at the top, where the icing is. What would it be like – to be on top of that?

Not that great, I’m telling you now.


Because the reason we had to get off the horses was because the track was too steep and muddy to ride. The big overnight snowfall was quickly melting under the rising sun, and heavy running rivulets were coursing down the slope, pooling in puddles the width of the path itself. The mud mass had clearly developed when herds of animals traversed the path earlier. I could see that hooves had pulverised the previously hard dirt, mixing the melted ice in until the ground had lost all its dry integrity.

Our horses could easily fall in these terrible conditions. To fall would be to topple down the side of the mountain and never get back up. Not okay. What’s also not okay, is that NOW I HAVE TO WALK IN THE MUD. I am wearing ridiculous (read: look suspiciously like pyjamas) clothes and Vans on my feet. Vans. Yes. I’m hiking in rural Sichuan and wearing skateboarding sneakers.

Once we had all taken a little moment to survey the enormous crapness of the situation, we tied our jumpers round our waists and plunged into the mire. At this early, optimistic stage (read: the optimism was severely misplaced) I exhausted my focus on trying to stay clean. This decision making paradigm soon changed imperceptibly to as-clean-as-possible, however half an hour of princess-like foot placement later, the hill went from ‘steep’ to ‘cliff’, the mud went from ‘yucky’ to ‘I-wonder-if-this-spot-is-only-shin-deep’ and the general attitude went from ‘how quaint, the scenery is still lovely and I’m having a real China experience’ to ‘Jesus Christ if I fall over here the mud will just jump at the opportunity to claim another body and it will probably eat me and they will never find my body and for crying out loud I’m SO DAMN SICK OF TRIPPING OVER AND GETTING YAK SHIT UP TO MY ELBOWS.’

The mud now has a consciousness. This perception may have something to do with the fact that my brain is swollen and crushing the nerves between itself and my skull. But also, this muck has such a high consistency of faeces (I have seen five, maybe six, different kinds of poop, the animal sources of which I can only identify three) and it’s literally freezing cold because the water is comes straight from melted ice. The brown appears to move by itself, rising and falling in certain areas, changing in consistency and colour, and all the while growing. With each foot I place down on its face, I can feel it’s pain and anger, and as I see my foot sink in slow motion, I realised that its arms are molesting their way up my calves, trying to swallow as much of me as possible. When I yank my leg back up and out to take another step, it screams in that sucking-vacuum-squelch way only heard in marshlands. As if this noise were a battle cry, it takes my shoe as a prisoner of war, and the laces begin to disappear... but this is not the first time my hands have plunged into the treacherous murky depth! And so I sacrifice the false hope of hygiene I had been clinging to, and reclaim my inappropriate footwear.

The only potential for a brief respite from the sucking organism of freezing crap was the occasional outcrop of rocks. You realise very quickly, however, that these rocks are covered in some sort of slippery-to-the-point-of-death substance. Often this substance was a fine layer of ice, but more commonly was a sheet of moss camouflaged as the same colour as a rock. Mistaking these outcrops as dry havens, you will lose your footing and just have time to emit a shriek of disgust and fear before once again familiarizing yourself with unidentifiable poop. It would appear that the rocks are allied with the mud.

Also on the tryingtokillus team of natural phenomenon, were the plants. The bushes all completely consist entirely of gigantic spikes and colourful, spherical amalgamations of thorns designed to almost resemble blooms (but are actually militia). These easily hook onto threads of cardigans, trying to unravel your warmth. They catch scarves unbeknownst to the wearer, and strangle you when you try to keep moving on. The sharp plants will easily tear through your pyjama pants and then cut up your soft thigh skin, and your socks will undoubtedly be full of prickles. The greedy, psychotic plant arms claw out at you everywhere you go. Itchiness was no doubt a side effect of their poisonous touch.

At one moment I thought I saw two pretty yellow flowers a short way down the hill, but that was when I realised that I really was hallucinating.

 It was as if this place was designed to make human beings as unhappy as possible, even maybe to kill them. Actually, definitely to kill them. The environment has such a strong personality, the core emotion of which is hostility. The air has very little oxygen, with serious side effects that were affecting me seriously. The temperature is unbearable and everything you can see has the potential to kill you. Even the way a yak stares at you here is unlike I have ever been stared at by any other creature. It’s a mix of hatred and indifference, as though it might charge you at any second, but knows you’re not worth the effort.

Our guide and horses just disappear from sight ahead of us. Maybe there is some ancient Chinese wisdom about survival here that has passed down through the generations that our guide prefers not to share with us. Maybe his lungs and blood have developed to be able to function properly despite the altitude. Or maybe (and this is much more likely) the land can just sense that we are white outsiders and devotes all its energy into trying to kiss us, specifically.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...