I finally got out of Campinas. I have been here for something like six weeks and am just now leaving to explore. And man, did I ever explore.
Mandy and I went to Parque Nacional do Itatiaia with five other people on a tour. But it wasn’t a frou-frou thing. It was seven people piled into two small cars, driving for five hours to get to a huge national park in Rio de Janeiro state. (Even after driving for five hours, we had only barely entered RJ State. Brazil is enormous.) The trip was centered around climbing/hiking/trekking some mountains, so I was up for it. I have always liked hiking (except for hiking Hunger Mountain on my birthday when I was ten, which I did NOT like in the least. For a ten year old, hiking up a mountain with a name like that in Vermont in mud season, when there is still snow, is not the ideal way to spend a birthday. It might as well have been called “Mt. You Got THAT For Your Birthday?” But that’s a story for another time.)
On the ride up to to Itatiaia and RJ State, Mandy and I rode in the same car with one of the trip leaders, Alberto. Mandy, who speaks Portuguese fluently, sat in the front and talked with Alberto while I daydreamed about my past lives and about traveling to New Zealand. They tried to talk with me, but since I wasn’t paying attention, I spent most of my time saying, “Huh?” Eventually, I think, they got tired of repeating themselves, and I fell asleep.
When people travel here in Brazil, one of the most common places to stay is called a pousada. My understanding of this kind of place is that it is kind of like a campground with cabins instead of tents. Some pousadas will have restaurants, game rooms, things to do like horse riding and fishing. Others are more bare bones and supply really only a place to sleep. It is also like a New England camp, where people bring their RVs and hang out grilling things next to lawn chairs and radios playing country music, although the pousada we went to was much more sophisticated. This pousada was awesome. It had everything I could want, although it was still fairly simple. I slept in a bunk bed and Mandy had a bigger bed. We had a bathroom and a porch, and on the first night, a cat. I named the cat Clarence Rose because I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, and I thought prodding around in its undercarriage to find out for sure wouldn’t be prudent since we had just met each other. Clarence was with us for only an hour or so that first night, but I think we would all agree it was a good time. Barring the horses that ran around in the middle of the night, waking me out of my very first lucid dreaming experience in which I was telling myself to shut up and stop dreaming because I could hear horses, I’d say it was an all-around perfect experience.
The hike began early: 6:30 for breakfast, driving for an hour and a half over and up a bumpy road like I have never seen…whiplash inducing bumpy road–then walking a mile or two (or however many kilometers) from the Welcome Center to the trailhead, we were on the trail by maybe 9 o’clock.
I will stop my description here to veer off in another direction. Years ago, when watching Saturday Night Live was somewhat of a ritual for me and my friends, I saw one episode in which the creators of SNL had come up with a fake commercial. This commercial was about diapers for adults called “Oops, I Crapped My Pants.” The commercial showed active, healthy adults doing natural, normal activities–playing with their children, going out to dinner, giving presentations at the workplace. The voiceover said something to the effect of, “Tired of making a mess at the most inopportune times? Fret no longer! Oops, I Crapped My Pants is designed for the active adult.” And on and on. Smiling actors looked into the camera and said, “Now I can play with my children without worry! Thanks, Oops, I Crapped My Pants!”
Okay. What does Oops, I Crapped My Pants have to do with this weekend and Argulhas Negras, the mountain I climbed? It is the affectionate new name I have given to that gloriously frightening place. Here’s why: The name, Argulhas Negras, means “Black Needles,” not an entirely comforting name to begin with. It is SHEER slippery rock. It is a near-vertical “hike” that, if I were to have looked down at any given time while climbing it, would have made me wish I had brought along my own pair of Oops, I Crapped My Pants.
Let’s get the truth out there: I exaggerate. I am a big fan of the flexible nature of the “truthiness” of things. But there is absolutely no way I can exaggerate about the Black Needles / Loss of Bowel Control Mountain. I can’t begin to explain how many times I pictured my own death before leaping from one boulder to another, over a fall of two hundred feet. One simply cannot make that kind of experience up. Even as I type this, my fingers are sweating.
At one point on the ascent, Mandy and I looked at each other, wondering if we would have to take the same route on the descent. There could be no possible way we would have been able to hike down the route that forced us nearly to press our bodies directly against the hot smooth rock on the way up. That’s when I named the mountain after the diapers. And nearly needed them again when I saw that yes, indeed, we would be taking the same route down.
I imagined one foot slipping out beneath my weight, tumbling me down the mountain as if a mere pebble, only to crash onto the mass of enormous boulders beneath us a half mile down. I imagined my limbs–the ones still left attached to my trunk–sprawled across the mountain’s giant crumbs at angles abnormal for a human body, fountains of blood escaping from my neck, an eyeball torn from its socket, contact lens and all.
At once we reached a figurative fork in our path–continue down the sheer rock and have to wait while another large group of climbers fanagled their way down the set of ropes in harnesses and masses of carabiners, or take the road less traveled and climb up a series of massive spindle-like boulders (hence the name “argulhas”), hopping from one to the next to reach a path around the other climbers and thereby avoiding the need to use ropes. I looked up at the spindles, singular and mighty and foreboding, then down at the fifteen people coalescing around the rope that would lead them off the mountain. For a split second, I wished I could feel the security of a harness, even though it meant waiting probably a half hour at the very least, running the risk of the cool clouds washing over and enveloping us for the rest of the day.
In a minute, our guide was up on top of the one of the spindles, beckoning us to follow him, Mandy first, then myself. I watched Mandy as she hoisted herself up onto the first boulder in between a slick wall. She stradled the boulder and worked up the nerve to move on to the next one by placing her foot upon our guide’s foot for stability. I followed her moves exactly. When I reached my short leg forward to place it upon our guide’s foot, it wouldn’t reach. I pointed my toe in the hopes to reach the extra inch, and in fact, the guide tugged my leg toward his as if it would stretch. (Like I haven’t been trying to do that for years already.)
This meant that I needed to push myself forward more on the boulder I was already on the edge of. I could see myself losing my grip and tumbling forward toward my guide’s booted foot, not able to hold on to anything, my body spilling over the side of the mountain and sliding to its ultimate resting place among the shards of mountain below.
It was then I felt the hands of God on my butt–firm, supportive, dependable much like an adult diaper would feel, I would imagine–push me forward to the safety of my guide’s shoe. It could also have been the hands of another climber but I didn’t have the nerve to turn around to get a glimpse of the lucky guy, or unlucky as the case may have been had I really needed the diapers. In this manner, I made it from one boulder to another–a tug of the leg and a push from behind, until I had climbed up over three spindles, walked an edge the width of a soda can, and slid part way down a sheer rock face to a cluster of trees and brush. Never have I felt so singularly relieved, so overwhelmingly thankful to be alive, and still so fresh and dry.
Thanks, Oops I Crapped My Pants.