I sat down at the table, so weak I couldn’t talk. This was perfectly acceptable; my trekking partner Laura was in the same state. We looked vaguely at each other and then set our most beseeching stares on the waiter. He came over. “You’ll have to wait for the second sitting,” he said apologetically. “It starts in 40 minutes.”
A small part of me died. “I’m sorry,” I said politely. “That is not possible. If I don’t eat right now I will pass away.”
He nodded -a fair enough sort of gesture – and went off and got some bread. We consumed it like savages, looking up only to roar ‘MORE’ at him when he came to check we had not passed away.
Soup arrived at our table. “I rushed it through before second sitting starts,” he said. “I don’t want you to die. We’d have to carry your body for eight hours along the trails.”
Having spent ten years being a part time waitress I am generally pretty nice to waiters but I’m afraid to say that, due to being only inches from death, I ignored his joke completely and plunged my face manically into the soup. I don’t even know what Laura was doing at this point; I’d lost interest in her, in the waiter, in everything and everyone other than WARM HEARTY SOUP.
Or, rather, in HOT MILK WITH STRANDS OF SOMETHING YELLOWY-ORANGE, which, it turned out, is what I had just been served. I looked up, confused. Laura looked similarly perplexed.
“WTF?” she said. We tried another spoonful and both gagged.
“WTF?” I echoed. “Is it just me or have we been given a bowl of hot milk with some yellow-orange strands in the bottom?”
She poked around a bit more, took another spoonful and looked like she was going to cry. “Well there is also some butter in here. But otherwise, yes.”
We looked at each other despairingly. If we did not eat right now we would die; if we drank a bowl of hot milk with strands in it we would probably kill ourselves. It was a tough situation, I won’t lie. We had been trekking in driving rain, up hours and hours of steep rocky hills, for more than ten hours.
The waiter came back, presumably because I was eying up my fork as a potential means of ending it all. “This is hot milk with strands in it,” I said to him. I did my best to be polite; we were after all in a mountain refuge, not Gordon Ramsey. And indeed we were speaking in Spanish. The waiter shook his head. “No, it’s pumpkin soup,” he said.
Another part of me died. “No, it’s not. It’s hot milk with orange strands. Try it.” The waiter tried it, gagged, and took our bowls away. We resumed staring hopelessly at the room around us. Super Chicken Noodle soup arrived three minutes later. We lifted the bowls and drank, ignoring the spoons completely. (I had a vague recollection of my Dad saying to me – seven year old Lucy Robinson – that if I didn’t eat like a civilised human being he would throw me out into the shed with all the other savages. Clearly his threats have had little effect on me.)
Then chicken and mashed potatoes arrived and we threw them down our gullets, emitting savage yells of happiness. The same when dessert arrived. Savages. Mingers. Wildebeest.
Ten minutes later, it was 8.55pm and we were in bed, snoring.
We woke up the next morning, looked at the map of today’s trek and agreed that we would surely die today. We sat at the breakfast table, staring into space, wondering how death would feel. And then eggs arrived, we emitted savage yells of happiness and all was well.
And that, dear reader, is how I have passed the last week. Exhausted beyond the point of anything I’ve known, eating like a savage and passing out unconscious.
It’s been an absolutely amazing experience. Every day we agreed we were going to die but every day we did it – we scrambled over rocks on the side of an almost vertical mountain at 3am with only head torches, we hiked up streams in freezing rain and snow, we climbed hills even when we thought that to do so would result in death – and every time we were rewarded with scenery so spectacular that it left us pretty much speechless, save for the odd yodel.
I would not say, by any means, that I am now a trekking enthusiast (largely because I believe such people to be sectionable. Why? Why would you spend weeks doing this? Worse still, carrying big tents and ten days’ worth of food on your back? And stoves, and wet weather stuff, and all the other things you need to stay alive? ARE YOU INSANE?) but I would say that I now know it is possible to undertake punishing uphill walks that last twelve hours and not give up and expire. And that the rewards are considerable. Although I still maintain that I could have quite comfortably enjoyed them from a helicopter, but never mind.
On the final day we got up at 3am to see sunrise on the most famous mountains of the massif – a task that can be completed only after a gruelling two hour hike, an hour of which is up a rock-strewn mountain – and it was so amazing that I nearly cried. As we struggled up in the dark, headtorches trying to see where the effing Jesus we were meant to be going, I suddenly had this sense of being one of a long procession of people all over the world, all wearing head torches and trekking up a mountain to see a spectacular sunrise somewhere. It made me feel rather proud, I tell you. I was glad to be one of their number.
Now I am back and fairly relieved. Laura and I spent the first day binging on vegetables (wearing pink sequin masks to add an air of celebration to the occasion) and then undertook sleep in industrial quantities. I am on my own once more; back in Argentina and awaiting my dear friend Marge with whom I am setting off on the road trip to end all road trips on Wednesday morning. Route 66 my arse! We’re tackling the Ruta 40! Look at this bad boy:http://www.turismo.gov.ar/esp/atra/ruta/mruta.htm
I am tremendously excited. Marge is probably the best female in the universe. We have to learn how to change tyres, we need to buy illegal supplies of spare petrol, we need sleeping bags and emergency provisions in case we get stranded (quite likely, apparently) and have been warned that this is not a trip for wimps – but we are rugged, man. We are ready. We are going to do this thing. Out of stubbornness if nothing else. We’re off into the big skies! Vamos! Yeah!
(NB, If you are my publisher, please be assured that I will finish my book on time in spite of appearances to the contrary.)
As for The Man, he cooked us a delicious meal on Valentine’s day. Tagine. Absolutely outstanding. Sadly, I wasn’t there to enjoy it with him but I saw photos. He’d even chosen a good wine for us (him.) How thoughtful he is.
We are in talks about travelling together later this year.
Has the world gone mad? How did I end up with a boyfriend? I am Lucy Robinson! I am meant to be single!
I have a feeling someone is pulling my leg. Maybe by the time the road trip finishes and I find myself back in civilisation I will discover that it was all just a fantasy brought on by some shonky mushrooms from Buenos Aires. I hope not.