If I were to tell you of all the things we did while we were away on holiday, I would need just as much time as the time we spent away. Suffice it to say that we had a great time, and pick one story to tell. The kind of story that stays with you until your hair turns grey, the kind you tell your friends late at night with a drink in your hand.
Suffering from runner's knee meant "suffering" psychologically. The hot sun turned each day into a lost opportunity to be close to nature the way I like it best: by putting on my shoes and going for a run. Thankfully there were so many other fun things to do that the "suffering" was minimal. Take walking, for example. We did a lot of that. New places to explore, new trails to tramp on. New adventures.
One of the trails we wanted to hike was the one between two villages, a total distance of 6 km through a gorge. Truth be told, I was scouting for trails to run in the future, when my legs are healthy again. We waited for the sun to ease down on the horizon, to avoid the worst of the heat. That meant heading out at 18.30. We figured that 6 km shouldn't take us more than 1,5 hours, and that should give us enough time to get to our destination before it got dark.
We had no water with us. No food. You don't need that kind of stuff when you're only going for a 6 km hike, right? Nor do you need a map, because you believe that there is only one trail in the area. Nor walking sticks to help you wade the stream that the trail follows.
We left civilisation behind and met with our first problem from the start. The trail was not marked in any obvious way. There was a red dot on a tree, and here we had to guess, because that's how you mark trails in Sweden, but abroad? Who knows. We crossed the stream for the first time and entered a valley of lush vegetation. Stunningly beautiful.
It was slow going. The stream had to be crossed several times, and while there wasn't so much water as to make the crossing dangerous, it was very slippery on the stones we used to get across. What was that about having walking sticks with you being unnecessary? I balanced on the stones only to slip on the shore and land heavily on my right hand. The one with the wrist that gives me trouble a couple of times per year. I would have screamed in pain if it weren't for the fact that we were being watched by a couple that had walked to this place to be alone. They were sitting on a big rock in the middle of the stream. I swallowed my scream and grunted instead.
|So far, we were still close to civilisation|
Soon, we came to a crossroads. To our left, a staircase was built into the steep hill. To our right, a path followed the stream. It made sense to follow the path, because we had to stay close to the stream. After 100 metres, however, the path stopped and we would have to climb a rock to continue. A drop of maybe 10 metres down to the stream extended below us. No way we were doing that. We turned back.
The staircase brought us to the top of the hills surrounding the gorge. We could see the village, impossibly far in the distance, and the whole place was bathed in a warm, late afternoon light. The landscape was painted in shades of green, brown and orange, with a hazy blue sky rising high above our heads. Everywhere around us were flowers and the air smelled of earth. I was thinking about how beautiful this all was, when I stepped on a snake.
I did a little dance. My screams were carried by the wind all the way to the village. My heart was beating fast, faster than ever. The brown snake headed right towards me, maybe a metre long and, by the looks of it, determined to bite me. When you jump into the air, you inevitably have to land sometime (what goes up must come down and all that), and I landed right on it. Several times, even. The snake, that had perhaps only meant to come and say hello (but that more likely didn't know or care who or what I was), got frightened and escaped down the slope and towards the stream. When my fear subsided some hours later, I felt sorry for it and hoped that I hadn't caused it any damage. After all, it hadn't caused me any damage. Apart from almost giving me a heart attack.
We were very careful now. The single-track trail was invaded by bushes and high grass, and it was difficult to see what, if anything, was lying there waiting to inject some poison into our legs. It was slow going, and to get here – 1,5 km after the start – had taken us almost an hour. Dogs were heard in the distance. Loose dogs. Fiercely protective of their territory. That's when we started getting worried that it might get dark before we were out of the gorge. Among all the things that we hadn't brought with us were headlamps.
The trail brought us to the stream again, and as far as we could see, we would have to continue up the hill on the other side of it. No other trails were anywhere to be seen, so we ascended. As soon as we reached the top of the hill, we realised we were lost. This path was taking us away from the stream. Then we saw a road below that we had somehow missed. We also saw a herd of goats, and heard the aforementioned dogs again, warning us to stay away. The goats were on the road that we had to reach. Fearless (or at least pretending to be) we left the path and trail-blazed down the hill, among thick, thorny bushes and loose earth that crumbled beneath our feet, threatening to carry us with it all the way down.
|Well, at least it was really pretty at the top of that hill.|
By the time we were at the foot of the hill and on the road, with our skins broken by the thorns but otherwise intact, the goats were gone. We were back on the right path. We knew that because there was a sign pointing towards the village. The first sign we found on the trail, and it was in the middle of it. Useful. 4 km left.
We picked up some speed, now when the comparatively flat ground allowed it, eager to cover some distance before it got dark. But suddenly, a pack of dogs were standing in front of us. 6-7 of them, barking.
The secret to facing wild dogs is to not pee your pants in fear. They can smell that, you know. I took the lead, being very friendly towards them and whistling at them to come closer. That unexpected approach took them by surprise, so much so that one of them forgot that how fierce it was supposed to be and started wagging its tail. I moved forward and they backed down. We walked through the pack, the whole time watching them to make sure they didn't surround us to attack, and we escaped unscathed.
The stones in the stream had turned to sand, and that meant we had no way of keeping our shoes dry. The water cooled my feet down. The road turned to trail again, but we were getting close now. A couple of horses appeared in the distance. The first of them seemed to be spooked by something in our appearance and stopped, but after some goading from its rider, it continued. The second one was more curious. It walked right towards us, despite the fact that its rider tried to steer it the other way. We almost fell backwards to avoid a head-on collision. The animal kingdom was decidedly not in a good mood today.
Signs of civilisation came more and more often. An old man, sitting on a bench, philosophising. Some derelict buildings. A bridge. There was still some light in the sky when we reached our destination much later than we had thought, thirsty and hungry, but it had been close. After half an hour, darkness had fallen, but we were safe, looking at the photos we had taken and laughing about the whole ordeal, as if we had never been afraid, not even for a second.