When we asked the price to get a taxi up the mountain we were told we would need a new car, since the old ones just would not make it up. Negotiations were duly conducted with much waving of hands, exaggerated grimaces and groans, and finally a car was booked for the morning.
It turned out to be only ten years older than me rather than twenty. The roof was held on with cellotape and the doors locked with string. I guess for Cuba that counts as a new car.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh.
The road on up into the mountains was certainly steep. The engine screamed in the only gear it seemed to have left and the air was thick with the warm scent-sting of burning rubber.
I smiled at the signs warning of dangerous curves and tried to enjoy the view.
At one point the driver spun the wheel and lurched off the road, nose down into a large puddle of water. It was clearly pre-positioned as he jumped out and started pouring scoops of water over the dangerously over heated engine, using a plastic jog hung up on a branch ready for the purpose.
I was feeling cranky and distracted. For the last few days my travel buddies had been bugging me a little. They were just a bit too British for my taste, a bit too lager and lad jokes and beer. I’d gone from laughing and wondering how come I never hang out with guys like that back home, to liking them lots but entirely getting why we would never hang out back home…
But company has its own momentum. Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye when you have started off with a half decent hello. And the not-quite-perfect people you’re hanging out with all to easily start to seem much better than the lonely unknown full of people you don’t know.
So we were still hanging out, sharing a taxi and starting a hike together, even though they thought I was posh and I regularly thought they were loons..
My strides lengthened as the path narrowed and I soon left them way behind, lost in the pleasure of my own pace, the silence broken only by the thunder echoing from the elusive waterfall, pounding rocks somewhere far below.
The blue sky was flat and unbroken. The drop down fell from the eye, heights lost in the green forest that defied gravity, rising from the steep slopes.
Then I missed a single step and found flight, plunging forward over the canyon’s edge.
They say that your life flashes in front on you. In that split second my thoughts were very practical. I thought ‘I passed other people just a few minutes back, if I go over the edge I need to stay conscious enough to scream and they will hear me’. Afterwards I wondered whether that was a sign that I’m living life well, that I had no thought of regrets, only the will to stay, to live.
Reflex action is a marvelous thing. I somehow managed to grab a tree root, broke the fall and avoided the drop. I have no idea how.
In a matter of seconds I went from thinking it was my last moment, to mild embarrassment at finding myself sprawled self consciously face down, covered in mud, scratches, blood and blossoming bruises . Normality gets its teeth back in quickly.
I got up, dusted myself off and made it to the bottom on foot, just a little shaky. It was just a moment, a could have been that wasn’t. But it was good to be reminded that life is short, that it can end without notice, without ceremony, without even an audience.
I have to laugh when I think that a chunk of what could have been the last hour of my life, was spent watching someone try to make out with a tree… even the thought seems silly but it’s a reminder to live well, live now, live quickly.
It all ends.