I woke up at 6:00 am, ate breakfast, and was on the road by 7:00 am to get to our next location. About 40 minutes later, we arrived at El Questro Gorge. Damien called this one the “Epic Gorge.” At the beginning of the hike, we saw signs warning that a Death Adder Snake had recently been sighted in the area.
Damien asked me if I wanted my hat that was behind the passenger seat. I said sure and put it on. I started the hike with my bestie, Suzanne, but she quickly took off because she was hiking faster than me. There were a lot of rocks and river crossings. I don’t have the best balance, so I took my time. Better to be slow than injured.
About a quarter of the way into the gorge, we came to the “halfway pool.” We had to wade into the chest-deep water, take off our backpack, and wedge ourselves up a few large boulders to continue. The trail also increased in difficulty. A few of the women decided not to continue.
Damien was helpful and stood in the middle of the narrow section that we needed to climb and explained what to do to get up. We’d place our butts against one side and our feet against the other. We’d raise our butts and then our feet until we were at the middle-point. Then we’d do a little more shuffling to get to the top of the boulder.
A few people like Brock, Oliver, and James successfully climbed up. I waded through the water in my clothes and carried my backpack with my shoes strapped to it so they wouldn’t get wet. Grace tried to get up in the first section, but failed twice and dropped back into the water. She turned back and said she might not go because it was too hard.
Then it was my turn. I handed my backpack and shoes to Damien, who passed it to the guys on the top. He gasped, “Geez! Your pack is way too heavy! I guarantee you have a lot of things in here you don’t need.” I explained, “It’s because my shoes are attached. They’re making it heavier.” Damien wasn’t buying it, “They’re hiking shoes. They wouldn’t make that much of a difference.”
I wedged my butt to the left and my feet to the right. Then I hoisted myself up and out of the water. To my surprise, I was pretty secure in wiggling my way up. Glen said, “Wow, you look like a professional.” I was grateful that the rappelling and rock climbing that I did two weeks before prepared me for that moment.
I got to the midsection where Damien was standing, and he instructed me to stand up and move over to the next portion. I almost lost my balance, and Damien instinctively grabbed my arm, then I used my butt and feet to make it to the top.
People started to hike towards the final pool, and Linda and I fell to the back. The trail wasn’t actually a trail. There was the occasional blue or red small, square marker on a boulder, or a bright pink ribbon on a tree. But the gorge was narrow and filled with huge boulders and trees. It was beautiful, but it got harder and harder.
It was sweltering and humid outside, and I was sweating like crazy. Linda and I tried to find the right path, but we often ended up zigzagging. Each time we’d come to a huge boulder that would require a lot of effort, I considered turning back. I worried, How am I going to get back down? But I wasn’t going to let this gorge defeat me. I called this gorge the “F-You Gorge.”
We caught up to some people at a difficult spot where Damien was assisting. The passage that we had to step up and into was narrow. I tried to raise my foot, but it slipped on the ledge, and I bashed my shin on the sharp edge of the rock. It immediately created a large cartoon-looking bump, so I took some Ibuprofen. Glen was behind me and helped to get my leg up high enough. Then I needed to lift myself up with that leg and get into the crevasse. As I squeezed my way through, I said, “I don’t think I’ll fit. My hips are too big.” Damien said, “It’s called the female curse.”
I was happy when I made it, but my shin was throbbing. Each rock that I climbed was putting more and more pressure on my knees. Linda and I now fell behind, and we couldn’t see or hear anybody. Damien stayed in the back with us, but he didn’t help guide us. He would lay on a rock and sunbathe. After 15 minutes, he would catch up to us and do some more sunbathing. I don’t know how Damien hopped over all of the rocks like they were nothing. He really was like Tarzan.
We were close to the end, and there was a rock wall with a small waterfall. I looked at it and asked Damien, “We have to climb that?” He replied, “Yes.” I looked up at the wall that only had very tiny horizontal ledges and took a deep breath. I navigated my way through, slowly going to the right to make it to the top. Shortly after we climbed it, a few people from our group were heading back. Surprised, I asked, “You already swam in the pool and are on your way back?!” They said they didn’t swim because they saw a snake in the water. Instead, they decided to turn back.
We arrived at the pool about ten minutes later, and some people were still inside, while others were drying off. James said he had only gotten there about ten minutes before us, so I felt better that we weren’t that far behind.
I was exhausted, hot, and hungry. I ate a granola bar that I shared with Linda because she didn’t bring anything. Then I took off my clothes because my swimsuit was underneath, and I got into the pool. The snake had apparently slithered up the rock wall.
The pool was cold and felt good. Linda and I only went halfway through, where the water reached our necks. I think we were both afraid to go farther with the snake around. After about five minutes, Damien said we needed to go soon. I reluctantly got out of the pool and dried off. My socks and shoes were wet, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the sweat or the river crossings.
Everyone had already left when Linda, Damien, and I started our way back. Shortly after, Damien slowly hiked near me, and when Linda wasn’t around, said, “So, how did it go with Chris last night?” For the first time, Damien looked shy. I briefly explained that Chris remembered everything about me and was nice, so it was hard to confront him.
I told Damien, “He asked who my tour guide was, and I said, Damien. He asked what you looked like, and I said you were tall, thin, ruggedly handsome, and have long hair.” Damien didn’t seem to like that I called him thin (probably because he has many defined muscles), but he seemed to blush when I said he was ruggedly handsome. Linda overheard that part, turned around with her mouth wide open, and said, “Oooohhh!” I ignored that and continued talking to Damien.
I told Damien that we sat by the fire and talked about our travels, and I called him out for ghosting me, and Chris replied that he deleted the app. I reiterated that it was tough because he was actually pretty nice. Damien jumped in, “Well, he’s…” Damien made a face indicating that Chris was a bad guy. I pushed forward, “Yes?” Damien hesitated, “I shouldn’t say anything. I don’t have any right.” I asked, “Because?” He continued, “I mean, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. I have no right to talk.”
I told Damien, “Of course. All men seem to be jerks. I was out of the dating world for 12 years, and things have really changed.” Damien agreed that dating had changed drastically.
I told Damien that Chris said he would find me at our campsite that night, but who knows. Damien said, “Yeah, you should go find him tonight.” I replied, “I’m not particularly interested, actually.”
I was disappointed. Why would Damien tell me to find Chris? Maybe Damien didn’t like me. He was pushing me off to Chris. And pushing me to a guy he said is not a good guy.
We continued hiking, and Damien was joking, being friendly, and having fun. Linda and I were going faster on the way down because we could see the markers more clearly. Linda and I laughed at ourselves and our slow progress overall compared to the group. She said she was at the back of her last group too, and they just left her. I didn’t want to leave her, so I stayed with her. I didn’t mind taking my time to enjoy the beautiful gorge and make sure I didn’t get injured. We told Damien he must think we’re the slowest hikers he’s seen, and he responded, “It doesn’t bother me at all. I enjoy it out here.”
We arrived at the steep waterfall with small horizontal edges. I was worried and said, “What if we can’t get down? I’m not sure we can do this.” Damien replied, “Yeah, I’m not sure that you can either.” Surprised, I said, “You’re supposed to say you have full confidence in us. Things like, ‘You can do it. I have faith that you can. You got this.’” Damien responded, “What do you want me to tell you?” I stressed, “What I just told you!” He quietly said, “Well, now I can’t because you just told me to.” I shook my head and walked to the start of the waterfall.
Damien sat on a large boulder just opposite of the fall and watched us. I had my back against the rock wall and faced outward, as Damien told us. However, I wasn’t sure where to put my foot. I pointed and asked Damien, and he helped me navigate that best places to put my foot. “Use your butt more. Sit on your butt and then put your feet down.” I did as he instructed, and the whole way down, he said things like, “Great job. You got it. That’s it. Perfect. Good job.”
Damien jumped ahead again and sunbathed on rocks until we caught up. At one point, Linda and I came to the narrow passage between the boulders where I hit my shin. As I tried to get down, I hit the same spot on my shin on a different rock nearby, and it hurt so bad. I made it down, and then Linda tried. She stepped down and had a hand on each boulder, but the next step down was massive. She started to lean forward and freaked out, thinking she was about to fall. I held her up by pushing back on her abdomen and looked her in the eyes, “It’s ok. I got you. You’re not going to fall.” She calmed down and took a step and made it down.
Linda and I were slap-happy, and Damien seemed to be having a good time too. He walked across a thin fallen tree, balancing himself along the way. The sun was starting to make its way into the gorge, illuminating the greenery.
We arrived at the section where we had to take our backpacks off, climb down the narrow boulders, and jump into the chest-deep water. Damien was waiting for us so that he could assist. I handed him my backpack, and he again made fun of how heavy it was. I said, “Look, I didn’t know I was coming on this tour until my car broke down in Broome. I didn’t even know I was coming to Australia when I left the U.S. I didn’t exactly have the opportunity to pack correctly.” He wasn’t buying it, “Sounds like excuses to me.” I responded, “They are explanations.”
The last section was flatter and more effortless. We asked Damien again if he was irritated that we were behind the group. He seemed unconcerned and said, “I don’t mind at all. But I do have 18 hungry people at the truck, waiting for food.” Linda and I picked up the pace as Damien hiked off to the group.
When we returned to the entrance, Linda and I stopped at the sign. It said to allow four hours for the hike if you did not swim. We swam, and we took four and a half hours. I told Damien about the time the sign said to allow, and we were pretty on pace. He said, “That’s for geriatric people.” I explained, “I am geriatric.” He laughed, “No, you’re not.” I said, “Well, my knees are.”
We returned to the campsite, ate lunch, and had a couple of hours to rest. My knees, back, and shin were extremely sore. I laid in my tent on top of my sleeping bag with my feet hanging outside for more air. But the sun just baked me, and I was sweating so much in there that I couldn’t sleep. The giant birds seemed to continuously multiple. They were surrounding our campsite and making so much noise that we had to shout to get someone to hear us. It was insane. I’ve never experienced that much noise from birds, even in a bird sanctuary.
As evening set in, Damien asked who wanted to go for a small adventure and get firewood. I popped my head out of the tent and asked, “Do I have to go?” He said that I didn’t. I started to put my shoes on, but Linda came over to my tent. I asked her if they were going anywhere, or was it just firewood. She said it was just firewood. I stayed behind while Linda and Sophie pulled up a chair and sat near my tent.
Sophie was a teacher and was traveling with another teacher, Kate – an Australian living in the U.K. She was from France and met Kate while teaching in Sydney years ago. Sophie was in her early 30s and had brown hair that was framed beautifully towards her face. She was sweet, and I enjoyed her company. She is the one who gave me her extra toothbrush.
Sophie had done the Perth to Darwin trip, so she had been on the adventure travel tour for almost 20 days at this point. From Perth to Darwin, they mostly slept in hostels or structured tents because it was cold. She joined Suzanne and me in using tents on this leg of the trip. The woman she traveled with (Kate) became friends with two other women from Ireland (Nieve) and Switzerland (Patricia).
The four women were often together in a click. Sophie was the only one who branched out and talked with others, like Suzanne and me. The other three often had a sour look on their face and were judgemental. I always felt like they were not happy that I was often running behind. But I was often running behind because I had to wait for them to use the toilet, shower, eat breakfast, etc. It was irritating to me because I could feel this sense of superiority from them (mostly from Kate and Patricia). Yet, they often weren’t physically capable of doing the hikes, so they didn’t join.
With 20 people in a group, you can’t do everything at once. Some people will go first, and others will go last. I just usually chose to go last. Apparently, when their previous tour guide met Damien, he told him, “Patricia is the leader. When she speaks, people listen.” It definitely felt like she was often trying to control things.
The day before, the women asked me how old I was and said, “You are really hard to pinpoint an age. We’ve come to a consensus that you’re 32, around our age.” I laughed because I get this all the time. I told them I was 39, and they seemed to leave me alone.
About two days later, I found out they were, in fact, talking crap behind my back. They said things like they were tired of waiting for me and always being behind. It really irritated me. Damien had told us before each hike, “Don’t forget to stop and see the gorge. It’s beautiful. If all you see when you’re done is your feet and the trail, you’ve missed out.” They never stopped, rushed through it, and then got irritated that they had to wait ten minutes for me and some others to finish. They didn’t even seem to enjoy the beauty.
I realized that I don’t need to like everyone on tour, and they don’t all need to like me. I was civil with them, but it was freeing to realize I could just go about my business without worrying about them. Sophie was great, so I ended up talking mostly to her out of their group.
I knew the crew that got firewood would be back soon, so I headed to the showers. As I was finishing, they got back and started cooking dinner. I did laundry with Suzanne again and we hung our clothes to dry. Then I went to happy hour with several people who weren’t on the cooking crew. We had a great time chatting while enjoying some beverages. I looked around and never saw Chris, something I wasn’t surprised by.
We ate stew for dinner, and it was delicious. As we sat by the fire, Brock asked me what my plans for travel were. A few people listened in, including Damien. I told him I wanted to travel for another year to visit Eastern Europe, New Zealand, and Japan. He asked where I would end up living, and I said I wasn’t sure – time will tell. Brock liked my travel plans and said, “Just don’t fall in love!” knowing it would disrupt my plans. People laughed, and I sat in silence.
When I first started traveling, several of my friends and family told me that they thought I’d meet someone on my travels. I must admit, I’ve hoped for the same thing. It’s tricky, though. I feel like I have a better chance of meeting someone compatible with me, maybe a fellow traveler on the road, than I would if I were settled in one city. However, I don’t want to be so distracted with someone that I give up my dreams, travels, and passions. I need someone who will encourage me in my pursuits, just as I encourage them.
I know the concern that comes with, “Just don’t fall in love.” I met several people in Canada and Australia who said they ended up there because of love. Sometimes it worked out, but sometimes it ended in divorce.
I wanted to fall in love and wanted to find a partner. I just wasn’t going to settle again. I had another year of travel and needed someone who would understand that.
It was time to do the dishes, and my team was on duty. We were tired of washing in dirty, small buckets, so we took everything to the sinks near the laundry. Kayla, Phillip, Suzanne, Armelle, and I made it a great time. We scrubbed the dishes and the white tubs, happy that we would at least get one good cleaning. I sang the lyrics to the song from the LEGO Movie, “Everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. Everything is awesome…when you’re living out a dream!”
They thought I was nuts, but all laughed and tried to sing along. Everything is so much more fun in a team when you make it silly, so I had a blast. Damien passed us on his way to the restroom and laughed at us. We walked back to the camp in the dark, continuing our antics. I went to sleep, feeling joy. My Airbnb host Felicity was right; I was meant to be there.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider