The Longest Night

Click here for Part 1 of this memorable camping experience.
Excuse the lack of pictures. We had things other than photographs on our minds: such as survival.

As we sit around the little gas cooker, and prep Maggie for an evening meal, we feel a drizzle. The Sun is out, though, and there is not a cloud in the sky. Look up, and lo behold, we see the true beauty of Bomburu Falls: the merciless, ceaseless cacophony of nature’s astounding creation.

 

before and after.jpg
This change. In a matter of minutes.

 

Adventure is what happened next. A scenario I don’t feel like going into, for the danger of the situation, where we were 90% certain that one of us would be gone forever, and only 17 of us will return home alive, is not an experience I wish to relive. Long story short, we spent close to three hours scared out of our wits that a body would wash down the waterfall.

Have you stood there, helpless, knowing full well that one of your own is trapped behind a sheet of water that forces you to your knees although you are 30 feet away? Have you stood there, no way to reach in and get them out, no way to see if they are okay, while people whisper about the death toll and impossibility of breathing behind the sheet of water? Have you been there, making call after call, attempting to save a life, only to be met with lazy, lethargic officers who are more interested in ways you could have broken the law, and not in saving a human life? Have you stood there, running about, helpless as one of your closest friends are fighting for their life, and you can do naught but sit on the side-lines and pray – although you gave up on God long ago?

 

cave.jpg
The space behind the cascading sheet of water, when the flow was slow and little. I leave it to your imagination to realize how bad this must have been when Bomburu Falls was falling in full force

 

In our frozen fear, we did not notice the increased level of water wreaking havoc with our tents. Once we were sure that all if we were safe only we faced a dilemma: the tents were about to be blown off the cliff face by the sheer force of water; we were drenched from head to toe, water dripping from our hair, from the sprinkle that resulted from the waterfall. To top it all off, the Sun was about to set and there was no way we could make it back to the vehicle that night, and it was inevitable we have to stay atop the cliff, near the cascading shower.

So we pack and move our tents as far from the waterfall as humanly possible. The thoughts of having a BBQ or a nice, hot dinner and a bit of a sing-along vanishes into thin air, as we realize we cannot stand outside the tent for 2 minutes without getting soaking wet. The Moon comes out, glorious and beautiful. The moonlight paints a terrifying – but alluring – picture of the waterfall. A massive body of water hitting the rock face and smashing everything in its way.

A hasty meal of instant noodles and fried sausages later, we crawl into our tents. We have more problems. All our clothes are damp and wet. Sweaters, mittens, caps and whatnot are all a pile of wet clothes. The tents are tethered, but humidity drips down the sides of the tents as if we are sitting in the rain. A chill is slowly creeping in, and we huddle, several to a tent, hoping body warmth will keep us through the night.

It is the only midnight and we are awakened by cold drops of water hitting our faces. The force of the waterfall is too strong, that humidity has seeped inside the tents, and now fall in the form of condensed droplets of water from the tent roof. The ground – even with the ground mat and sleeping bags – is too wet, and water seeps into the tents. The cold is unbearable. I, a tiny bundle of skin and bones with no insulation to speak of – keep blacking out as my body attempts to preserve the heat by shutting down. My SO huddles closer to me – huzzah for high body temperatures and concerned hearts – and I am able to stop my teeth from chattering. He cannot even turn, though, without me going into violent shivers. It is the only midnight. The coldest part of the night is yet to come, and we have no idea how we will survive the night.

The cold keeps us nervous and scared. We are six in a three people tent, and yet, the cold is too much. The wet floor and the trickling water does not help. Nor does the fact that we are all without warm, dry clothes; a couple of boys without a t-shirt even. So somebody suggests the age-old solution for cold: alcohol. One volunteers to brave the biting cold of outside to go hunt for the JD bottle that was brought, but we know not where to be found. None of us are with our belongings, and unsure of what escaped the water. Biology demands that I pay it attention, so we open the tent flap only to have a chill so strong creep up our limbs that my fingers refuse to cooperate with my brain to unzip the flap. Time does not pass; sleep is unattainable; cold has me wavering in and out of consciousness that I am incoherent.

It is true, what they say, that travelling brings people together. A kind stranger with more skills from one of the nearby camps sets up a campfire. I know not how he got the fire going with the drizzle that was showering us all, and making the ground wet and muddy. But he had a fire going, and it is here that I and several others stood around, warming ourselves, hoping to make it until the sun rises next morning. This is where the good friends part comes in. Had it not been for a few of the boys who walked to the forest in the mud, without a shirt sometimes, and braved cold, wetness and leeches to bring us more wood, I assure you I would not have lived until next morning. We stood then, like the tribes of yore, or some ghastly figures from a bad horror movie, reaching out our hands to the warm, inviting glow of the fire; not uttering a single word, exhausted, beaten and thoroughly defeated in a battle we did not choose to fight.

Morning dawns and a beautiful rainbow appears above the water. The power plant still has not closed the sluices, though, and we face a dilemma. To get back to the vehicle, we will now have to cross a strong, gushing river. One misstep and we would be lucky if our lifeless body is found in one piece. We wait. We make calls. We call in favours.

We are told our camping was illegal, as Bomburu Falls is a reservation. That we, along with about 6 other groups of random campers, have broken the law.

Without many options to choose from, we pack our tents, wrangle clothes haphazardly into whatever the backpack that is there. We clean up after ourselves, douse the embers and start a descent that could very well decide our lives.

The descent goes easy, and we come to the part where we have to cross the river. A tiny stream that we simply jumped over the day before, is now a massive, roaring body of water – threatening and menacing in equal measure. The experienced hikers and those with more confidence and strength cross over first with all the luggage. One comes back for me, and I hold onto his hand for dear life.

“Don’t lift your feet,” he says, “Just slide it along underneath the water, about an inch at a time. Lift your foot and you will be washed away, falling six feet onto a rock surface, face first.”

Encouraging words to make things so much easier; inability to swim and fear of death do no favours as I try not to let myself freeze from fear. My SO assures me that all will be well. I trust him, but not myself. Halfway through crossing the river, I recall that one of the most experienced of our group got almost washed away at this point of crossing, and they had to pull him back with a rope. I sweat. I am convinced I will die. The water that relentlessly pushes at my feet, forcing me to topple backwards does not increase my confidence level.

Several minutes of this, and I get across in one piece. All of us do, some with relative ease. We make a quick descent, propelled by our desire to clean ourselves and have a bite of food, for we have been without food or water for over 16 hours.

 

Arriving at the vehicle exhausted, scared and weak, we reminiscence about the night we had. Some vow never to go there ever again. Some challenge themselves to do it again, for it truly was an unforgettable night.

 

fall.jpg
We are so insignificant in the face of this, that I cannot even think of a simile for it

 

As for me, I want to go there again. Twice, actually. Once, when the sluices are closed, so I can sit on the grass under the gorgeous moon and write odes to the beauty of nature’s daughter. And once, when the sluices are open and we are to expect a long long night, better prepared, more confident, so I can honestly say that I was singing in the rain.

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