Several million years ago, our ancestors lived in the endless forests of Africa. The trees were their home, and they moved through them as easily and effortlessly as modern-day Chimpanzees. In 2008 on the Pacific island of Rarotonga, my wife and I demonstrated, with an outstanding display of navigational ineptitude, the full extent of humanity’s lost abilities to survive in such an environment.
We should never have started the walk in the first place. The initial point revealed a crudely written sign that read 'walk closed', but we pressed on regardless, spurred on by an incendiary mix of knowing that this was the only chance we'd have to do the cross-island trek, and what can only be described in hindsight as basic stupidity.
It should have been straightforward and the weather ideal. But no sooner had we been swallowed by the tangle of dense braches and thick roots, when the rain began to batter everything around us, turning the tranquil forest in to a cacophony of overwhelming white noise. Our attempt to shelter under a tree was futile, the leaves giving no protection from the sudden storm. We craned our necks to try and see the extent of the cloud-cover through blinking eyes, before looking all around at the seemingly infinite labyrinth of verdant flora. This was no ordinary cycle of nature; this was the world mocking us.
We pressed on in the rain, and after walking for a while, we soon noticed that any sort of path had long been swallowed by the undergrowth. Slight panic set in, but we remained calm and decided to follow our instincts. This led us to develop what we thought to be a ground-breaking new tactic in forest navigation; we would simply scan the scene around us and head for the part that had slightly fewer branches criss-crossing the route. After another hour of aimless trekking, however, we realised that it was actually the worst idea since ancient sailors decided that fresh fruit was for wimps. We were lost, in the middle of an island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
We had no choice but to continue, the option to head back having evaporated as soon as the way back started to look like the way forward. Then, after a while longer, we spotted a blue plastic pipe, and recalled that it had been mentioned in the guide-book. In a world of living green and brown, this blue shape became our ally, guiding us, we hoped, to the other side of the island.
We were soon rewarded by a landmark – ‘The Needle’, a huge chunk of stone marking the highest point on the trek. We were half-way. I celebrated by taking a few photos, after which we quickly pressed on.
Upon descending, we were met by a murky river strewn with rocks. My wife went first, nimbly darting from rock to rock, safely to the other side. I followed, and with the grace and gross motor skills of a drunken sloth, I slammed straight down in to the water. Then began the second negative phase of my emotional journey of the day, where a deep sense of fury at the very concept of going for a walk took-over from apprehension, the original positive feelings of excitement having long since passed.
Soaking wet, annoyed, but only semi-lost, we headed in what we believed to be a straight line. Then suddenly, panic hit me. The camera was inside my soaking bag, so I immediately checked to see if it had survived my impromptu diving expedition. The good news was that it was undamaged; the bad news was that this was due to it being thirty minutes away at The Needle. Fury turned to despair, and thus the holy trinity of misery in this island paradise was complete.
After two more hours of worried, wet and difficult trekking, our blue plastic friend revealed the first signs of hope. The trees began to thin, and we heard the sweet sound of motorised vehicles. Grinning like idiots, we emerged from the forest, having traversed the central region of the island in possibly the least efficient manner possible. We had ignored the warning sign, we had not taken any sort of map, and we had paid the consequences.
But the journey was complete, and finally, we slowly headed towards our natural habitat - the grey, concrete blocks that we now called home.