One with the Mud
The night before I left the village of Ramo, it rained. I liked that. It cooled the air and it soothed me to sleep. The next day I slung my backpack on my back, packed with as much as 40 pounds of equipment, and set out on foot with three others. We walked across a beautiful yard and that was the last of a nice walk. I stepped in mud, the slimy sort that squishes.
Mile after mile, I walked on the edge of puddles as much as I could to avoid the mud, but tall, stiff grass with sharp edges grows on either side went for my calves. I ignored it. About two-thirds of the way, some of the puddles were too big to go around. We walked through them. By then it didn’t matter. I had mud up to my calves.
We hiked somewhere between three and six miles in mud and water to the river, to a sort of port where we planned to catch a boat. There are no cars in this area of the country, nor car odometers, so the distance is my best guess from looking at Google maps.
No boat waited for us at the river to take us across the lagoon. My cell phone was totally drained, so I pulled out a solar kit I had borrowed to charge it. We waited to see if a boat would come. It didn’t. When I had enough power, I texted our team manager to see what was up. No answer. One of the other guys tried to call her, but for some reason she didn’t answer. I charged the phone some more to call her, but that also went unanswered. That call drained the phone’s power again, so I charged it some more. And waited. Some time later, the phone rang. I jumped up, answered, but the call dropped. Maybe I still didn’t have enough power.
The guys I was with had given up waiting for a boat and had started sizing up other options. One of them eventually saw a boat captain he recognized. The captain said we could go across the lagoon to the Arop market to see if we could find enough fuel there to take us where we wanted to go. I didn’t ask what would happen if we couldn’t find enough fuel. I would probably be stuck somewhere overnight, but I ignored the thought.
We went down the river in a long, low skiff to the lagoon. The boat was a little wider than a row boat, but about three times as long. When we arrived at the lagoon, the tide was out. The lagoon was so shallow that all of the dozen or so passengers got out and pulled the boat to deeper water. My feet sank in mud halfway up my calves.
Once in deeper water, we went to the opposite shore across one end of the lagoon. The captain scurried off and thankfully found some fuel. We set out the long way across the lagoon. The four of us had basically chartered a speed boat for ourselves. The captain opened up the Yamaha engine and we went faster than I have ever gone before on the water. It was fast. I thought, yes, this is going in style.
We approached the mouth of a river and once again we got out and pushed the boat. Once past the shallow spot, we traveled up the river. However, the rains had raised the level of the river so much that we had to go ashore at the first log bridge. The boat simply would not go under the bridge.
I put my Five Fingers toe shoes on again and once again walked. We found mud underfoot again almost immediately. If I had my hikers on instead of the toe shoes, I would have been horribly bogged down. Fortunately we traveled on a two-track gravel road, but it had standing water most of the way. We hiked a couple of miles–I really don’t know how far–to reach the translation center in the village of Arop-1.
The house Debbie and I stay in is luxurious compared to the sort of “bush house” (hut on stilts) that I had been living in during my stay in Ramo. The house actually has a working kitchen, but more importantly for smelly me, it also has shower stall and a bucket shower, with clean water from a tank. I like that more than washing in the river, as I had the previous nine days.
Photo: Teodoro S. Gruhl. Public Domain.