Austin to me: “So, when are you going to coming rappelling, mom?” as he dumps a very heavy bag by my door.
Me: “Hmm. When I feel a bit fitter,” all the while thinking, “And put that on the list – along with travelling around the world, writing a best seller and learning Wolof.”…….. That would be the list of things I really want to do, but never did or will.
A few weeks later – the same question, and a similar answer, “Weeeell, I don’t really feel ready to tackle something like that yet.” I’d lost five kilos, but wasn’t/am not satisfied.
We go on in this vein for a few weeks. Me ducking the question, scared, and thinking he will drop the subject but he’s very persistent. It’s not that I don’t dream of doing this – I do, with all my heart. I’m big on dreams and not acting on them you see.
Towards the end of last week – He has a few days vacation left over after returning from England; I have my head full of moving house and other projects, and I hear myself replying to the question yet again:
“OK, next week, then. It will give me a break from all this stuff I have on right now,” and all the while thinking – well, actually, er …… not thinking, really, because my head was full of all that stuff………..except that I knew I had a huge need to step out of my comfort zone.
I’d come back from my trip to Mainland Spain and England energized and enthusiastic, but ennui was fast setting in. We settle on Monday, even though I am expecting to have a late night on Tuesday at Las Tablas de San Andres, and I am still barely packed for the coming weekend’s move – well, isn’t life always like this, all or nothing?
The Doing It
All that stuff manages to keep the nerves at bay until Sunday night, when, predictably, I can’t sleep. I’m like a kid on the night before Christmas, and in the morning worry that I will be too tired to be able to throw myself over a hillside on a rope, which is how I see it.
No worries, the adrenaline kicks in on cue, and by the time we park up in Vento, Arona, I am ready, or at least as ready as I ever will be.
We turn out of the pueblo and we’re in hillbilly country, a tangle of corrugated roofs on tottering beams, where goats bleat and pigs snuffle in the dust, and indolent youths swing lazy legs as they sit on rocks watching them, and us. The skeletons of cars and vans, and other junk, litter yards. We follow the route as far as where most folk branch off right to walk up Roque del Conde, a very popular, though steep, walk up the distinctive hill which watches protectively over the resort coast.
We turn left instead, and quickly reach our first objective, a rocky ledge……that in layman’s terms because I don’t know if it was a small cliff or what. We are in Barranco del Rey, and what lies before us is beautiful, with dramatic walls of rock, and the only way to see more is to get down this ledge. It’s good for me it comes so soon, because I don’t have time to get cold feet, instead I feel a sort of calm excitement, or is that an oxymoron? Having confidence in my instructor/son is crucial.
Austin is very good at explaining things as he goes along, and my mind is more receptive if I understand why I am doing a thing, and how it works. I’d like to say that I remember all the names he tells me for all the technical stuff, but I don’t, although I do understand perfectly how they work, and now it’s time to squeeze into the harness. For a brief moment I think it’s too small and I get a “pass”, but no, it’s supposed to be really tight of course, and here I am all trussed up, helmeted and feeling distinctly unglamorous, but honestly, who’s going to see me?
Now I’m attached to the line which Austin has secured, and I’m shuffling as un-timidly as I can to the edge of the, well, the only word which comes to mind is precipice! I don’t look directly down. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, and Austin doesn’t even mention it, so perhaps he noticed. “Sit into the harness,” he says, and now my bum is hanging over the edge. Inelegant, but definitely exciting!
This reminds me of scuba diving in that having confidence in both your colleague/s and your equipment is key. In the same way I knew my tank was full, and knew what to do if I lost my mask, now I know that all the bits and pieces attached to this rope from which I am suspended are fine, and I put my full weight onto it. And here I am walking backwards into thin air, or so it seems, Austin talking me through it all, “Legs a bit wider apart,” “Keep that right arm behind you.”
“Okay, hold it there,” I look up and there he is taking photos. I try to smile. Actually it isn’t hard. I am beginning to feel a bit euphoric, but it wouldn’t really do to whoop it up until my feet are on the ground I think.
“I think she’s got it. I think she’s got it,” keeps running through my head, then, without apparent warning the rope shifts, and I swing around, dangling for seconds, until I reconnect my feet to the face of the rock wall. I didn’t have my legs far enough apart, and the weight wasn’t distributed quite right, but no harm is done, and I get praise for not panicking. That’s where the understanding the equipment came in. I just did what I was supposed to do.
We continue down, and, frankly, it’s all over too soon! I want to keep on going, but at least now it is time for a short “Whoot!” I get a camera break too, because Austin has to go back up, and then come back down again to recover the ropes. Looking back I am amazed. It seems so much higher than it seemed to be whilst coming down.
It’s not a long walk to the next descent. The way is stunning in its rawness. I know people have been here before, but it doesn’t feel like it. I feel as if ours might be the first footfalls in this gorge. Enormous boulders litter the ground, spewed millennia ago from some volcano or toppled from above by wind or storms or erosion? I don’t know nearly enough about this land it seems to me.
The next descent is not so steep, but crosses a ledge with stagnant water, the remnant of the last rains, months ago. I manage to keep my feet out of it, and sway on down. At the bottom there is a slight overhang, and I misjudge what to do, but no harm done. I am on terra firma again, and crestfallen to realize that there is no more rappelling. Afterwards, I say that at this point I understand the expression “stoked”, because that’s how I feel. Ecstatic. Thrilled. However, more challenges and treats are in store. I just don’t know it yet.
We walk some more, marvelling at the colors in the rocks, the way the layers upon layers are so different from each other, the caves formed above us, just out of reach, the fact that so much vegetation can survive with so little water, and we come to an aqueduct. How on earth they managed to construct this, spanning the gorge, I can’t fathom, but it’s a natural point at which to turn around.
As we clamber over slabs of rock and huge boulders I wonder what this is like when the rains come. Is it a raging torrent just for a short span, or is it something more gentle? We see so little rainfall in the south, and are so accustomed to the desert scenery that it’s hard to visualize.
We get back to the second descent, where we’d left the ropes in preparation for our return, and I stare up. I was so excited about the getting down bit, that I hadn’t given a thought to how we would get back!
This is where I get a baptism in climbing techniques – only a baptism, mind you, but in the end it is a thrilling for me as the rappelling was. I’m introduced to the jumar. It resembles a stapler with a handle. You slide it up the rope as far as you can, and it grips like a vice and won’t slide back. My first movement is a bit hesitant, but once I feel its strength I’m away, giddy with excitement again.
When we reach the top, Austin collects all his gear, taking care, as he always does, to make sure that the only thing we might leave behind is footprints in this pristine environment. Sadly, even though not too many folk must come here, there is rubbish here and there they’ve left behind.
The next bit might just be my greatest triumph of the day, although I’m not sure. We’re faced with a short but steep rock face, which Austin easily scales, pointing out hand and foot holds as he goes. I begin to follow, but there is a part which requires a stretch I just can’t see my legs making. I retreat and look up. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m stuck in a ravine, I’m just thinking how do I get out of this! The answer is mind over matter, as it so often is in life! With a rope secured to my harness I clamber up, maybe not withAustin’s grace, but without much hesitation or any mishap, Austin all the while telling me that I can do it, that I’m doing ok. I’m stoked again. Mainly because I just didn’t think I could do anything like that.
The rest is a slightly uphill ramble back to the road and the car, where I sit on the wall, and simply let the feelings of triumph and happiness wash over me. I’m too euphoric yet to feel tired!
These steps, carved into the rock, as Austin said, weren’t put there for hikers and climbers. They were made years ago by folk who needed to access this area for work or food or water. Such was daily life once upon a time.
I wake the next morning with a bubbly sense of well-being. I am more aware of my body in which I have new-found confidence. I am more aware of the mental stretch it took too. I am more aware of having stretched my comfort zone by a long way. I have the feeling that life is just full of possibilities, and that I should be off looking for them. I feel as if there is no limit to what I can do if I have the confidence.
When I began this blog, or more precisely, around two years ago, when it became a more important part of my life I imagined that it would be half and half; half travel/Tenerife stuff and half about defying age. The latter is a topic dear to my heart, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I’ve written about it nearly as much as I thought I would, since I became so absorbed in various projects.
I’m a baby boomer. All through my life my generation has set the pace, not just by the sheer volume of our numbers. We defied conventions in music, fashion and politics. Sure, we weren’t the first generation to do that, but we did a job of historic proportions.
In equally defiant mood, after all these years, and approaching my 65th birthday this month, I intend to use this blog to address this issue of ageism more than I have so far. I am infuriated by the perception that life is over at 65, and I accuse my peers of fostering this idea just as much as younger folk, but right now, although my personal triumph was a little over a week ago (I survived the night of Las Tablas, and am still in the process of moving house – well, there is just too much else going on to waste time in putting all my books on the shelf!) I still want to wallow in my joy, but……look out world, here I come! Oh, and I began the novel – thanks to Guy……..I am blessed with sons who believe in me!