By the time we arrived at the sacred valley I was too broke to join my friends on a jeep safari. It was okay, because I would rather die of thirst in the desert than go on a jeep safari with loud Italian tourists, or any tourists at all really. So when my ex whispered that he wouldn’t mind paying for my ticket, I gently declined and watched them hop on the Jeep with a rather over sized Native American behind the wheel. I waved at them as they left and watched the dust trail for a little while. I realized that I was now on my own, for the first time since we arrived. I watched the parking lot where they left me. I think Steinbeck pretty much nailed it when he said, ‘The national parks are as much America as Disneyland is.’ I had arrived at a theme park with a bunch of horses and some overweight caricatures of what Native Americans used to look like. I looked at the stray dogs that were settled against the majestic backdrop of the Table Mountains and red sand. There was no euphoric feeling, there was just me, standing on a rock, staring at a couple of other rocks in the distance.
My world was getting too well organized. My mind wandered off, back in time, when a younger version of myself lived in a world that was far from organised. A version of me that stood at the edge of Loch Ness in Scotland, holding her breath while the rain came down in torrents. It took us six hours to get there and we did not bringenough water. I had misinterpreted the map, quite terribly so. To make matters worse I had shortly been discharged from the hospital and had trouble breathing this high up in the mountains.When my legs finally started to give in we decided to be sensible and knocked on some one’s door to ask for water. I don’t remember what the house looked like but I remember how I felt when the lady let us in. It felt like an adventure. I was proud of our lack of a Dutch accent when the lady mistook us for Irish kids. We just nodded and told her we were Irish all right. It’s always more fun being someone else when people don’t know your past. I still give out fake names when I’m abroad and lie about my profession at the border. Anyway, the nice lady left us on our own while we drank our lemonade. We immediately blew our Irish cover by falling back into our native tongue with our excited chatter. We hadn’t spoken to each other in over an hour, but we felt replenished now and even though the lady told us the lake was still three hours away from where we were, we were determined to reach it. We refilled our water bottles and tried to memorize the lady’s last minute instructions. Three and a half hours later we were finally standing at the lake. Drizzle was coming down, painting the world around us all kinds of grey. The area was deserted. We were the only people out here, peering over the quiet waters feeling like a bunch of explorers in an undiscovered land. It was magical.
The rain, the effort it took to get there, the lady and her backyard. It was nothing like the Jeep safari my friends had just gone on. We touched the soil, we were drenched to the bone, felt the strain in our muscles. All we had done on this trip so far was sit in our car and consume the landscape like a couple of hungry tourists. I curled up on the backseat of our car where I kept an eye on the other tourists for a while. I watched a native woman drive by in a 4×4 pick up, she looked like she could hold her own with her muscled arms stuck out of a lumberjack shirt with rolled up sleeves. I watched the empty shack that said ‘horse tours.’ No one takes a horse tour any more nowadays.I drank my Pepsi, startled a stray dog as it passed by and watched the same RV drive by for the third time. It was one of those RVs rented by pensioners who were finally able to do what they had always dreamed of doing, just in time before dying of a heart attack or a brain aneurysm.
They greeted me, British accents; they were a long way from home. The woman was wearing braids on both sides of her head, like a wrinkled version of Pocahontas.
One can only watch people from the back of a van for so long and so I came up with a plan. The floods had prevented us from going into the park with our own car and most of the trails were closed according to the lady in the ticket office. I remembered seeing a couple of tourists disappearing on a trail that seemed to lead up to The Three Sisters. It was worth the shot. I grabbed a bottle of water from our stash, threw my camera in my pack and left the car. I had to be back before my friends arrived, because I was the only one with a key to the car. The thing is, once I set out to walk I always want to see what’s over the next hill, what’s behind the trees in the distance or underneath the surface of the lake. Plus I get lost a lot. Luckily, stacks of rocks marked the trail I followed although it was quite easy lose sight of it if you didn’t pay attention. Even though the earth was still wet from the flood, it was very hot and I ran out of water before I had reached even one of The Three Sisters. I watched a woman walk on the mountain with a baby on her back. She was waving and I waved back until I noticed the man ahead on the trail who was doing the exact same thing.
I was hiking on my flip-flops and every hiker that passed me by looked at my feet. The Americans I passed were the worst. They have signs for everything. ‘Wear this, do that, do not do this, we will shoot you on sight if you do this and that.’ Critical thinking. M and I had hiked a trail on our flip-flops in Zion the other day and most people that passed us by went bonkers over our footwear. I could even hear a couple of them gossip about it when I fell behind a little. I love my flip-flops and the fact that they make my feet dusty, that there are little pieces of the landscape stuck in there by the end of the day. Touching the soil. It’s the mind-set that counts anyway. There weren’t many people on the trail. Most of them were on the jeeps and it got very quiet as I advanced on the trail and away from the dirt road. Little by little I started to get that euphoric feeling I had had while overlooking the Loch in Scotland. I was no longer consuming the landscape from the backseat of a car, I was finally was a part of it again.
The Sacred Lands is part of a small series of travel stories Rebecca Rijsdijk wrote and photographed on a roadtrip accross the United States of America and published in a little zine called ‘A Man Went up the Mountain.’