Thursday, March 3, 2016

Day 10: A Drive into the Clouds

It was morning and the Super Bowl, which I seemed to be on one of the few plots on land on Earth that didn’t allow me to watch, and the skies to the West were dark. I didn’t care if it was raging a storm of the century up at Le Maido because I was going to make the journey. This trip has had one snag after one rain storm after one deluge after another but I was going to try simply to say I made the attempt. There was that, and the fact that the Le Maido Trail, which I think was D7, looked to be an awesome drive.

            The VW Up!, which I at first loathed has grown on me. Sure, it has the power of a gentle breeze trying to move a 10 ton boulder, but whatever you want in terms of steering it will deliver. The seats also are surprisingly comfortable and the transmission offers such satisfaction when gears are shifted perfectly. It was certainly an easier drive than my first car, which was a manual, which was a 1983 Mazda 626.

            This drive had all the thrills of the “road of 420 bends” without the constant fear of death that road offered. The road was wide enough for two cars and still offered the 180 degree hairpins, quick kinks, and rises and dips. It was great fun until I got halfway up the mountain when the rain began. I was hoping, when I looked up from the hotel, that this was just fog, but the rain did begin and it came down in visible sheets.

            As the elevation rose so too did the winds. Passing over the small ravines (if you ever come here you’ll know the difference between what I call a small ravine and the ginormous ravines on the N1 that come with wind socks) the wind would catch the car out if I hadn’t been prepared for it. Regardless the conditions I continued upward hoping for some change in my luck.

            I arrived at what I thought to be Le Maido so I parked at the edge of the lot and something just didn’t seem right. There was one other car in the parking lot with a man standing under an awning of what appeared to be a snack shack. This couldn’t be it, so I looked at the map and I was only 3/4ths there. While I confirmed this the winds picked up to a scary level; strong enough that my car was moved forward as well as the giant SUV beside me. The woman in the car screamed and the man, whom I think was waiting for the rain to subside before making an attempt to get into the car, made a mad dash for it and quickly drove away. While I watched this it finally occurred to me that, should my car have enough momentum, the foot high log wall in front of me probably wouldn’t stop me from a several hundred foot plunge so I jammed the car in reverse and, instead of retreating, continued upward.

            This trip up the mountain now meant more for me. After all I’ve been through, from the arrival in Antananarivo, to the moments I have felt the most alone in my life, to the aborted attempt at climbing the volcano, this drive up to La Maido was more than a drive; this drive was about finishing something and truly enjoying a place I’ve wanted to visit for a decade.

            Slowly the roads narrowed, and for a brief moment the ground looked like it did back at the volcano, but the summit had been reached. I had made it to La Maido, but the winds and rain still were fierce. There was a lower level parking lot that had no cars in it as it was probably 100 feet below the summit so I drove up and there was a narrow gate with a sign which I presumed to be the “do not enter” sign but there was a handicap sticker with a parking sign. One tour type van was parked up there but I didn’t want to break the rules so I drove back down but on this short descent I figured, “dang it, no one else is here, I’m going to break a rule which I don’t even know if I’m breaking because I don’t remember what the do not enter sign looks like and no one else is here so I’m doing it!”

            I went through the narrow gate and positioned my car that wouldn’t impeded the masses, should they come, and as I parked another car parked by me and an older man and woman got out and put on their rain proof jackets. “Only if I had… Dang it!” as I once again left my rain proof jacket provided to me by USAC in the hotel. The couple went up the stairs to the railing and still the clouds were dense and the rain was spitting at a rapid fire rate but this was it; today is my last full day in Reunion and I didn’t care if I got wet and if the only thing I saw up there was clouds I was going to go. So I took out my wallet so it wouldn’t get wet (I learned my lesson from the ill-fated expedition of the volcano; blow drying money in the bath tub isn’t fun, especially when you’ve got 160,000 in Ariary which is the Madagascar currency and it isn’t that much but it sure makes for a lot of drying!) and I also took off my glasses as they’d be useless in the driving rain and I got out and started up the steps.

            This became a scene out of a movie and the timing was impeccable. As I got to the top step I felt the rays of the sun on my forehead and the clouds partially broke. I had no idea what was beyond the railing as the clouds were thick but I figured there was a drop off because I was being pelted with rain coming up at me. That’s an odd sensation, but quickly there was this gust of wind and the cloud in front of me gushed upward and behind me and left where it was became the most awesome backdrop I’ve ever seen as off to the right were multiple waterfalls and down in the valley below were some homes and across the way was the mountains which house Piton des Neiges, an extinct volcano, as well as the town of Cilaos. I don’t say this lightly, but my emotions got the best of me as this clearing happened because it was so perfect, so beautiful, and was the perfect metaphor for my life. To get to Reunion I had to fight. What you’re reading now didn’t happen overnight. I talked about progression, and I think I might have covered it in each leg of my trip, but there were times I wanted to give up. What was the point in life if failure, isolation, and loneliness seemed to be the only guarantee? There was broken dream after broken hope after broken promises and all, to me, seemed loss but buried under it all was this gift of writing I never knew I had much like this rushing of this cloud that had masked the glorious backdrop that I was now witness to.

            I snapped a bunch of pictures and then the rains came again and the clearing quickly gave way and I got back in my car and went back down the mountain. I didn’t know what I was going to find on Reunion, and part of the reason why I’ve been doing these trips is to find myself, but what if finding one’s self is much like the drive in the clouds? What if our entire life is one cloud after another and there is no true finding one’s self in its entirety because just when you think you’ve found yourself, as I had when I wanted to give up on life, a cloud vanishes and shows you something you couldn’t imagine, something more beautiful than any sunset, sunrise, mountain, or valley. Perhaps this is what life really is, persevering until that next bit of growth is realized. It’s there, just like that valley, cliffs, and waterfalls were there, but until the clouds were removed the true beauty was unrealized. It’s odd that I had this sense of being drawn to this place a decade ago and I can tell you the whole cost, time, and headaches of this trip were worth it because that moment is going to stay with me forever. Call it clarity, call it fate, call it whatever you want to call it, but that moment has fueled me and I don’t know if I’ll ever truly find myself, but I anxiously await the next cloud that vanishes, and the one after that, and the dozens thereafter to show the inner beauty and the human potential that remains in me. 

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