I feel chuffed ….. Today I have pushed the envelope a little further and pushed the bar a bit higher for myself. I challenged the adage ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

Why?

At 63, female and solo – I joined a bunch of youngsters, all about 30ish, for a half-day trek of about 10 km in the coastal belt of the State of Goa.

Through random internet surfing, I had chanced upon Adventure Breaks, who promptly sent me a calendar for the month. Some rapid texting and short calls later, I decided to join a group going on a ‘Four Beaches Jungle hike.’ The poster stated, ‘Off the tourist radar is an unknown forest trail that leads to ocean cliffs from when you hike to four beaches.’ Yes, I was hesitant, shy and awkward, but there was an encouraging tone in the voice that said, ‘You can do it!’

So here I was, all set to leave home at 6.30 in the morning. I clicked my heels, saluted to myself in the mirror and marched out with focus intent. The previous night, I had put my ready-to-wear trekking clothes on, slipped on my new trekking shoes, put on my backpack and walked briskly around the house – to get a feel of the experience. I had also put two water bottles in the frig alongside ham and cheese sandwiches. I tucked energy bars and oranges into the bag. Then I set my alarm for 5.20 and went to sleep.

A 2-hour drive took us to the pickup point, which was at a place mysteriously called Swiss Fish and Curry Place. (Note to self – must find out why?)

A quick sandwich and cup of hot robust coffee later …. and we were good to go. I looked at the youngsters doing their stretches while my mind was having a mental battle with itself. What was I doing here…… I was 63, solo, irregular in my exercise routine, loving retirement – why was I pushing myself? What was I doing here with these youngsters?

I looked down and saw my smart Merrell trekking shoes which were a recent purchase. Seeing my eyebrows rise at the price, the rugged shop assistant explained, “Look at it like this. If your shoes are not good, you will never be able to trek. If your shoes are good, you will always be able to trek.”

Challenged by his intent and the expense I had incurred, I decided to be fair and give trekking a serious try.

So we moved out from the kerbside and headed towards the forest. Walking slowly and treading softly, we covered a long stretch of plain, flat ground seamlessly. The path tapered into a stony trail with heavy foliage on both sides. Low lying branches, shrubs with thorny twigs, raspy reeds rubbed us as we tread our way through the track in the wilderness. I thanked myself for the wisdom of the long-sleeved linen shirt and long trousers, and of course for my shoes.

Led by Nathan (who said he teaches Math when he is not outdoors), we made frequent short stops in shady areas and took small sips of water. “Small sips only,” said Nathan. “You must stay hydrated.”

Seeing me struggle to maintain my balance over stony areas, Nathan picked up a strong, straight twig and snapped it to suit my height. “Remember when you use a stick, always place it on a steady surface.” I held on to the mantra and the stick all through.

We walked through shade and sun, trees and shrubs and looked with dismay at the plastic bottles and trash left behind on the trail. The track curved aimlessly at a downward angle, and we moved a bit faster. The bramble grew thicker and heavier. I didn’t know whether to watch my step or the bramble ahead as we walked through invisible spider webs. “Always make sure one foot is secure before you lift the other.” Wise words from Nathan again.

The day had become hot, and the sun stronger. Sweat was pouring out of the forehead and rolling down the chin to the sides of the face. Two youngsters had taken off their shirts and tied them to their waists. Others were swearing and muttering below their breadth. Bringing up the tail of the group, I gasped and panted and wondered what made them do this crazy stuff. Why? And why was I doing this? What’s the point?

Pushing our way through the thick bramble, we saw light coming through a clearing. Nathan forced his way through the shrubbery, signalling to us to follow him in a single file formation. And as we emerged on the other side, there was a wide-open space. A step forward, and the trees, shrubs and bramble were behind us and there was a sunny expanse.

We were standing at land’s end, on a cliff head. Down below us was the dark blue sea, spreading lazily – as far as the eye could see. Black rocks emerged out of the water sporadically, where the gurgling waves rose and hit, making white layers as the waters receded.

Breathtaking! Stunning! Stupendous! There was silence – as our mouths opened and jaws dropped in a silent “Wow”. It was that ‘aha’ moment where one receives a message from the divine.

I suddenly knew why trekkers do what they do. Freedom from fear is the only real freedom. And that freedom is a state of kind. You are in the moment, senses fully engaged and mind conquers fear. The courage to overcome fear, inhibition and judgement is the ultimate victory. And I knew that I would trek again.

As one trekker whispered, “Trekking has made me a better person.”

The day lived up to the promise – the wilderness walk in the jungle, the ‘aha’ moment on top of the cliff and the formidable rocky route took us down to ‘four beach’ spot. Yes, it was hot, we were sweaty and the trek was rough and tough in places….. but no complaints.

Would I do it again? Yes, for sure – because I will be fearless, bolder – even though I’ll be older!

.

Shangon Das Gupta | Planet Goa

Picture Credit: Pragya Kapoor

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Author: Shangon Das Gupta
Shangon is an enthusiastic traveller and is either just back from one trip or planning the next. Her dream is to visit 5 wonders of the world. Why not all 7? Coz nothing is perfect. Yet the joy of living must be greater than the fear of dying….

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