There are no photos for this piece of my Outward Bound journey, because all of the following happened after dark, under a full moon, in a place called Mud Bay.
This was our first day of canoeing after two relentless and exhausting days of backpacking through water. We arrived at our canoe meet-up at about 3 p.m., thrilled, relieved, giddy with delight at the prospect of dumping our waterlogged gear and floating away.
And so we did. But first we loaded the canoes. Nothing unusual there, except for one curiosity. The first things that went into the five canoes were wood planks, three in each boat. They measured about 10 inches wide by 3 inches thick, and were just long enough to sit flat the length of the canoes stem to stern. No one thought to ask what they were for.
We gleefully piled everything else on top of the boards and took off. The day was mild, the water was smooth, the bugs were busy somewhere else. It was sublime. We glided along on inland waterways watching the wildlife, then the sunset, then the spectacular moonrise. I was happy, but tired and ready to stop when we reached our destination.
We glided into Mud Bay in silence. The beauty of the night was overwhelming, totally serene. The bay was a smallish, shallow basin of water lined with white sand, silver in the moonlight. The mud at the bottom was clearly visible (hence, Mud Bay). We were all headed for a wide expanse of beach, but our smiling guides had other ideas.
In the middle of the bay was an island of sorts. No beach, no sand, no shoreline. It was, in fact, a hillock of mud overrun with mangrove trees, with their grasping bush-like foliage and oddly elongated root systems. The beaches around us had shone so brightly that we didn’t even see it.
Our guides in the lead boat, made a beeline for that island. When they got there, they lashed their canoe to a mangrove root and we all crowded in around them. This is what came next.
We were told we would not be camping on a beach that night. We were reminded of the planks in the bottoms of our boats. We were to raft the canoes up, that is line them up side by side, lash them together, and use the planks to make a platform by placing them at a 90 degree angle across the canoes. On that platform, we were to make dinner and sleep for the night.
Dumbstruck. I don’t think a single word was spoken for a good five minutes. Then the five stages of grief set in. Denial: I’m sure they are kidding about this. Anger: Really? We’re exhausted, it’s 11 o’clock at night, this is stupid, the beach is RIGHT THERE! Bargaining: Won’t you please reconsider? We could get a good night sleep and build the raft in the morning for breakfast. Depression: I can’t stand this another minute, I just want to disappear. And, finally, acceptance: alright, alright, let’s just get it done.
But how? It slowly dawned on us that the planks were stowed under all the gear–backpacks, tents and buckets of food for the rest of the seven more days we’d be out there. There was no place to offload anything because we were afloat. When we turned to our amused guides for a how-to, we were told, in the nicest possible way, to figure it out ourselves.
A good half hour later we were still arguing about how to go about it. In retrospect, I think we were all hoping that if we kept talking and made no progress at all our guides would relent. Not a chance.
We finally got it moving and the scene that followed was frenetic—gear handed from boat to boat, enormous heavy planks wrestled about, gear re-stowed under the planks, logistics shifting at each turn as we figured out what didn’t work, tired, cranky women trying to be civil and not to fall or be pushed out of the canoes or off the raft that slowly emerged. Once we got started, I think the whole exercise took about a half an hour.
Then we had to cook—more unmemorable pasta-and-protein. We finally bedded down well after midnight, lined up like cord wood on the planks in our sleeping bags. I had somehow managed to end up with a little space right on the edge of the raft. Not by it. On it. I think I got a couple of cat naps in, but that was it.
A final important detail. Just as we were all gingerly stretching out to go to sleep, our guides handed us each a white sheet, twin bed size. We were to use these to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes that were swarming over us like ants on a melted ice cream cone. We swathed ourselves head-to-toe in sheets and crashed.
If a fisherman had come into Mud Bay early that next morning what a strange and terrible sight he would have seen. Twelve bodies, shrouded in white, still as the dead, laid out on a raft tethered to a mangrove island yards from a beautiful sandy beach. Aliens? Mob hits? Devil worship? I bet he wouldn’t have stuck around to find out. By the way, the sheets we’re pretty much useless.
Tomorrow, my Outward Bound adventure continues, Charlie Creek.