I am going to die. The thought sears my brain as I dangle from the hole in the mountain trail I’ve just fallen through. Nothing but a vast expanse of air separates me from certain death. My heart quickens as time slows. Terror twists my body and my grip loosens on the root I’m grasping as my hands grow moist. My life doesn’t flash before my eyes. Nothing does. Everything is a blur. The blurred faces of the other hikers. The blurred smirk of the head guide I call Tarzan. The blurred leaves of trees overhead.
Even as the hands of Tarzan and another guide pull me to safety, I can feel the weight of gravity still pulling me down, down, down. I slip a little and their fingers bite harder into my flesh. Finally my feet hit solid, and hopefully unbreakable, earth. My body sways and the forest slowly sharpens from a green glob into distinct trees. I glance briefly into the hole through which I’d fallen. My eyes follow the sharp incline culminating in large, jagged boulders several hundred feet below.
My fellow hikers, a young couple from Ireland, gaze upon at me with concern and perhaps pity. They are the picture of fitness; lithe, muscled limbs supported by sturdy hiking boots and bandanas encircling sweat-free foreheads. Meanwhile, my chubby little self is completely underdressed in shorts, a tee-shirt and hiking sandals.
My stomach gurgles, either from nerves or the beginnings of Montezuma’s revenge, and I try not to vomit as I realize there is no turning back. We are at least twenty miles from Copán, Honduras and the truck that brought us here has departed. I have no choice. I have to go on.
As if reading my thoughts, Tarzan grins and wobbles his head of luxurious black curls. “Vámonos,” he says. Let’s go.
The other guide, a fresh-faced boy named Ricardo, takes my arm. “Vámonos, Rebekah.”
I shake him off, but gently. “Tarde,” I say. Later.
He pokes me in the back. There is no time to wallow, or rest, or even breathe. The hike must go on. I take one shaky step and then another and another. Just keep walking, I tell myself, it can’t get any worse.
As we continue along the trail snaking through the dense pine forest, I keep to the inside of the path as much as possible, slipping and sliding over the rocky terrain. The expensive hiking sandals I bought especially for this trip are no match for the rough trail. No match for this easy hike. I would trade my soul for a pair of hiking boots right about now. The Irish couple look confident and sturdy in theirs as they stride ahead of me on the path.
As I carefully select each step, I remember how excited I’d been to come on this trip. How excited I’d been to start visiting all of the major Mayan ruins, a goal at the very top of my bucket list. Now this dream has turned into a nightmare as I find myself alone in a foreign country, miles away from the safety of the village on a hike I’d booked because I thought it’d be easy. My aloneness is emphasized by the near-death experience I just had. If I had plunged into the depths, who would have looked for my body? My host family? The director of Ixbalanque Spanish School where I am taking Spanish lessons during my week-long stay in Honduras? Not likely. I’d be just another stupid gringa who disappeared during a Latin American holiday.