The Pilgrimage - Day 4/5
18th July 2017 - We woke with the morning sun peeking over the horizon and still wiping the sleep from my eyes, I stood up in the dawn light to receive the day. I was tired. Tired in my body and in my mind, but I also felt strength. Persistence. Endurance. We pack up our belongings and smoke a little before we head across the plain like so many hazy figures before us. It was less than an hour before we made it to the river. Here were huge, lush trees, bold and tall, intertwined with each other giving shade and wisdom and a life of lower canopy plants. Sun filtered in and danced on the ground before my feet. The water from the river was crystal clear, a first I had seen in Sri Lanka and I stood, ankle deep as the water gushed by and I let the purity soak into my skin.
We spot some wild deer up ahead and as we continue on the small path, the boys all suddenly stop and crouch down, putting a finger to their lips, a signal to be quiet. I walk with apprehension towards them and get in closer to where they are. I try and follow their eyes to a spot across the river-bank. I don’t see anything. A few moments pass before they relax and stand up tall again, “Leopard” they say with excitement in their eyes.
Shortly after, we make a clearing in the forest, just off the main path. With many hands at work, we snap branches off trees and clump them together to sweep the ground of fallen leaves and sticks. I lay the mats down in a clearing and fall asleep for a little while. I wake to the boys building a sort of shrine, with a structure over top, which they’re hoping to still be standing the following year. I sit cross-legged on the ground, peeling an orange in my hand as I watch the boys work efficiently in the forest. Machetes in hand, they make four tall posts, rocks at the base, and two beams across to support specific sticks and leaves for the roof.
Spitting out the seeds from my orange, I stand and walk closer to see Vidura’s hands at work on the shrine. He’s got a clump of mud in one hand and a jug of water close by, and he smiles as he sees me walk over. His hands are creating a snake slithering up the mud-covered ant hill. It leads to a small space about eye level, where a piece of glass sits with Kataragama God etched into it. It had meant a lot to one of the boys, Kapu, as his father had left this piece of glass here on the pilgrimage many years ago. This was the reason we were here and building the temple, to honour the tradition and belief.
I walk over to Tyler taking a nap on the mats and have a look at his feet. His blisters are pretty bad and when he wakes, he looks in pain sitting up. We joke about how we haven’t sat in a chair or a couch or a bed or anything in four days. Our legs were starting to hurt sitting cross-legged on the ground all the time. I think he just wanted a big couch in that moment. Fair enough. I feel all the energy and inspiration from last night has been taken over by exhaustion.
A few hours pass and I help with building the temple as much as I can before heading to the river for a much welcomed swim. I stand on the bank of the river, wiggle my toes into the small rocks and wiht my eyes follow the river coming out of the forest, weave its way past me and bend out of sight to the left. There’s a sort of silence in the sounds of the forest. It is beautiful and calm and serene. The boy’s bathe and wash and splash further down the river and I’m reminded so much of Tanna in Vanuatu. I wash my clothes and bathe my body. The river is shallow, but I make an effort to lay down and grip my hands into the stones beneath me, lift every other part of my body up to float on the surface and finally, lower my head so my ears are covered by the stream of water. I close my eyes and lay like this for a while.
When I slowly stand, my legs take me downstream until my eyes catch something in the water. I stop to pick it up, then place it in my hand; it sits nicely in my palm. A crocodile tooth. I take it excitedly back to the boys and show them my new found treasure. They study it hard and confirm its from a crocodile. They point to their necks, where most of them have some sort of tooth capped on either end, dangling from a chain. I know what I must do with mine.
Cupping my little treasure with a smile on my face, I go to lay solo by the stones in the sun. I feel much better after a wash, although not entirely looking forward to the last 30km planned for tomorrow. The final leg. At least today has been restful. Lying on the stones, the sun warming my skin, I think back to how I first felt when we started the walk and how amazing it had turned out to be. I definitely didn’t have any expectations because I didn’t plan to come and I guess that turned out to be a really good thing. I’m quite enjoying the jungle life, with only one change of clothes and having no choice but to live very simply, reminds me a bit of boat life.
We have a playful afternoon with the Monkeys. My goodness, I’ve never seen so many in my life! We sat in our clearing by our newly built temple with tea brewing and a relaxed vibe of conversations being passed around and just allowing things to be. I lay mostly with my hands behind my head and my feet up on a sack of rice, watching the monkeys. Observant and extremely vigilant as they climbed closer to us, taking their chances at stealing food or anything really. One of the bigger monkeys managed to steal a t-shirt hanging on a tree. A few oranges were stolen too I think. I watched them as they climbed back into their safe zones, sitting on their hind legs, tail hanging from a branch, and hands busy with their new found treasure. I kept my crocodile tooth close.
The afternoon quickly rolled into evening and darkness fell upon our happy, sacred place. Tyler lay there with his feet resting, twitching at every sound or snap of a twig. It was pitch black. We were in the forest and I felt all the animals were close. I needed to pee. I told the boys I needed to go and they made sure Tyler got up and went with me. Torches flashing and lots of talking, they literally made me go right next to the camp, it didn't feel safe to go too far. We lay back down and I nestled between Tyler and a big tree. I lay there for a few hours, unable to sleep and listening to some of the boys whispers, I couldn't understand what they were saying but I felt comforted. After a while I sat up and told Brian I couldn't sleep. "I know" he replies. " We are thinking of moving down to the river bank to sleep, is that okay with you"? I told him I would prefer it as our current spot didn't feel safe to sleep. So I woke Tyler and picked up the purple mats and a few of my belongings. Some of the boys were already on the sand bank lighting a huge fire. We set up the mats on a sandy little island, close to the fire and nestled into the sand. It was the closest thing to comfort in a while because we could nestle into a sandy little cocoon. With the trickle of the river nearby and the cracking of the fire close, I drifted into a deep sleep.