Chapter 20: More From The Way Back File

Uncle Jimmy!

Hey, I had a dream last night. And no, it wasn’t about you, or even dancing girls. It was about our prior trip to Spain and a hike we took on the Caminito del Rey. Or translated, The King’s Little Pathway.

So, we’re down in Málaga Spain. Nikki is out wandering and comes across a hawker selling tourist trips, one of which is the Caminito. She thinks “great!” and calls me up to verify my excitement before purchasing. Which is where it gets weird. For you see, I have a terrible phobia of heights. And the Caminito is a walkway that is attached to the side of high cliffs, with a great view of your death spot, very far below.

Now Nikki knows I have this fear. But as she’s talking to the person selling the tickets, she starts feeling like it’s something easily conquered.

The call went something like this:

N: They said it has a barrier on the side now.
R: Uh huh.
N: They said kids do the trek all the time.
R: Ummmm.
N: So, you want to do it?
R: You do realize that a phobia cannot be cured with a safety net and a hard hat, right?

I was Googling the Caminito as she was talking. Under the images tab. What kind of fresh hell was this? There was no way on even the pain of torture of all those that I held dear that was I going to walk along a three foot wide ribbon of fear, with only a poorly installed little fence between me and the point of impact, three hundred feet down.

No.

Way.

Period.

Which of course only served to self-ridicule my manliness.

I pondered. I sweated. She waited. Time passed. And finally I asked her … did she have an extra Xanax?

And so, I agreed. I did take that little white pill of courage. And walk the Caminito I did. Which was a little strange, for the pill she gave me was the equivalent of a baby aspirin. A placebo to someone my size. And yet, I bounced on that path. Hung over the edge. Somehow believing that I was protected by Big Pharma. I had a hoot of a time.

The new path was indeed completely safe, and hard hats were truly required. For the sides of the canyon were anything but smooth. Things jutted out with such hidden precision that your noggin continually whacked them. The path was around three feet wide. It was bolted to the side of the cliff, and there was a waist high chain link fence thing keeping you from becoming one with gravity. And right below it was the old path.

I get why it was once called the most dangerous hike. The old walkway was narrower, and the concrete had fallen away in most places, leaving just rusted re-bar to walk on. Nothing on the side between you and air. A cable hung in places for you to harness on to. And no amount of “happy” pills would have helped me with that. But I’m glad they left the old pathway, for it was truly a sight. A hideously frightening sight, but still.

The hike was actually half solid ground and then half terror. It was long and the day was hot. Southern Spain is a cooker. And we didn’t bring enough food and water. Our bodies were not keeping up with what our minds wanted to do. So, lesson learned there. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

The final parts of the trail consisted of a swaying “rope” bridge across the canyon to the other side, which almost caused me to just live on the east side permanently and never cross. But once over, we only had a gazillion feet of metal stairways to walk down, that were also semi-attached to the cliff wall. 🙂

It was actually a great adventure. One I’m glad I got out of my own way and accepted. And looking back, it was probably a partial payback for a hike I had once “encouraged” Nikki to do in Iceland. 🙂

We had been out and about all day and stopped for a bite at a cafe cleverly disguised as an ex-shipping container. Daylight fell semi-early then, and it was around 3pm. I had asked the cashier what else was there to do in the area in the time we had, and she mentioned a crashed American Navy plane on a beach nearby. They had gone down sometime in the 1970s, and it was only a 15 minute hike out to it. So off we went.

Now, Nikki was hesitant. Dusk was approaching, so when we got there, I walked over to a couple just coming back, and overheard them talking to another group, like us, just starting their trek.

“How long is it?”, they asked. “15 minutes” was the reply. OK, so we tucked in behind them and started our hike.

It was not 15 minutes.

I need to set the scene for you. Once out of sight of the parking lot, everything was the same in all directions. Endless black and gray gravel. Endless cloudy sky. Everything was the same shade of darkness. There were these yellow poles every hundred feet shoved in the ground, and you had to follow them. If you were to lose sight of them, you would be hopelessly lost. Because the hike is really an hour, each way.

We later named it the Iceland Death March. After, of course, time had passed and I was semi-forgiven.

During the hike, Nikki was not happy. Night was well into the act of falling by the time we finally got there. Many mentions of “going back” were made by one of us, with the other urging to just push on. When we finally got to the plane, Nikki just refused to walk up to it. She was seriously displeased with me at this point, to put it mildly.

Now, I did go into this wreck, take pictures, and enjoy the destination. At least as much as I could knowing how much trouble I was likely to find on the march back. And so I did the natural thing – I immediately put my foot in my mouth.

Standing there at the plane, I could hear surf just over the black sand dunes. Couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Walking back to Nikki in the dusk, I asked her if she wanted to stroll down to the beach and see the breakers.

She did not.

And so we hiked back. Within minutes, it was completely dark. Just enough light to see the next set of yellow poles. No water, and many steps before us.

So after what seemed like an eternity in relationship years, we finally could see lights on the road next to the parking lot. And we also saw a young couple coming towards us, with a question on their lips. You can guess the question. And we didn’t hesitate to turn them around. It was one thing to pull a prank at 3pm. It’s quite another after dark.

So, like I said, perhaps the Caminito was in small part a result of the Death March. I honestly don’t know. Truthfully, I might be a little afraid to ask.

OK, memory time is over. Hope all is well up there, and I’ll write again very soon.

Love, Your Nephew Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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