A child was laughing as he rolled down the side of the mountain and I thought to myself, that is the happiest person I will ever see falling to their death. It was day four of a summer sports camp for the children of Constanza and the event for the day was a nature hike. The camp was run by the athletics teachers in the city and they invited Kathy (the volunteer down the road) and myself to help out. Over the past few months, as volunteers we have started using certain phrases to describe certain situations, in this case we used the phrase “shit show.” A shit show means any situation where there is a total lack of control and organization, this shit show happened to be on the side of a mountain.
We started climbing at around ten o’clock in the morning after we had a snack and I gave a brief lecture on why we shouldn’t throw our garbage onto the trail while we were hiking, the 200 kids that were sitting in front of me nodded in agreement (the other 200 where receiving a lecture from Kathy). At the beginning of the trail they gave every child 2 plastic pouches filled with water, that means there were 800 little plastic pouches that were ready to be thrown all over the trail for the next few hours. At the beginning of the hike none of the children were thirsty, and the pouches when punctured make excellent squirt guns. So as we hiked for the first hour, there was a squirt gun fight going on with all of our drinking water. I told the kids, you guys should save that water, you are going to want it when we get up to the top. Sadly, between yelling at them for that and for throwing the garbage all over the trail, they disregarded me as the angry gringo.
As I watched the trail I picked up the pouches, I found a plastic bag and began putting them inside, a few kids caught on and started picking up the pouches and putting them in the garbage bag. I was happy to see that some of the children were getting the idea, one kid was very helpful and even walked with me picking up all the garbage for me. We hiked for about 2 and a half hours before we got to the top.
At the top the view was phenomenal, we were on one of the highest peaks in the Caribbean and you could see all across the Constanza valley. I enjoyed the view for about 15 seconds before a child asked me for water, I started telling him I didn’t have any but before I could finish a little girl asked me if I had any water. I told them both no, and then 25 other children came up to me asking for water. As they gathered around me (they kept mistaking my bag of empty water pouches, that they had just littered all over the trail, for a bag of full water pouches.) I told them instead of drinking water, to think about how fun it was playing with the squirt gun pouches back on the trail, I thought I was really funny, but they weren’t laughing. At one point one of the teachers came up and asked for water, he was thirsty too.
The original plan was for Kathy and I to lecture the other half of the children on the top of the mountain, but because everyone was so thirsty we had to cut the trip short and get to the bottom as fast as possible in order to avoid being harassed by 400 thirsty children. One of the teachers said he knew a short cut to the bottom… I remembered for a moment the last Dominican short cut and how I ended up in the jungle for 5 hours longer than I expected. The teacher led the way on the opposite side of the peak, his plan was to head straight down the face on the cow paths that scattered throughout the forest.
The trail was overgrown, and very steep; I had to put the bag of garbage in my backpack because I kept falling down. Children were giggling and laughing as they made their way down, one would fall, get up and then fall again. “Make sure the little ones don’t fall over the edge” the director told me, at that point I was pretty preoccupied with not falling over the edge myself. Almost immediately after, a little girl runs down the steep part and lurches towards me. I put out my elbow and forearm and clothesline her before she can send us both down the side of the mountain, she is giggling as I help her get back up. “Don’t do that anymore, muchacha, you are going to kill us both” I tell her, “Lo siento!” she laughs and darts past me. It had just become my job to stand at the bottom of the really steep part and catch children as they ran down. After another teacher came down, I moved along and let him take over that job for a while. We kept hiking down the mountain until eventually we heard yelling from another ridge about a quarter mile away. The teacher in front of me looks back at me and says “how did they get over there?” I shrug, he yells for the teacher in front of him, but the kids explain to him that there is no teacher in front of him and he realizes that we have been following a 10 year old boy down the mountain for the past 45 minutes.
We were in the middle of the line of four hundred kids so there was an even split between the two groups, well at least we only have to worry about getting 200 kids down now, I thought to myself. The teacher decided we should start heading towards the other ridge and head straight into the crevice on our left… this meant the trail got steeper.
At this point I started cursing loudly (in English), I was upset that I had torn a hole in the ass of my jeans from falling and sliding down the mountain. As I was dusting myself off the child slides past me laughing, I can’t believe what I am seeing. Before I know it a fat kid falls past me and grabs on to me, he looks really scared. Perhaps because I was happy to see a kid who was finally taking the danger that was facing us seriously, or possibly because I was the fat kid from grades 4th-7th, I decided I would help this kid on the way down the mountain . . . until eventually I got tired of him grabbing me and pulling me over (don’t worry, one of the bigger Phys. Ed. Teachers helped him the rest of the way.) We stumbled and crawled the rest of the way down until we met up with the rest of the group, after that the trail was no problem, we were on someone’s property and when we found a house, 400 kids stood outside of it waiting for water by the bucket.
It turned out we arrived in the Colonia Kennedy, which is only about an hour walk from Constanza. We waited for the city school busses to come pick us up. As we stood there waiting, my friend called me up. “What’s going on?” he asked me.
“another show,” I told him.
“Same as always” He said.