I was completely and utterly lost on this damned island.
My eyes searched the map in confusion.
I was deep in the shadows of the valley sunlight dappled through the green and the sun dipped silently past the trees that lined the hills above me.
Logically, the track ahead should be visible with the reassurance of the orange arrow marker, but this time the markers were nowhere to be seen.
I had left my heavy pack, silently telling myself to stay calm, that everything is ok, until I unexpectedly fell down an embankment.
Dirt covered me, I could taste crunchy moist clay and I struggled to get back out of there. That’s about the moment where I lost the plot.
The uninhabited island, sported an arduous 35km hiking track, snaking North to South weaving along the coral coast line.
I remember booking the 4 day solo journey, I was euphoric at the prospect of some time alone, a chance for self discovery and inner healing.
It hadn’t gone well so far.
My first day, which was the day before getting completely lost, had started off joyfully.
I waved goodbye to Gary, the boat driver who dropped me at the top of the island, ‘See you at the other end in four days, love,’
His boat disappeared from the mooring and I had a skip in my step, taking photos of the mountains, selfie with mountain, selfie with beach, selfie with forest.
The morning trek ahead proved challenging with adapting to my heavy pack across sandy white beaches, through dense forest and river ways.
I was surprised to reach my first camp site so quickly and with the tent erected, I boiled water in the billy, made a cup of tea and headed to the beach.
I drank my tea quickly, ate and gazed down the shoreline where beach stretched beyond into a humid haze.
There was nothing except the crashing of waves, the whistling of thick salty wind through sun craving palms and just me sitting on driftwood with hot tears rolling down my face.
I’d never felt so alone as I did in that moment, I suddenly felt baffled as to why I was here and was overcome by an overwhelming urgency to leave the island immediately. But I knew it wasn’t possible, there was no phone reception, no second option.
I realised at that point that I didn’t know myself at all; I hated being alone, my head careered into a collision of negativism, I hated this trip, I hated being with myself.
That evening, I resolved that when I woke up the next day, I would walk as far as possible to the furthest campsite south in hopes of getting off the island early.
The next morning, the day where I get lost, I walk 17km negotiating coastal rocky crags and diligently followed the orange arrow markers through forest, in and out of valleys and over mountain ridges.
I followed the track up to a cliff side.
The path seemed to end there, I turned 360 degrees yet the path did not continue, it stopped at the cliffs base. I finally peered up and saw that orange arrow marker gingerly pointing up the rock face.
I silently mouthed obscenities as I eyed off the rope hanging down for me to take.
I again had no choice but to go up, knowing I hadn’t climbed before and equally knowing I had a monster pack to carry.
So I took the rope and wedged my feet into that cliff and climbed almost horizontally toward the top. I groaned, spat and heaved my way to the crest of the mountain and struggled into a painful stand. I was in shock of what I had just accomplished.
Things just got more interesting from there. The walk brought me to a wide swollen river where massive smooth boulders that sported that damned orange marker pointing across the rapid flowing water.
“Rock hopping huh,” I laughed deliriously then, this was more like boulder hopping across treacherous waters!
I jumped to the first rock, deep water forcing its way through the wide spaces of the granite, my legs shook. I was very aware that my centre of gravity was altered. I took my time, but knew I was losing time and daylight.
My relief of crossing the fast flowing river would be short lived, as this was the part where I got lost.
So there was no orange marker, I lost the plot in a fit of tears, walking backwards and forwards, rubbing my head looking for a solution, struggling to get my shallow breath in check.
I decided to switch my mobile on in hopes that I had coverage. My hands shook as I waited for the phone to finish searching.
It felt like forever waiting for a signal. I moved around with the phone high in the air biting my lip and drawing blood.
Then one signal bar appeared on the phone and I screamed out in shock, ‘Yes!!’
I dialled Gary the boat driver, I had responsibly placed his number in my phone before my arrival to the island.
He answered after several rings, I could hear the football match jeers on tv in the background.
‘Hey, Gary this is .. Penny Blooms. You dropped me off here on the island yesterday??’
‘Oh yeh, I remember. How’s it going, love?’
‘Well, uh, I’m kind of lost’ my voice hoarse as I fought back tears.
‘Sorry, the phone is really breaking up here’
‘Gary I’m lost. I’m lost! Can you hear me?’
The phone went dead and there was no reception. I burst into tears as I stretched my arm out high to try and get the signal back, but to no avail. Tears blurred my vision as I stuffed my phone in my pocket.
I resolved to set up camp there, on the rock terrain.
Surely someone would pass tomorrow?
I went to find small branches to make a fire. Jumping over a fallen tree, I crouched and quickly gathered a handful of wood.
I gazed back at the fallen tree.
And there it was.
The damned orange marker! The marker nailed to the newly fallen tree had been obscured!
I staggered to my feet dropping the branches and climbed over the fallen tree to the other side.
And there was the path! The joy of seeing that winding narrow path made me fist punch the air.
A few moments later, the pack was on and a smile was plastered across my face as I took off into an unsteady jog for some time, the sun had melted away and the first of the stars patterned the deep indigo sky. The orange markers beckoned me forward.
I suddenly heard a few women laughing and as I rounded the corner into a rainforest clearing, I had stumbled upon the campsite. Four ladies sitting around a campfire looked up, startled, to see me but they quickly welcomed me.
I threw off my worn out shoes and one of the ladies offered me a steaming cup of tea. I took it gratefully, the kindness overwhelmed me and tears pricked my eyes.
I had managed to get to the bottom of the island! I was glad to sit around the campfire with them all, my limbs pulsing with aches, my shoulders burning with pain from the weight of the pack, but my head full of gratitude.
It had only just dawned on me that I had conquered my day, even while extremely out of my comfort zone. My ability had completely outshone my lack of confidence, my determination had squashed my fear.
I was truly capable of much more then I had ever imagined.
The lady sitting next to me leaned in to refilled my mug telling me they had arrived today from the southern end of the island. The four became energised and bantered about the journey ahead north, the journey I had just completed.
They had the same wanderlust and promise in their eyes, the same that I had at the start. I didn’t tell them about the obstacles, the challenges, the tears, the pain, the breathtaking experience that awaited them. They had each other and they would experience it all in their own way.
I hugged my cup of tea knowing that physically and emotionally I had exceeded any expectation I had of myself. It didn’t matter that I didn’t enjoy my own company. The situation is what it’s meant to be, no right or wrong.
A new chapter had been etched into my life experiences, I was no longer the same person I was the day before. Someone told me once that every obstacle is a gift.
The island had certainly gifted me a large dose of strength and determination.
The stars shone extra bright that night, food was passed and shared, crimson sparks from the fire floated up between us, with the damp forest bearing the only witness to it all.