"An incredibly grueling hike up Mount Liamuiga - an ancient volcano formerly known as Mount Misery - that will at times make you question both your sanity and ability to survive, while rewarding those who muster the will to continue on with an unmatched sense of satisfaction. $99."
That's what the description for our shore excursion on St. Kitts should have read. Instead, the relatively tame synopsis on Royal Caribbean's website sold a day filled with picturesque views and lush tropical surroundings.
|She looks rather kind from afar...|
Well, I suppose that was technically true...
Thankfully, we did a bit of outside research before booking the Mount Liamuiga shore excursion, rather than attempting to read between the lines of Royal Caribbean's selling points. It was clear this wasn't your run of the mill "beach break" or "best of" tours that are rampant throughout the Caribbean, and that I avoid like Justin Beiber on Pandora. But even with our research, MJ and I couldn't have imagined just what we were getting into.
The adventure started with what Royal Caribbean described as a ride in "off road vehicles to the base of the volcano." Or put another way... a 30 minute drag race in what can only be described as a "tin can of death" to the other side of the island. We hurtled through the narrow, winding streets of St. Kitts at speeds of 40-50 mph, with our driver dodging cars, pedestrians, and the occasional livestock, while the rest of us held on for dear life. I was convinced at multiple times throughout the journey that my time on this planet was going to come to an end on St. Kitts.
It was far from the last time that thought would cross my mind.
|Paint this brown and you get the idea...|
The insanely reckless driving ended on a dirt road that offered the first of those "inspiring panoramas" we were promised in the excursion info. The view of tiny Sint Eustatius in the distance as we tumbled through farmland and brush taller than the vehicle was certainly a calming sight after our harrowing adventure across the island.
|The smile masks the terror within.|
At last, we'd arrived at the equivalent of base camp for Mount Liamuiga. There we were given a bottle of water, a walking stick, and a safety briefing that basically amounted to "don't get hurt, mahn."
|The view out the back of the tin can of death.|
We set off into the forest at a brisk pace, over terrain that was a little milder than I had read on previous reviews. I started to relax a little as the fears which those reviews had stirred were dismissed as over-exaggerations. Surely we'd be just fine if it continued like this...
The guides pressed further and further up the trail, describing the trek as "a walk in the park," while those of us behind grew desperate for a break with each passing minute. Finally, we reached the first of our six promised stopping points and caught our collective breath.
|A large mango tree. I was tempted to pull the vines and eat whatever fell.|
Looking around at our group, there wasn't a single one of the 25 hikers that wasn't already gassed. A few used the opportunity to turn back. I attempted to boost everyone's spirits by pointing out that we were now 1/3 of the way up...just 2/3 left to go. Only my attempt at positive reinforcement completely backfired...
"No mahn, it's 6 stops heading up and no stops coming back down. Not 3 and 3."
|Our guide going on about the monkey population of the rainforest.|
My heart sank and I held back a full blown panic. If I was already this exhausted, how on earth was I supposed to get through five more segments? I could wrap my head around two, but five more just to reach the top and then having to come back down - with no breaks - was more than both my mind and body could process.
And yet, we pressed on...
From this point forward, the terrain grew more treacherous. I began to understand why our guide referred to the opening as "a walk in the park" - by comparison to this, it really was...
The climb was so steep in places, I was presented with another problem. Our tickets for the excursion instructed us to wear long pants. The only ones I had packed for the cruise was a pair of jeans. Attempting to step up 3 and 4 feet at a time is no easy task in denim, which lead me to strongly consider asking for the guide's pocketknife so I could cut them into shorts.
By the time our 5th stop arrived, I had crossed over into a state of delirium. While I did my best to stay hydrated, my body desperately craved some sort of nourishment. When our guides pulled out a jug of fresh fruit juice, I made my way to the front of the line like Costanza in a fire at a child's birthday party.
At long last, we reached the top and soaked in the view of the ancient volcano. The peak was much smaller than I'd imagined - roughly 3x3 square - which meant our group had to take turns enjoying the view. Still, the panorama was worth every bit of the effort to get there, though that feeling of satisfaction was short lived. After just 5 minutes at the top and roughly 90 seconds eying the view, it was time to begin the trek back down.
Just then, the rainforest lived up to its name...
At some point along the way up, I commented to MJ that surely there must be another trail that would lead us back down the mountain. There was simply no way that a path this formidable could be safely traveled going down, especially now that it was raining.
To my disbelief, we started right back down the same way we came.
All of those steep steps up and uneasy climbs over roots and boulders were now appearing in reverse, and so too were the muscles being used in the process. My legs turned to rubber, and I was soon transformed into a walking zombie. At more than one point, I wanted to cry. A few in our group just let those tears flow..
The hike down was supposed to take half as long and be half as difficult. Great in theory, not so much in reality. The fact is the hike down is every bit as hard, if not harder, as the hike up. And while it may have taken a little less in the time department, by the time the final 1/3 of the hike rolls around the minutes start to feel like hours.
Finally, the "base camp" came into view and just a few short steps separated us from what felt like the promised land. A tomato and lettuce sandwich never tasted so good...
|Peace Out, Mount Liamuiga. See you... Never.|
This was without a doubt the most physically demanding thing I've ever done, and may ever do again. The urge to throw in the towel during the hike was overwhelming, but the sense of satisfaction that set in once it was over more than offset the pain. Well, at least the mental pain...I'm still not sure I've recovered from the physical kind.
If you choose to take on the Mount Liamuiga hike, heed these warnings...
- Take a small pack with water, juice/gatorade, Snickers or other high protein snacks. Aside from the one tiny cup of juice and a piece of fruit bread, there is nothing provided until the hike is over. We took 4 bottles of water, and it wasn't enough.
- Know your limits and remember that ever step in is a step you'll have to take back out.
- Wear lightweight pants. These come in handy on the hike down, where you're all but guaranteed to suffer some sort of scrape, etc.
- Take a walking stick. A few in our group didn't take the guide's advice in this department and regretted it.
- Block the thought of "what happens if I get hurt" out of your mind. The hike is hard enough without the paralyzing element of fear. Save this for when it's all over, when the question will likely turn to "What on earth was I thinking?"