It has been a long time since I’ve been to a mountain vacation. The one I’ll never forget is a class trip to Maxwell Hill back in my college days. It was the hometown of our head lecturer so he was our ultimate tour guide and trip planner. Maxwell Hill was well known as a place surrounded by natural resources and cool air. It offers a few vacation homes on different altitudes for complete privacy and scenery options. A perfect change from being in a hot and humid city.
Most of the anticipation was fueled by our head lecturer who chattered daily about the places we were going to visit, the food, the fun and games he had in mind for all of us. Although the itinerary was sent out a week prior to the trip, he tirelessly reminded the other lecturers and students on the trip details. Of course, a class trip of this size was the first amongst us. We were a group of sixty design students and six lecturers on a break away from confines of a city academy, assignments and timetables.
The excitement was contagious and we spend the last two days preparing for it. I remembered having to ring my classmates on a daily basis and discuss what we should pack for the trip. Heaps of planning and ideas bounced between us. Before we knew it, it was time to put down our artboards and embark on the bus journey up north of the country. The entire journey was filled with songs, games and laughter in the two buses. Once we arrived at the foothill, we were divided into groups of six for a ride up the mountain on ranger jeeps. The muddy road was so tight and ridden with bumps that only jeeps and land rovers will survive the climb. The road itself was dug onto one side of the hill so it zigged-zagged all the way up and a few unfortunate students ended up with upset tummies and headaches.
The last fifteen of us waited patiently to reach the vacation house right at the top most altitude. The air was so crisp and cool that we forgot about the bumpy ride immediately. We were all scattered into three of the five vacation houses on the mountain. It was a very beautiful spot overlooking the hilly areas below and canopy tops of the rainforest. Maxwell hill joins with the national park and mountain ranges forming the backbone of the country. The view we had was breathtaking. We wasted no time unloading all our gears and entered the house to relax. It was an ordinary brick house with four large rooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen and a huge living area. Although furniture was scarce, at east we had enough bed space for everyone.
We had warnings about not having hot water for showers, lights out in the evening and locking the front door. Being young and adventurous, we took the warnings lightly and looked forward to enjoy ourselves for the evening. We were expected to arrive at the lower house for a barbecue dinner at six so we started out early before the sun set. It started drizzling just as we were walking. The walk was about two hundred meters on the same road we came up from. Potholes were starting to fill up and it got a little muddy. We decided to walk down slowly in pairs, carrying umbrellas. When we reached the house, the barbecue was burning and food was already being prepared in the kitchen. We helped out and started dinner soon after. Food was good and we had plenty. After cleaning up, we sat down for a few rounds of card games and ghost story telling. Games were fun and we took a few funny pictures together but the story telling got a little creepy for us. My group was dreading going up the hill in the dark especially after hearing a local folklore about a ghostly tiger roaming the mountain.
Then, it was time to climb up the hill. The drizzling started up again just before we left. We groaned and complained about the dampness but there was nothing we could do. We slowly trudged up the muddy track with two weak torches shared between fifteen of us, barely lighting the path. Occasionally some of us had branches and wet leaves smacked into our faces. Mosquitoes and insects were having a feast while we were trying hard not to step into puddles or worst, slip off the hill. There were lots of smacks and slaps until we reached the front door.
One of us tried to get the door open while the rest fidgeted around, urging the person to hurry. Everyone was getting annoyed at waiting outside in the cold and damp. Once we got inside and flicked on the light, we could see why most of us were feeling uncomfortable. Blobs of dark slimy, squirmy things were on people’s arms and legs. Someone had a leech on his cap and others had them under their clothes. The girls were desperately getting away from the leeches and frantically checking themselves and each other. One of the guys quickly got a cigarette lighter and went around burning leeches off everyone. By the time the lighter got to the last leech, it was the almost the size of the plastic lighter. Not to mention some of the guys had bloody spots left by the sucking leeches. Fortunately for us girls, the leeches seemed to have favored guys. It was still disgusting!
Then it was time to take turns for showers after the ordeal and get ready for bed. Lights were scheduled to go out at 10pm so we did not have much time to waste. We lined up obediently with our shower items outside both the bathrooms and sat around patiently waiting for our turn. To our surprise, the first person went in and started jumping around and shouting. He was literally stamping the bathroom floor. We gathered around and knocked on the door frantically, wondering in the world happened. It turned out that the water was so cold the poor guy came out looking white and shivered non-stop. We realized it was our turn to freeze our bottoms off one by one and not get a proper clean at all. So much for a nice vacation shower on a scenic hill after being under the rain and not to mention, the leech infestation.
Just before lights out, we manage to play a round of poker and retired to rest with girls and boys in separate rooms. As the girls in the second bedroom started climbing into bed a minute before the lights went off, the bed creaked and made a loud noise. Before they knew what had happened, it broke and hit the concrete floor with a loud bang. We were just getting comfortable and almost falling asleep when the noise made us jumped. Off the bed we went and stood gaping into the dark, trying to find out what had happened next door. One of us turned the torch on and there they were, the four of them climbing out of what remained of the bed. We thought our encounters with leeches and icy showers were last of the bad things that could happen that night. Bedtime did not seem to bring any comfort. The guys in the other bedrooms would not stop laughing at the poor girls. So the eight of us cramped into a room, four in a double bed each. I woke up with a stiff neck from being still all night.
The next morning, we had another laugh about the incident over a breakfast of cooked eggs and toast. Shortly after breakfast, it was time for us to pack up and move on to the next stage of the journey. Bringing with us is a memory of a one-night-stay at a mountain vacation house of a lifetime – none of us would like to go through it again. The whole incident did not really put us off as we did mentioned about returning sometime in the future, hopefully better prepared. Nevertheless, our head lecturer was still very proud of his hometown and what it has offered to his young students. Maybe it was the natural rainforest or the spectacular views that captured each of our hearts. Certainly not any of the disasters above for sure.
After all these years, I am still waiting for the next trip back….perhaps? Next time, I will make sure I have a portable stove, world strongest leech repellent and my own folding bed with me!