We’re nearing the end of our Eclectic Journey — today’s destination (and story to go with it) is presented to us by Eloise. Eloise has written over ten books over the past four years and lives in sunny Berkshire in southern England. Her four children, four cats and one dog keep her entertained and inspire many of her children’s stories. Eloise enjoys writing romance and suspense novels, capturing readers and transporting them to worlds filled with adventure, danger, love and romance. You can follow her on her blog, facebook and twitter.
Ever sit at your computer and think back to a time when you were young enough to enjoy that heart-thumping joy of the unknown? I am. Right now. I’m travelling back to a place that I have earmarked as my final destination before I join whatever afterlife exists. This place has magic in it. How do I know? Well, I was there in ’97 and I have to say, nothing has beaten it since. Let me start at the beginning…
It was the Christmas holidays of ’97. Parties were still in full swing and weekends were booked solid with friends and family. I had to get away.
Broken hearts have a way of solidifying your need to escape the norm, to find a place where you can just be, without thinking of the past. Lost kisses and warm embraces; the scent of love, are all the things that tie us to dead relationships long after their expiration date. That was me – trying to find an escape from my ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend (one of my so-called ‘good’ friends). Bumping into them everywhere I went during the Christmas period had taken its toll. I rallied up a few of my crazy, close friends to find a solution.
“Let’s go to the Vumba!” was the over-enthusiastic suggestion from Murtle. “Come on. What do you have to lose? We can ask Charles to drive us there. He won’t mind spending time with you, that’s for sure!”
I grimaced. Charles was a good friend, but going away with him might encourage his enamour. On the other hand, this town was way too small for my ex and me. And Vumba sounded mysterious and exciting. So what was there to lose?
We left in the early hours of the morning, before the sun kissed the horizon. By the time the crickets had warmed up their hind legs to start their daily musical serenade, we had passed Marondera. Travelling along the dusty road, I watched the balancing granite rocks fly by, interspersed between tiny villages with young running in the dirt chasing tyres or pushing wire cars. Tinny music drifted through our open windows and faded away as the open road swallowed us into breathtaking views of the Msasa trees.
Far ahead, as the road climbed higher into the hills, I could see fantastic displays of colour and small pathways cut like ant trails into the valleys below.
“This is so beautiful,” I gasped, trying to take in every detail as we sped past.
“Wait. The best is yet to come,” laughed Charles, cranking up the radio which blared out REM’s Losing My Religion.
Suddenly, the view opened up again, exposing the inner clefts of the road etched into the sides of the hill. Trees sprouted dangerously out of the rocky sides, overhanging and stunning as we drove under. This was known as the Burma Valley, according to Charles.
It took a steady stomach to look down as the road twisted and turned through the granite hills, cutting and weaving, making it rather interesting when oncoming traffic bruised purposefully close to our side of the road, avoiding the death drop of the valley below on their side.
“Cloud Castle Inn, here were come!” laughed Murtle. I grinned, sprawling on the back seat, enjoying the space all to myself. As I lay there watching the blue sky flicker into view between the leaves, I drank in the serenity, thinking how lucky I was to escape to such a beautiful place.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor of the car as it bumped over a dirt road. Quickly pulling myself back up onto the back seat, my first sight of Cloud Castle Inn took my breath away. The house was set up among the clouds, high in the Vumba Hills, watching over the National Park filled with weird and wonderful species of plants and trees. As I looked around, I caught sight of the eucalyptus trees. Their slim, grey bodies bent and twisted in synchronized harmony as their silvery-green leaves swished and whispered in the brisk wind.
It didn’t take us long to dump our back-packs and sleeping bags in our hired room for the weekend. The owner of the large back-packers lodge pointed us in the right direction and we set off to explore the park. Dirt tracks led us deeper into the undergrowth and the sound of birds singing and insects buzzing accompanied our hot trek through the forest. The humidity was off the scales and my hair was ready to give Diana Ross a run for her money! Persevering, we stumbled on following a faint path that led deeper into the undergrowth.
“Listen!” whispered Charles. “Can you hear that?”
Murtle and I stopped to listen. The heat sent off waves and the incessant buzzing drowned out the birdsong. I stepped closer to an overhanging twisted branch covered lichen. It looked so soft and tempting to touch. As my hand reached out to feel the texture, my ears caught the sound of falling water. I turned to Murtle who grabbed my outstretched hand and pulled me down the path with Charles in tow. The path turned rocky and damp, covering in mossy outcrops and before long we were standing next to a stunning waterfall cut through dark red rock. Giggles erupted from me like the bubbles of water at the base of the waterfall and I carefully stepped onto the flat rock receiving the onslaught of cool, fresh water from above. It was an exquisite experience.
With no-one around to see us, the three of us danced like pixies under the waterfall and sang (very badly I might add) to the sun hidden behind the towering trees and the delicious water raining down on our heads. We were children again, wild and free. My words can’t capture the happiness of that moment: the pure joy and freedom of just being. Even now, I crave that feeling again.
Soaked and exhausted from our tomfoolery, we made our way back up the lonely path to the rest of the forest, hoping to find the right way back to the house. By the time an hour had passed, we were relatively dry and very tired. Our feet hurt, but we were still in high spirits and completely lost! As a last ditch attempt, we turned back the way we had come and after another fifteen minutes of walking, stumbled upon a caravan park. The holiday-makers soon set us on the right path home and we returned to home for the weekend, Cloud Castle, their indulgent hot showers and a shared kitchen overloaded with the smell of a dozen different dinners being prepared by fellow back-packers.
The next day we awoke early thanks to the annoying singing of the birds. Aching and sluggish from the previous day’s exertions, we decided to have breakfast at the top of the hill overlooking the famous Leopard Rock Hotel. Our fellow travellers had been kind enough to share hot spots to visit the night before, over our rather unsuccessful attempt at making dinner. Let’s just say, I am not very good at making Smash (instant mashed potato)!
We were so high up, the clouds drifted below us, blocking the view of the tiny golf carts below and the pink regal buildings with bright windows watching the golf course further down the valley. In unison, we sighed. The measly breakfast we had brought with us was consumed as we imagined the lucky patrons of such a posh hotel. We promised ourselves that one day, we would return to stay. Clouds were rolling in fast and we had to get back down before we were lost in the clouds forever.
The rest of the day was spent driving around the area, discovering old colonial houses set within the granite hills with gardens holding very British flora and fauna. Some had been converted into tea gardens whilst others were used as up-market B&Bs. As the last day drew to a close, I knew that this was the place I would love my ashes to rest.
The evening was spent in front of a roaring fire. The rain was pelting down outside, as it had throughout the rest of the day, keeping the surrounding forests luscious green and thick with foliage and humidity. I curled up on the wicker chair with plumpy cushions and stroked the friendly border collie who lay next to me, the resident dog at this friendly lodge. The fire crackled and spit as I watched the flames dancing and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Time stood still. I watched my friends play cards over a small wooden table next to my chair and half-listened to their banter. I was content. Vumba had made a home in my heart which I knew would last forever.
Now, nearly twenty years later, I have the opportunity to return there, without the heartbreak and immaturity of youth. When I think of it, my heart starts to beat fast and butterflies batter their wings in my tummy. It is my chance to show my new life a part of my old: to show my children where I want my weary bones to rest. I can’t contain my excitement and maybe, just maybe, I will take you with me too!