The bus stopped in what looked like the middle of nowhere. I’d taken a different route than I’d usually taken to the remote Belgian countryside, and I didn’t recognize where I was. I’m a sucker for efficiency, and Google maps promised I could shave off an hour despite a 2 km trek at journey’s end.
The bus driver asked me if I was sure I was getting off at the right place, and I confirmed that yes, this was the stop.
“I’m sure I’ll find my way,” I said perfunctorily.
I heaved my huge rucksack onto my back and hopped off, watching her pull away. I had the impulse to wave, but it was more for my benefit than hers. I was a traveler, and finding my way is what I do. Wasn’t I the one with a sick fascination for getting temporarily lost?
A single brick house sat lonely by the side of the road, and it was surrounded by a thick and very still forest. The sun was soon to set; the house looked unoccupied.
I retrieved my phone to access GPS, and it was then that my own, rank stupidity sank in. I watched the connection icon spinning in hesitance for at least two minutes, finally beaming a no connection message. Oh yeah, I’m in the middle of fucking nowhere. HAHAHAHA! I’d failed to bring a paper map, and I’d failed to take a screen shot of my directions. The country bus I’d just abandoned would not show up for another hour, and I had no connection to call a taxi.
I decided on posing as a sheepish rucksack with legs at the side of the road, just until I could think up what to do next. No cars passed, no people walked; not even a squirrel was courteous enough to give me directions.
I remained calm nonetheless, reminding myself that I was in northern Europe. Getting lost there wasn’t a reason for alarm…
Several minutes later, I heard a car coming down the road. The person presumably occupying the house pulled up. I flashed a smile, and he cautiously rolled down his window.
“Pardon meneer, kent u de straat Driepaal?”
He vaguely knew of the road I was seeking, but he wasn’t exactly sure where it was other than on the other side of the forest. He pointed toward a dirt path that led directly into the thick woods, claiming I could get there by walking ‘in that direction’. I mustered up faith in the universe and walked into my date with nature. I estimated 40 minutes until the sun set.
I firstly walked with determination, and then with clumsy haste, tripping on my own shoe. I laughed out loud, asking the trees why I’d thrown meticulous travel planning to the wind. They answered with a creepy rustling.
About fifteen minutes in, I spotted a patch of red through the trees and ran toward it, realizing with relief that it was moving. The man looked startled as I approached him, but I chalked it up to him being a shy Belgian and thus not one to take to small, slightly panicked women running toward him in a darkening forest.
“Pardon meneer, kent u de straat Driepaal? Ik ben een beetje verloren.”
Side note: ‘verloren’ does mean lost in Dutch, but it means lost as in lost soul, I learned later. In other words, I’d told the man that I was a lost soul, and could he help me find Driepaal street. I suppose the statement fit neatly with my hippy gear.
He told me he wasn’t sure where Driepaal was, but he thought I should veer to the right about a kilometer down the path. And then he scurried way.
I’d already walked quite a ways into the forest, so I could either a) turn back and hope for another bus to who knows where or b) book ass and try to find the other end of this mocking woodland.
I kept on, eventually coming to a fork with one path left, one slightly to the right, and one sharply to the right. The man didn’t mention slightly right and sharp right in his directions, and I cursed him passionately, my words echoing off the ears of snickering bunnies hiding nearby in the brush. The paths looked like about two people had trekked upon them within the last year. I was not interested in the taking paths less traveled by.
I stood on a rock beside the paths, trying to see over the hill, but that was useless. I eventually decided to walk down the slightly right path, but after sensing it was the wrong way, I turned around and took the sharp-right path. I only wanted to find a road, for the love of Jesus. I began to sweat, so I took my coat off, then my sweater. I walked in the cold with a small t-shirt, but I was way too freaked to be cold. Fear for me is hot, as it turns out.
I swore at myself as I journeyed along, and I whimpered a bit here and there, allowing a single, plump tear to run down my cheek. Then I prayed. This forest felt enormous, and the path became even more overgrown. The sun was almost gone. I wanted my mommy.
Right as the sun was setting, I came to a dirt road. Oh, beautiful road! I was also at the top of a hill, I noticed. I got my phone out, and there it was: beautiful, gorgeous GPS and the words DRIEPAAL plunked right down next to the glowing, blue circle that marked my immediate location. I was about 200 meters away from my destination.
Thank you Mary, mother of god. Thank you forest fairies. Thank you divine universe, and thank you silly Jami for trusting your instinct….eh and yeah, thanks GPS.
I walked into the meditation center, took off my rucksack and walked over to make myself a cup of tea…I was an hour early, after all.