That time we had to be rescued by helicopter

The comfort zone is made to be pushed and we travel to do exactly that. Those of us who get bursts of wanderlust tugging at our sleeves to get us out exploring know the thrilling sensation that comes with discovering new places, meeting new people and having new experiences on the road. All of which require a healthy dose of risk taking and the faith to let go to jump in. But what happens when the comfort-turned-risk zone suddenly ends up in the danger zone?

Well, if you’re lucky like my friend Sama and I, then you get a free helicopter ride to safety and a bit of a story to tell. As well as a stark reminder of the importance of being careful, that thing everyone tells you to do before you turn to walk away from loved ones on the path to following your heart being called out into the big wide world.

When I told friends and family back home that we’d just been airlifted out of the mountains after getting stuck in a tree on the side of a cliff, they asked the reasonable question of “what were you doing in a tree on the side of a cliff?” So I wrote this blog post to explain.

After putting on an event at a local language and cultural centre, we walked home beneath the stars filled with that warm feeling that you get from community, from sharing and connecting with other human beings. We were awoken the next morning by the sun shining in through my open window, with a view of the mountains standing sturdy behind a city landscape.

“Let’s go on an adventure!” we put on our walking boots, packed our rucksacks and headed out onto the streets to begin hitch hiking. A guy, who had just been surfing despite the danger of sharks here, picked us up and dropped us off a little way up to the mountains. Within 5 minutes we were picked up by another kind stranger who had a great sense of humour, the whole car was filled with laughter as we joked our way across the winding road. He dropped us at the “grand étang” in the East, as we’d decided to do a gentle, simple walk, one of the easiest in the island. Ha!

After plodding along the path going round a lake, we got to a dead end where the path was flooded by the rising waters of the lake due to rain. But there was a sort of alternative looking path taking you up onto the side of a mountain surrounding the lake. We followed it and picked our way through a steep, slippery trail, clambering over and through trees, clinging onto roots where necessary to stabilise ourselves. At the end we saw the other side of the path after the flooded bit and rejoiced. Only problem was we weren’t sure how to get down. In the end, following Sama’s lead, I lowered myself down a 4 metre sheer vertical drop, clinging onto two big roots which acted as ropes.

I felt very pleased with our skills and fearlessness after that little adventure scaling the side of a mountain. Off we trotted back on a nice, normal path by the side of a giant pond. We traversed bogs, giving up on using stepping stones to avoid getting wet feet and carried on our merry way until we got to another part of the path on the other side which was flooded. Hmm.

There was no way to go back because we couldn’t climb up that vertical drop that we’d jumped down. The only available option was to climb up into a repetition of scaling the side of a cliff to hopefully re-join the path. But this time it was much more difficult, it was raining, everything was slippery and the drop looked a lot scarier. We carried on climbing through the trees, Sama helping me out when I started to panic. She reminds me of my brother, one of those people who can keep calm in a crisis and who seem to know exactly what they’re doing even when the path is unclear.

But at some point we got to a complete block. We couldn’t turn back and we couldn’t go forward. My body was shaking and the tears came as panic rose. We tried and tried to call the emergency services but with no signal it was impossible to communicate with them. We terrified my friends with a frantic text saying what had happened and to call the rescue people, which took some time to send after waving my phone desperately in the air.

We waited in the rain, getting colder and colder. We weren’t sure if our location had been properly transmitted to the rescue team and could only wait to find out. After I calmed down, we even got out our packed lunch and had a very surreal picnic. We wondered about trying to climb down the cliff and swim across the lake to safety but it wasn’t a viable option as the drop was too severe.

After a couple of hours we heard the dramatic noise of a helicopter and saw it pass us 3 times as it toured the whole surface area of the lake trying to find us. But we were hidden in amongst the trees and were nowhere to be seen. Every time it passed we waved our arms in vain. Finally we heard shouts and cried back, blowing furiously on the emergency whistle. Our lips had turned blue with cold.

I have never been so happy to see two strangers! Our rescuers turned up on foot, gave us helmets and strapped us up with ropes to guide us down the cliff. After getting down onto solid ground we took it in turns to be attached to a rope hanging off the helicopter, raised up to be yanked into the aircraft. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights?

Once we were all safe inside the helicopter they took us back to the base and offered us a drink of juice. We followed them into a room with tropical décor and a bar made from bamboo. Only in Réunion!

They told us how lucky we’d been because had we been just an hour or two later, then there would have been too much cloud to get the helicopter in.

We walked away from the base, in disbelief over what had just happened. The only thing left to do was to laugh with the joy of being safe and well, thanks to the rescue team.

(P.S. We even made it to the local news, click here)

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