If you do not try to climb the Mountain on your own (which is a foolish thing to do),
Nevis is the most safe and wonderful island to relax and enjoy in peace.
The perfect place for a dream vacation.
Whilst attending the LexCybernatoria 2000 conference (dealing in my subjects, law and the internet) I discovered a wonderful tropical paradise, Nevis, popularly known as the Queen of the Caribbean. With a population of only 10,000, beautiful, unspoilt nature and just a hint of tourism, the island was idyllic. I decided that after 12 years of hard work I had earned for myself and my family a real holiday.
There are not many places where you can walk hour after hour along incredibly pure, white sandy beaches without meeting a soul. And so on Nevis with our son, seven-year old Toni, we scumped coconuts from heavily laden trees drooping over the sea, chopped them in half and drank the sweet milk inside. Five-year old Marjanca easily found all the shells she could wish for of all shapes and colours and as big as 20 centimetres. There are hardly words to describe the exotic Nisbet Plantation Beach Club that was our hotel. Two days before we were due to fly home my attention was drawn to the beautiful 985 metre high volcanic Mount Nevis.
Early on the morning of 28 February 2001, just as dawn broke over the enchanted island, I set out from our hotel on a one day trip to climb Nevis. As a typical Slovene I was attracted by the prospect of looking down from the peak at the surrounding villages and neighbouring islands. In my youth I had been a mountain guide and marker of trails in the Alps, so I began my ascent undaunted, although I set myself six hours to reach the summit and six hours to return.
With the intention of reaching the summit by midday I was surprised at the thickness of the jungle (thorns, creepers, cacti, trees, rotting logs, waist-high grass, etc.) and I began to realise why hardly a local had been up the mountain. There was no real path leading upwards and I had to expend an enormous amount of energy to make any progress. Occasionally I came across a piece of rope on a branch, which was evidence that others had experienced the same problem as I. Later I learned that many years ago someone else had been lost in that jungle for three days. Apart from some timid monkeys, I didn’t notice any wild animals and didn’t encounter any snakes or poisonous spiders.
After six hours of strenuous effort, I found myself just below the summit. I was tempted to climb the last few metres but I had promised myself I would make my way back at midday, and a promise is a promise. I decided it was logical to expect that if it took me six hours to climb this far, it would take less than six hours to make my way back. As a worse path couldn’t exist, I decided to descend over the other side of the mountain that meant I would end up nearer the coast where I could get a taxi to the hotel. I chose a valley where there seemed like an innocent dried-up riverbed but it turned out to be a steep canyon. I quickly discovered that during the rainy season from July to September there must have flowed a lot of water as only smaller plants flourished and there were no large trees. Here I was surprised by the prevalence of rain forest as the warm Atlantic air formed condensation when in contact with the mountain. Everywhere was damp and the rocks were covered in slippery moss. And this is what led to my accident.
MY FIRST FALL
At about 4 pm I slipped on a moss-covered rock where there had once been a waterfall. I fell a good five metres down into the canyon and was quite seriously injured. I had a 20 centimetre long cut on my right leg that began to bleed profusely, a damaged elbow and numerous other abrasions. It took me several minutes to come to and analyse my situation. To my horror the next waterfall was about ten metres further down, three times more deep and impassable. If I were not so injured, I would have made my way back up and found another way down. I began to feel ill and experience the first signs of dehydration, a dry mouth and throat, increased pulse rate and heart burn. The pain in my legs and arms felt worse by the minute. As I had only an hour left to nightfall, I decided on making camp. If I were lucky, somebody would find me the following day. Before leaving I had agreed with my anxious wife that I would return without fail about 6 pm. When I hadn’t arrived back at the appointed time, I was sure she would raise the alarm. I never dreamt this hollow depression with 30-metre high walls either side and the size of a living room would be my home for the next five days. Already I was aware that the greatest danger was running out of fluids.
Some years ago my parliamentary colleague, Lojze Peterle, told me of his 10-day voluntary fast. At that time I could hardly imagine going one day without food. I imagined a hellish pain in an empty stomach. I thought it would kill me. I remembered the most important words of Lojze’s that fasting was harmless when accompanied with large quantities of water and other drinks. My problem was lack of water. I knew food was not my greatest problem as I weighed 78 kilograms and had sufficient reserves, but without liquid nothing would help. Luckily I had an empty bottle so I took the only way out – I urinated in the bottle, waited while the urine cooled, and drank it down in successive gulps. The first time it was horrible but I was feeling more and more dehydrated and there was no choice. I used a psychological trick – I imagined I was in a crowded Scottish bar in good company where the beer flowed like a stream. I closed my eyes, raised my bottle and practically poured its contents straight down my throat. As I did not vomit the first time and there were no nasty consequences later, I did not hesitate to repeat the process, especially as I felt the positive results. In eight days I must have drank more than 15 litres of my own urine and this is what kept me alive.
I did attempt to solve the problem of water shortage in two other ways. Using large palm leaves and two polythene bags I was able to collect rainwater from passing downpours, night or day. Every time, however, I noticed I had also collected unwanted refuse – various plant and animal matter, including small bits that moved – that were washed by the rain from the high trees surrounding me. This simply caused diarrhoea and a further loss of fluids. I had to give this up.
In my fifth day in the jungle I discovered a very useful plant, a kind of palm with very long leaves they call traveller’s tree. It felt very damp so I decided to imitate what I had seen pandas do on television – I chewed the root, sucking out the juices and then spitting out the fibre. I must have chewed a hundred or more of those plants.
As it turned out, hunger was the least of my problems. I don’t even remember feeling hungry, whereas thirst was my constant companion. I tried eating the few biscuits I had with me but I found it very difficult eating something so dry when I was so thirsty. I didn’t find any useful fruits until the last day when I stumbled on a green and very hard lemon. Unfortunately this literally burned the inside of my mouth and tongue.
During my 8-day odyssey I lost 10 to 13 kilograms (I don’t know the exact figure as I was only weighed in the hospital later after drinking a great deal of water). After a few days in the hospital I quickly regained most of my 78 kilograms, largely by drinking a lot. It is interesting that 18 months before my adventure, I weighed 93 kilograms and was told by my doctor to lose weight. It took me six months to lose 15 kilograms. I think that I wouldn’t have survived being such a weight and I would have been incapable of enouhh strenuous movement. I promised myself (when you are already in your possible grave, you tend to make many promises about what you would do if ever you got out alive) that every year at this time I would follow Lojze’s example and make a weeklong fast, naturally drinking a lot of water and other drinks. Another one of my promises was to drink a glass of water at work instead of my morning coffee (water – the best drink in the world!).
WAITING FOR RESCUE
What should I do? Behind me was the 5-metre high rock from which I fell, before me a 20 metre drop and on both sides of the canyon 20 to 30 metre high walls that only allowed sunlight to penetrate my forced home for an hour after midday. I couldn’t climb back as I was worse off for my fall. I was forced to wait for rescue from the air. I had to rely on my wife. I knew she would make sure a rescue effort was put into operation immediately. The next day came, however, and nothing. At about two the following afternoon I finally spotted a helicopter (for the first and last time) but it was too far off. They had a lot of area to cover and to spot somebody in the jungle would not be easy even though I had strung out white washing and white polythene bags. When on Saturday and Sunday there was still no sign of searchers, I began to doubt if I’d ever be rescued. I had to start thinking about what I could do further to help myself. Firstly I decided I should make a fire – with dry wood. I even made a bow to use as a tool, but the wood turned out not to be dry enough. Then my eyes alighted on my favourite Kodak 290 digital camera. I knew it must contain a lens, which would help me light a fire. A little smoke would soon bring the rescuers overhead. A modern camera was not so easily taken apart without tools but I succeeded in extracting an undamaged lens. It was thick and looked promising but until the sun could penetrate my part of the jungle at between midday and one the following day, I could do nothing. At that time (this and the next day) there was no sun to light a fire.
At that time of year dusk fell at 6 pm and dawn broke at 6 am. In between were 12 hours of frightfully long night that for me, without long sleeves or long trousers, was also terribly cold. I had managed to make some kind of den from small leaves and twigs and in it I crouched and shivered the whole nightlong. When it rained I striped and tucked my shorts and tee shirt into my rucksack to keep dry. The half an hour or so of rain did nothing except to make me shiver all the more. As soon as the rain would stop, I quickly urinated in my bottle, gulped the life-saving liquid down and dressed in dry clothes. If I had had to wear wet clothes, I doubt if my organism would have survived the extra cold.
During the night I was not alone. When the first evening I made my den, I lifted a rotting tree trunk and exposed a nest that at first I thought was made by bees. It was mosquitoes. There were hundreds of them not more than two metres from where I lay. Luckily my wife had placed some insect repellent in my rucksack before I left. I used it to cover the area, my clothes and arms and legs, the last stinging me more than mosquitoes would as I was covered by about 500 scratches and open wounds. To my pleasant surprise, the mosquitoes did not attack me, perhaps because they had never tasted human blood.
Whilst I am still on the good news, I must tell of the wonderful night concert and secret singing that started in the evening and in various forms lasted the whole nightlong. Also timid monkeys chased each other and made sounds among the branches overhead and also threw things towards me.
IN MY OWN GRAVE
Of course whilst laying in my jungle home in the canyon, I often felt I was in my own grave. In case when they found me all they found was a corpse, I was determined I would leave behind a testament to prove I didn’t die immediately. Each day I scratched the number of days I’d spent there on a wall. I also used my trusty (now defunct) digital camera to record my den and condition along with my showing a number of fingers the equivalent to the number of days spent there. I could also record my voice on the camera and did so to report each day what I did, ending with a wonderful birdsong concert. The worse for me was that I was leaving my wife two children to bring up alone. I was moved to tears thinking of them. Although I had to break the camera, certain memory cards with more than 100 pictures and 10 voice recordings I put in my pocket together with what money I had. Unfortunately I lost them later falling again so they could no longer be found.
When on the fourth and fifth day I started seriously considering my own rescue I often glanced at the rock from which I had fallen. At least ten times I made myself ready to climb it but always gave up out of fear of falling again. Then I began thinking maybe it was foolish but worth a try rather than die there and never see my children again. I began logically piecing together the reason for my fall – the damp moss and lack of grip. And so I set to work – slowly, from the bottom, I started to peel away the moss and using some sharp stones began chiselling the rock for steps. About half way up the wall I realised I was standing well and my fears gradually subsided. I’d decided to take my trainers off so as to manage the climb easier and I flung them over the rock, just in case. I was glad I did, for sometime on the fifth day I finally climbed out of my canyon home, leaving all else I had behind (including my rucksack that had helped protect my feet all those long nights). I didn’t then know it but ahead of me lay three (even worse) days (and nights!).
FIRST ON A WALKABLE PATH
I knew there was no point in trying again to descend into the canyon so I had no choice but to head towards the summit again and look for another way down. The first part of the way was very difficult. I was already exhausted by my rock climbing. But there was no other way. On the sixth day I finally found a path that looked used (at first I thought by two people). This meant I no longer had to avoid every cactus and remove every obstacle ahead of me. As the tracks seemed fresh, I began thinking they had been made by my rescuers. I noticed they seemed to have similar habits to me as I kept coming across the chewed remains of the travellers’ tree. Although I was still climbing upward and clouds had begun to gather over the peak that made orientation difficult, my morale (and strength) was high as I was finally following the tracks of another human being. Things were going OK; I forgot about any possible problems and simply followed the tracks that were finally heading down towards the valley. Then it became more and more like a canyon again. To my horror I found myself looking down on my former grave. I saw my own rucksack and realised I’d followed my own footsteps that had led me back to where I was that first day.
THE SECOND FALL
In such a disappointed mood, it was difficult to think straight about what to do next. I said a short prayer, thought about my wife and children and regained slowly the will to try again. I was afraid I was already too exhausted to climb back out of the canyon so I decided to head down, avoiding the most dangerous looking places. I returned to the great wall by the side of my former home and continued parallel to the canyon through thick jungle. It was very steep. So steep, that if I was back in Slovenia, I would not have attempted such a descent. Here the jungle protected me by placing obstacles such as thorns, cacti and long grass to grip hold of in the way of any possible fall. Unfortunately the grass did not protect me from falling. After more than two hours of torturous progress and a hundred new scratches, I was about two hundred metres further parallel the canyon. Then it became still steeper and the plants growing from the rock were no longer any help at all. When I noticed this, it was already too late to do anything about it. I felt the grass I was gripping pulled out by the roots and began falling like a big pear from a tree. I started sliding very fast downwards and fell on my back to the ground. It hurt a lot. I jumped up immediately checking if my back is not broken. Thank God! Looking back I could see I’d fallen (and survived) some eight metres.
A JUMP THERE HAS NEVER BEEN
Now totally exhausted and very painful, I felt myself sinking into apathy. Lower down in the canyon I came across another steep drop that looked completely impassable. I had only one choice – to simply jump six metres down. Ahead of me was a sheer drop, that had once been carved out by a waterfall, with round rocks strewn about beneath. I decided to jump even though I was by this time barefooted. I knew that in the best case I would break a leg but I hoped to survive. I stood on the edge as if preparing myself to dive into a swimming pool. I decided to jump down to an area relatively clear of rocks so as to minimise my injuries. Perhaps this was suicide? To do this had never crossed my mind before. Nobody but God has the right to take a human life. What if there was another way out? Climbing as in my youth! Then I noticed what could be a solution. There was a large round rock trapped between two walls of the canyon, a metre and a half apart. It was smooth but I thought there was a chance to do what I’d only seen on television. I squeezed the fist of my right hand between the wall and the rock and hung on it. What a person can do if he has to! I moved my other hand and left leg to touch the other wall and, with the right leg, made a counter-pressure. When I freed my right hand I could slowly make my way down by pushing on my two feet against opposite walls at the same time. I said a quick prayer of thanks that I didn’t jump.
THE LAST NIGHT
When at 6 pm I prepared myself for sleep (shivering), I again anticipated a long night, made particularly uncomfortable by the fact I was no longer in my den but on an exposed rock. When would my suffering end? My skin burned and all my muscles ached. Then I was taken by surprise. It was a full moon that lighted up the whole canyon. Instead of a night of shivering, I decided to keep moving. I plucked up my courage and will when eventually I found the first signs of civilisation – a water collector. I used my hands to grip the larger rocks to ease my aching feet. Then I found safer ground again but had to stand up again to gather my strength. To keep my spirits up, I whispered Marjanca, my daughter’s name, I must see you again.
My night’s endeavours were successful. I found more parts of a water mains and knew I was near civilisation. The full moon enabled me to see the main obstacles on my way and avoid them. I could have twisted an ankle or broke a leg at any step. And so at 6 am (on the 8th of March) I reached level ground and heard the first sounds of civilisation – ships, cars, barking dogs and the crowing of cocks. At 7 am, after eight days of being alone, I reached the road of the first settlement, Barnes Ghaut. My strength left me and I sank to the grass. I shouted a few times “Help!” I heard a faltering step and before me appeared rough farmer’s boots. “Good man, water, water!”. I was in luck, 70 year-old farmer, George Smitten, had water with him. My Good Samaritan recognised me at once, “You are the one they are all looking for”, he said. I felt so fortunate at getting something to drink, I immediately took off my watch (my wife would not mind me giving up my birthday present for turning 50) and offered it to him. Smitten rushed off to the village to get Jack Junior with his jeep and I was soon on my way to Alexandra Hospital. In the hospital they showed me a poster that had been distributed and hung all over the island with my picture on it, offering 10,000 Caribbean dollars (about 3,500 American) from my wife and Slovenian rescuers for any information leading to my rescue. This reward was paid in full the day I left the hospital and the event was shown on local television.
Straight away I saw the entire population of Nevis knew of my disappearance and had been deeply concerned. The media reported on it in detail and accurately. Although up there in the jungle I had doubted a proper search was being undertaken, glimpsing a helicopter just once, a comprehensive search was got underway straight away and all the time. The jungle was full of soldiers, students, hotel staff and numerous other volunteers who called out to me and used tracker dogs. It’s true Nevis is ill equipped for such a search and rescue attempt. Even the helicopter had to fly from the neighbouring island of Antigua. When after some days local effort had not found me, friends and colleagues at IUS SOFTWARE company attempted to gain international help. In this Slovenian diplomats quickly and very efficiently leapt into action.
In Nevis they were soon surprised to hear that the government of the USA was willing to help with a special plane equipped for searching for people in the jungle. At the same time as I came to the settlement, the plane took off from New York. With my safe return, the pilot happily flew back, unneeded.
The only hospital on Nevis is relatively poorly equipped but has fantastic staff. I had to rest a while there and be cared for so as my internal organs could gather strength, especially my kidneys. They did all they could for me and made my stay with them as comfortable as possible. The first day was for the media. They also came from neighbouring islands and the next day I read of the events in the newspaper that reported very accurately. My story was also the focus for attention on the local television. I got the best room and more than a hundred well-wishers came to visit me over the following days, from children to officials and the prime minister of Nevis. Most touching was an evening visit by five old ladies singing black spiritual songs. They were so unassuming as to start their singing outside so I asked a nurse to fetch them into the room. They came in and their songs moved me to tears. I found out that these good, friendly and religious people had taken my rescue as a kind of miracle, and it was now necessary to give special thanks to God.
To survive my ordeal there were two areas – physiological and psychological. Luckily my internal organs, especially the kidneys and liver, held out and my energy was distributed evenly. It was hard to believe I didn’t get a fever with all those nights of suffering and damp.
Still more important was internal energy and will to survive. For me praying helped a lot. From the first evening I went missing, I could feel my wife and children praying for me and later also my mother at the other end of the world. This praying (broadcasting positive energy) was soon joined by thousands of other people, especially in Slovenia and on Nevis. I prayed constantly, at least twice an hour, once for help, a second time in thanks. In those first days I had time to weigh up my 50 years and also to come to accept the possibility of my own death – if such was God’s will. I also made certain personal vows that I will keep. I am convinced that to have faith is an advantage in surviving extreme conditions.
"fear nothing, for I am with you;
be not afraid for I am your God.
I strengthen you, I help you,
I support you with my victorious right hand .
For I, The Lord your God,
take you by the right hand;
I say to you, Do not fear;
it is I who help you, ...."
ISAIAH 41:10, 13
I thank to the numerous employees and volunteers who were looking for me, specially to the Disaster Preparedness co-ordinator Mr. Llewellyn F. A. Newton, soldiers from St.Kitts, policemen from Nevis, Canadian ship crew, pilot Steve Gray and his crew of the Caribbean Helicopters, Antigua, all of the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club staff with Cathie & Don Johnson for the true involvement, care and help to my family, specially to the chief of security Mr. Nolan, assistant director Mr. Leon and Mr. Steve, head of the anti-drugs service Mr. Austin with his team, the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican priests for their prayers, services and consolation, to dr. Singh and the wonderful staff of the Alexandra Hospital in Charlestown, to Judy Sonnenberg and Nikka von Liemandt (with her family) for helping my wife and the kids.
The book looks like this:
The book includes:
1. more details about my 8 days events and feelings
2. description of the rescue activities
3. events and feelings of my wife and children during the 8 days
You can buy the book from here:
My pictures of Nevis, taken one year ago (hear the Nevisian music!).
Pictures from the Finance article:
©Anton Tomažič 2008 - You are free to publish the above article as a whole or in parts in any electronic or paper publication as long as you add the link (URL) to this web page.
Copyright © 2003 Anton Tomazic