Vision Quest in the forest – 3 days without food. A christmas story.by Jakob Horvat, December 24th 2016, Las Palmas / Gran Canaria
I have never felt real hunger. Even after three days without food I can state: I have not even come close to what it must feel like. Christmas reminds me of all the beauty I have in my life. It makes me feel grateful and humble. This year is a special one for me, indeed. I am not celebrating Christmas with my loved ones at home. Instead, I am on an island far away about to spice it all up with three days alone in the forest. No food, just water. I´m able to call this a „vision quest“. Many people call that „life“.
It’s getting dark. Wet leaves rustle under my feet as I wander through the mountainous forest of northern Tenerife. I carry my backpack full of clothes, a sleeping bag, two mattresses and two six liter water bottles in my hands. Four liters for each day. I search for a place that provides both a shelter and space for my sleeping bag. Most of the trees that surround me are dead, dried out from the inside. I can break them with little effort. Soon I have built up a provisional shack made of branches and thin tree trunks. I stepped back, looked at it as if it was my first house I’ve built and was proud. With my rain jacket on top I felt as I’ve took enough precaution for possible rain. I should be proven wrong.
Trying to fall asleep alone in this dark forest feels scary
There are strange noises all around that I’m not able to identify. Usually when I wander through the forest, animals are scared and flee. But when I am lying here, not moving, not making any noises, they are all around. I have soon made a silent agreement of mutual interest with a huge spider on a tree next to my shelter to stick to each our areas. As far as I noticed, she kept her part of the deal.
As I woke up, the dark shape of the trees slowly began standing out in the breaking dawn. How long a night can be when one wakes up every hour trying to fall asleep again and again. A hard ground, rugged and uneven, does not really make for a comfortable place to sleep. And how long a day can feel when there is nothing to do. I meditated, but the wet and muddy ground offered not much of a cosy venue to relax into the moment and focus on my breath. I got bored. I am not used to spend so much time with myself without any distractions. The rules of the vision quest prohibit to bring any stuff such as books, music, computers or diaries. The idea is to spend 72 hours completely by yourself. With your self. Ancient tribes on the Canary Islands called „Guanches“ as well as Native Americans and others have cultivated this ritual for their transition from adolescence into adulthood. Deep insights, strong visions and life-changing experiences were reported by those who underwent it. That made me curious enough to give it a try.
We chose the highlands of northern Tenerife for our “Vision Quest”. I think there are more comfortable places to do it.
On the evening of the first day, after 24 hours without food, my stomach growled for the first time. I have improved my shelter but when the rain in the second night became heavier I knew that this was nothing more than a nice try. Lying in my ridiculous shack in the middle of the night and wrapped into my sleeping bag, I felt raindrops persistently dropping on me. I looked into the small candle that was still burning and thought: „Fuck!“
I spent a fair amount of time speculating on how I could improve my situation here. It just seemed that there were no options. I had to think of a quote that I actually like: „Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain.“ What a bullshit! With water dropping constantly on my sleeping bag and my face I didn’t feel like dancing at all. I felt like packing my stuff and cancelling everything. Slippery ground, dark forest and heavy rain stopped me from this idea pretty soon. Also I didn’t like the thought of confessing that I had to give up. As a matter of fact, nobody will come to help me, nor will my complaints about the rain make it stop. Note to myself: „Stop whining and make the best out of it! You are actually the only one who can change your situation.“ As always in life, by the way. For the moment it felt more comfortable to sit it out. At least I was not cold. Not yet! This I knew would change quickly once the sleeping bag would be drenched.
I felt a bit like Rambo and proud of what I have built. But when the rain started my first shelter turned out to be nothing but a nice try.
New day, new chance
December, 21st. Day two. The rain stopped, I had hope. I found a big rock close by that provided a natural shelter and pimped it by leaning long branches onto it. This time inclined, not horizontal. That makes the water drain away, not trickle through. Lesson learned. Once I have mastered the survival task I could start spending more energy on what this vision quest is supposed to be. Well, more or less. Sometimes I was singing, Frank Sinatra and stuff. I’m glad nobody could hear me. I was meditating more, mostly in my sleeping bag. With no sunshine in the deep forest that was the warmest place I’ve got. I became hungry. The air was filled with the smell of wet mud. With the right breeze, the aroma of my shoes became dominant. They were wet too. I will spare you the details here. A fly and a bumblebee are my companions. And a lot of other insects, indeed. I was thinking a lot, soon about Christmas and my loved ones at home.
What does Christmas mean to me?
It means quality time with my family, some quiet days to think about what matters in my life. It means delicious food in the homely and intimate living room next to the fireplace in my parents’ house. And of course: exchanging nice gifts. This year I will have none of that. After this challenge we will celebrate holy night at José’s, a guy we’ve met in a car while hitchhiking from Spain to Lisbon. This year, Christmas will be a different experience from what I used to know. But the point here is: I’m spending Christmas away from home and hence from my family because I’ve chosen to. How many people out there are not having this choice, I wonder?
Soon other questions come to my mind
When a shelter gets too wet, I change to another one. In the worst case, when the rain becomes to heavy, I would just save my wet ass into the warm and cosy hostel nearby. There is always an exit scenario. But what if there ain’t one? How many people in this world know the answer, and know it too well?
I got a feeling for how long a day can feel when I have nothing to do. How needless must one feel who calls this his everyday life? I comprehended how long a night can become when my sleeping ground is too uncomfortable to find proper rest. Only two nights have passed and I’m already looking forward to a cushy bed. How hopeless must one feel who does not have this perspective of change at all?
How many people out there are forced to spend Christmas separated from their families? How many of them live in pure poverty with nothing more than the most important to survive? For how many of them is even a dry shelter and clean water out of the question? They might have been bombed out of their homes or they have just not been lucky enough to be born in a wealthier part of the world. They might have already left their shelters to find better ones or they have not yet found the strength and resources to do so. No need to look far, let’s check in front of our doors. What about those who are living amongst us? What about homeless people on the streets? Or those who might even have something they call home, but can’t afford much more than a roof over their heads?
If only one message reaches through this article, I’d be happy if it’s this one:
Let’s at least spend some thoughts on how we could turn things around. Let’s not give up! Let’s think about what we can contribute to make this world a better place. Every single one of us. Which certain skills, which unique ideas, which special interests of ours can make a difference? Which steps can we take? What can we plant as seeds into the fertile ground and what can we do to make it grow? Any concept matters. Never let small minds convince us that our dreams are too big. Let’s face the problems we have in this world and support those who are suffering from it. Let’s at least try to understand their issues before we judge them. We have never walked in their shoes, have we?
Three days without food have been an interesting experience after all. In the beginning of the third day the hunger faded away. That was probably when my body started to eat my muscles. I felt weak. And when I heard another strange noise from an animal close to me, I realized it was the growl of my stomach. Would I do it again? Yes, I think so. With better preparation and better research on the weather forecast. Have I found the great visions I was searching for? Hard to tell. I had some cool insights, though. One of them: Me and my self can be together in pure silence for three days without killing each other. Which is a relief, as I was not a hundred percent sure about that.