They arrive just before noon. My team and I are first in line at the Exchange. We are by far the most accomplished guides to be found anywhere within the rift.
They are earnest and affable but know nothing of our language. This slows things. Their leader (Tom?) is a small man with whiskers so unruly they obscure half his face. He smiles and points a great deal, but makes little sense.
After gesticulating feverishly for over an hour, he finally succeeds in communicating his requirements. We shake hands, sign contracts then retire to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead.
Despite leading many expeditions over the years, I have never come close to understanding my charges. A good example: they insist upon camping, yet there is a perfectly good hotel minutes away.
I watch them now from the balcony.
They have set up camp on the edge of the plain and are checking through their equipment. My team is already enjoying a drink. I will join them soon. We will toast their hospitality!
They are eager today. They wake us at dawn. We are less so, having consumed the contents of at least three minibars the previous evening. They voice concerns, but needn’t: their enthusiasm is the only primer our professionalism requires. And so, after a short snooze, a long shower and a splendid buffet breakfast, we are ready to lead them out to the Spheres.
Enough rain has fallen over night to destabilize the ground. Having paid substantial deposits for their hire and because my uncle’s tow truck is currently in the garage, we cannot risk grounding the jeeps out on the plain. Today we must journey on foot.
Our charges are not happy. It will mean them carrying heavy packs many miles in rising temperatures. However, after I explain the jeep’s tires may destroy something of vital historical significance, they accept our decision.
Unfortunately, it will also be impossible for us to carry anything. In order to navigate to the Spheres, it is essential we are spiritually and physically unencumbered. Although they say nothing, I know our charges understand that, as sole custodians of this archaic and abstruse knowledge, our burden is just as heavy. As they load themselves down, we fall silent and turn our faces upwards. It seems somehow appropriate.
Progress is slow, but eventually we reach the outer-lying Sphere. They set to work at once. (Tom?) digs holes at intervals surrounding the site, whilst (Elizabeth?) attaches sensors to each of the Spheres and (Sebastian? James?) sweep the ground with detectors.
I have observed these rituals many times and find them strangely hypnotic.
Although contracted to dig, they never ask so we never offer. Perhaps they do not trust us. They know best! Sometimes I wonder what my great, great grandmother would have made of it all. She was a particularly sagacious woman who understood the ‘smallest room’ need not be the most oppressive. The Spheres were her gift to us all.
We settle ourselves in the shade and play go fish and gin rummy until the light begins to fade.
By the time we return to base, they are exhausted and happy and ready to sleep. We too are tired, but are more accustomed to the vicissitudes of the trek. We will have a few drinks before we sleep tonight.
Again they wake us at dawn. Opening my eyes, I see (Tom’s?) face scowling inches from mine. I find the experience disturbing and certainly not the most expedient panacea for a sore head. Fortunately, I persuade him to leave moments before room service arrives and we enjoy our breakfast in peace. After draining the last of the freshly squeezed juice, we finally feel ready to lead them out to the Spheres.
Today the humidity is so stifling, we have no choice but to take the jeeps. When we inform our charges of this, they become agitated. It seems they are concerned their tires may destroy something of vital historical significance. I immediately send for my father, who, I assure them, possesses intimate knowledge of all the ceremonial pathways. He will lead us safely through.
When my father arrives, he is wearing the ineffable expression of someone disturbed during breakfast. I wonder if I have made an terrible misjudgement.
My anxieties are unwarranted: I give the signal and he immediately jumps from his jeep and, using two car aerials he’s appropriated on the way over, begins to attack the air as if it is thrumming with indignant hornets.
Following his directions, our caravan moves slowly forward. We reach the outskirts of the site just as the sun centers itself above our heads
Although too hot for football or cricket, the conditions are perfect for quoits and luckily for us, my father–an eternally resourceful man–has brought the entire kit! We set up and divide into teams.
We become so absorbed in our game, we completely lose track of time. Before I know it, the sky is crimson and our charges have vanished. Thankfully, after a quick search, we find them sleeping soundly, piled in a disorderly heap beneath a noxious bush.
We return to base and despite my team being ravenous and thirsty, I have decided to place a cap on our spending this evening. We will eat modestly and enjoy a couple of drinks just to aid our sleep.
I awake face down on the bathroom floor; my hand still clutching an empty Champagne bottle. When (Tom?) arrives, he is in something of a red fit. As he talks, his whiskers scurry about his face like a small animal trying yet failing to elude his appetite.
After painfully strident colloquy, I gather that due to the size of our hotel bill, the expedition will have to be curtailed. I am sad, but not drastically so. I do however feel slightly guilty, responsible even and rather concerned there might be talk of compensation.
I resolve to make their last day a special one!
(Tom?) follows us down to the restaurant and offers to pay personally for breakfast. As he hands over his credit card he becomes tearful. I understand this, the last day is always an rife with emotion. Weeping, he leaves us to enjoy our Japanese Wagyu rib eye steak with quail’s eggs and wild truffle jus. After finishing up our coffee, we at last feel ready to lead them out to the Spheres for the final time.
It is late in the season and the dunes are beginning to shift. We take our time, making our way carefully along ceremonial pathways.
As we near the Spheres, I explain my plan to the team, who, despite feeling in no mood to listen, eventually see the sense in giving our charges a memorable send off. I give them instructions and we ready ourselves.
Our satellite system shows a low front approaching from the west. We line up and begin marching backwards around the circumference of the site, coordinating our speed with the darkening sky.
The wind strengthens, whipping and surging like both Matador and bull. In the distance, a huge, bruised fist of cloud approaches, punching its way through summits. We start chanting and by the time the storm hits, we are practically screaming and sprinting backwards.
This is not easy.
When the storm reaches its climax, I give the signal and we drop to the ground, twitching and moaning and pummeling the mud until it passes at preternatural speed and the sky clears to a perfect blue.
Despite themselves, our charges are utterly bewitched and as (Tom?) bounces on the spot, he assures me that, once funding is secured, he will return to film the Ceremony of the Rains.
Driving them to the airport, I am relieved to see happy faces smiling at me in the rear-view mirror. As is always the case, I have come to consider my charges as friends and despite our many disagreements, I will miss (Tom?).
In one month, others will arrive. We will again be first in line at the Exchange. We are by far the most accomplished guides to be found anywhere within the rift.
GJ Hart currently lives and works in Brixton, London and has had pieces published in The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review, 99 Pine Street, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review and others. He can be found arguing with myself over @gj_hart.
Image by Allegra Ricci