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Chapter 4-The hike to hell and back
Ecuador-2008

Out in the kayakOut in the kayak (Brad Ebert)
so getting back to the hotel very late on Wednesday evening, starved i broke down and went to the burger king next to the hotel, I am sorry but i was hungry it was raining, it was close (bad thing I would visit there two more times before the end of the trip, what can i say, weakness for burgers and fries american style, ie no corn anywhere to be seen or trout), so thursday morning started off wrong (ecuadorian communication is not all that great), no one knew what time we were getting started so we guessed at 9am, we were wrong, it was 8am. So here i am in the shower and the phone rings three times, so i get out and they say the guide is here, oh damn, dry off, throw shit together and out the door, hate being late. so sarah and i are down stairs and the guides load up the gear and off we go to pick up the others at nice colonial hotel. this group is not even close to being ready, so we hang around for about an hour (yeah till about 9), i chat alot with javier, the guide for the next four days or so, he is a young guy but very knowledgeable of the local area and all around cool guy. so finally, the bus is loaded (thank god, not el diablo from the night before, i think tobin would have revolted or just outright killed someone) and it is off to the north of quito and east into the highlands called the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve. The ride up into the mountains was very slow (no diablo today, as a matter of fact a few times we had to get out and walk so the van could make it up the hill, yeah no kidding), but after a few bathroom breaks and a few hours we finally reached the top of the mountains at nearly 12000 feet. the terrain up there is very sparse, mostly consisting of natural panama grass fields (grass that grows in clumps and very spiky, think don king hair style) and marsh like areas with little plants and flowers and mosses that we would spend the next three days learning to hate. The locals were mostly small farms up here growing their own vegetables' (mostly corn, onions, leeks, cabbage, basic food stuff), maybe a cow or two, some sheep, chickens and a pig or two. Basically everything you needed to live on up here and most live in adobe based thatched roofs homes (huts). so, our first hike in the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve was just a test to see how we did at high elevation and determine if we wanted to do the easy hike the next two days or the hard hike, we opted for the hard hike. The first hike was an introduction to the swamp/meadows that we would be hiking in quite frequently. We got our rubber boots with tread but no support that were nearly knee high to keep the mud out. The only real issue here, was tobin is size 13 shoe and they only had size 12 boots, dude was very unhappy and in lots of pain the next three days. So we started the hike with javier pointing out all the unusal plants at the place, all on a very small scale, most things were only inches above the ground, with the tallest plants maybe 10 feet or so but no trees at this altitude. (or very few). so for the next three hours we walked and strolled, took lots of pictures and finally dropped down from the meadow into shangria-la, a beautiful green valley surrounded buy high peaks and home to about 200 native indians (or dwellers). The town is called Oyacachi, and this town is very remote and well off the tourist beat. There are maybe 80 or so dwellings here, some old thatched roof style, but most are either wood or cinder block construction. There is a market or two and a couple of artisan shops (but none were ever open, just looked inside, very basic, bowls, spoons, carvings, that seemed about it) and a broken down resort. and the resort is were we are camping this night. a few years back, someone tried to put in a resort that was centered around a natural hot spring, so they built pools, tubs, showers all out of stone, put in a bunch of nice buildings, a gym (yeah go figure) and it was just in a nice setting overlooking the town across the river. well after a few years, the resort was turned over to the community to manage and they didnt, so most of the infrastructure is being ignored and only the pools and the showers are kept up. it is quite possible this is the only source of hot water in the valley, so it is very popular in the early morning and afternoon. so camp was set up and the rain came in. it rained most of the night, so dinner was spent under the community dining tent. Meals were very interesting and very local, the funniest thing that happened was during the frist lunch we had sandwiches, but Christie asked about cheese and if there was any and patricio (our cook said there was so we waited for chees), well it turns out there was no cheese and one of the locals went and got really fresh cheese, a white local cow cheese that was just amazing and every meal for the next two days included this cheese and there ws never any left. then an early to bed were it was warm and dry. along with the rain it was also about 45 degrees or so, very chilly but nothing like the next night at near 13000 feet and camping on an exposed ridge high up in the mountains.

so the next morning arrived, the day was gloomy but dry and we started with a traditional breakfast in the mountains (eggs, potatos, corn, cheese (of course), fruit, coffee (and finally good coffee, not instant). so after breakfast the local porters broke down camp. this is very odd, never being camping with porters so, after breakfast we just waited for them to pack up so we could leave and we loaded up the vehicles to proceed to the start of the trail. This is when i realized there were more porters than hikers or maybe the same number, but they were to carry all the kitchen stuff, food, tents, sleeping bags, pads, tables, chairs, everything but our personnel gear which meant that each person carried about a 12 pound pack or less (not sure what the porters were carrying, maybe 35 to 40 lbs.) so we drove for a couple of hours, getting higher and higher and at times getting out of the van so the van could make it up some steep hill, but finally we made it to a large resevoir, where we would leave the world behind for two days. so it was cold here, maybe 45 degrees, so clothes were piled on, it was lightly raining so rain gear was also put on and off seven hikers and many porters went. most of this day was spent going up in altitude, there really wasn't a trail, we just bushwacked for about 5 hours, sometimes on solid ground but mostly on soft squishy stuff we referred to as pillows (kind of like walking on sand, step sink, step sink). Views were limited today based on low clouds and rain, so we just sort of trudged along, one hill climb lasted for about 2 or 3 hours and at 13000 feet that was slow and painful, but we all endured. We passed large open valleys, some with small lakes or lagoons, many with rivers, but a very consistent terrain and we just push through thigh high grasses and made are own trail. this was very slow hiking, maybe 8 kilometers in 5 hours, but finally the guide said we had enough and the porters started looking for a good campsite. There were none to be found anywhere within miles, but they found a flat grassy area and with machettes in hand made a decent camp site by cutting down the panama grass and filling in the holes. By the end of the camp set up, the heavy rains had begun so we all hid in the dining tent and tried to stay warm, temp near freezing at this point and no heat just a large enclosed tent, eight bodies and three candles. Dinner followed a few hours later of trout, corn, cheese, fruit and tea, dinners were becoming very familar since the porters had to carry it all, variety was not an option. then after dinner, dive into bed and try to stay warm when the night time temperatures dipped below freezing (and they call this the tropics, yeah right)

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