Right. This is turning into a bit of a marathon, but I'm determined to capture these memories whilst they are relatively fresh in my head. This is going to be another post that's relatively photo free, I'm afraid....
Ready? Here we go....
Ecuador Trip - Part two.
[Part one - Part two - Part three - Part four - Part five - Part six - Part seven - Part eight]
In which our heroes start their trek in the mountains with an enormous breakfast and have a very happy birthday....
Tuesday 6th March
The day starts with another quick dip in the thermal pools, stepping past the llama who is standing outside the door to our room, calmly munching on the flowerbed as though this was the most normal thing in the world. I think perhaps it is the most normal thing in the world around these parts. This time I have to be a bit careful not to stay in for too long as it will take me about two hours to cool down, and I think my body is going to be hot enough walking up the side of a mountain already, thanks very much. Ivan tells me that this is going to be a 4000 calorie day as we will be walking something in the region of 25km up and down various small peaks whilst carrying a daypack containing something like 4 litres of water and my waterproofs. Under these circumstances, the only real option to take is to order something called the “Chachimbiro Breakfast”. It duly arrives and I can only look at it and goggle: my breakfast consists of a whacking great big piece of steak covered in some spicy chilli sauce, a mountain of rice, and a huge stack of chips. I’m a touch daunted, but bravely soldier my way through it, only pausing to enjoy the enormous double-take that the three “rebirth” gringas from last night all give my plate as they walk past on their way to their croissants (or mung beans, or whatever).
After that, I spend the next few hours fairly zooming up all of the hills that are put in front of me. The day’s walking sees us go from 2600m up to our first camp at 4100m. For the first half of the day we are mainly walking through farmland, but soon enough we rendevous with our arrieros (the guys who are leading the horses carrying the majority of our luggage, the tents and all of the food) for lunch. After a delicious and wholesome meal of soup, followed by meat and rice, followed by some fruit (well, it has been 4 hours since my breakfast), we set off again. We quickly leave the farmland behind and start walking through Páramo. We are now in the Cotacachi Biological Reserve, but we continue to see cows grazing here on every day of the walk because the hacienda owners are pretty much left to their own devices. These guys care so little about the preservation of a scarce habitat that they will regularly start fires so stimulate the growth of grass to feed their cattle – grass that grows at the expense of some of the other plants that are crucial for the maintenance of the ecosystem.
As we continue to climb, the skies clear so that we are afforded absolutely magnificent views of the main peaks in the region: Cotachi, Imbabarra and snow-capped Cayambe. It’s simply a stunning sight, only slightly marred by the fact that Ivan is earworming “Give Peace a Chance” and apparently only knows the one line of the song.
We reach the camp just as the sun is going down. The arrierros are able to move a lot faster than us, so they have long since arrived and have put up all of the tents. We are quickly instructed by Ivan to change into our warmest clothes before we do anything else. I’m still pretty hot from the long walk, so this seems like a slightly odd request, but as soon as the sun drops the temperature at this altitude just drops like a stone. In spite of the fact that I am wearing a full set of thermals, a hat, a fleece, gloves and a big down jacket, I am soon shivering. We have another big dinner, but by 9pm, all I can think about is my bed. I pause on the way back to my tent to look up at the incredibly clear sky and ponder the lightshow going on above me. I watch a few shooting stars fall over the summit of Mount Yanaurcu – tomorrow’s peak that towers over the campsite – and then head off to bed.
Wednesday 7th March
It’s my birthday today and we celebrate by climbing up to the summit of Mt. Yanaurcu de Pinyan. At 4535m, it’s a new altitude record. The clouds have drawn in by the time we reach the top, so we don’t get the magnificent view we might have had, but it barely matters. The sense of achievement and exhilaration is reward enough. We’ve hiked up a pretty big peak here and we’ve done so in our walking boots… no specialist equipment required around here. As if the day couldn’t get any better, we see our first condor as we hike back down towards our lunch. It’s the national symbol of Ecuador, but they’re now quite rare. It’s only a young one, but it’s still a pretty damn big bird.
By the time we get back to about 4000m and our lunch, C. is feeling a little the worse for wear and is pretty much unable to eat anything. It’s altitude sickness – apparently the quick descent from altitude can hit you harder than the much slower ascent. She perks up as we walk down to the next campsite at about 3600m, but the standard has been set: now every time we climb above 4000m C. will start to feel the effects of the altitude. Me? I’m fine. Must be all this food I’m eating. Tonight, in spite of the fact that we are in tents and Manuel is cooking our food on a gas stove, I am treated to a plate of the most delicious French fries I have ever eaten as a birthday treat. As if that wasn’t enough, Ivan also pulls a bottle of red wine out of his bag (he’s a teetotal vegetarian and C hardly drinks, so it’s all mine! Mine!). There was more to come: when we had finished our main courses, Ivan, Manuel and all three of the arrieros shuffle into the dining tent with a cake, candles and sing me “Happy Birthday” in Spanish. It’s a wonderful moment, made perfect when they ceremonially present me with an Ecuador football shirt as a present. Cake all round. Mindful of the altitude and because it feels appropriate, we also share the wine with the arrieros.
Who could ask for anything more than that? A brilliant day.
to be continued..... (even if it takes me bloody forever - which it might)