The high Andes is definitely the place to go for an epic hike through pristine wilderness where Mother Nature will give you everything she’s got.
After visiting the equator and learning fascinating astronomical, cultural, archeological and geographic information about the Earth’s waistline – and eating some chicken soup at a remote roadside truck stop – we headed up into the surrounding mountains to begin our hike.
Our destination was the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve near Papallacta. The picturesque hike was 7 to 8 miles long and took us up over the elevation of 14,300 feet – our highest altitude yet. There are several things I’ll remember most about this hike…
At the highest elevation we were walking across a ridgeline where the wind was easily blowing 60 mph. Glenn looked like a stumbling drunk as he tried to walk down the slippery trail in the strong wind. I kept giggling at him…which allowed the wind to blast into my mouth and whip out my nose cutting off my oxygen supply…which made me giggle all the more.
Mud, mud, everywhere mud. Miles and miles of the stuff. Our guide hikes in bright yellow rubber boots…which I thought was quirky and a bit quaint. Until this hike. Now I understand his brilliance! While Glenn and I tried desperately to pick a path where we wouldn’t leave behind a shoe in shin-deep mud, Jorgen just sauntered along in his boots at an relaxed pace, not a care in the world.
We were hiking in the clouds and fog most of the time, making for a misty scene that reminded us of some of our hikes in Ireland. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds would lift and unveil the most amazing landscape that was previously obscured. Most often the view included a picturesque high mountain lake. Then, almost as quickly as it appeared, it would disappear into the clouds again.
I think the altitude was making me a little goofy because I must have yelled “geezo peezo” about 40 times on the hike in response to the scenery that was appearing around every corner. Geezo peezo…I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that before in my life.
Five or six hours later (I lost track) we finally emerged out the other side of the park, covered in mud with huge smiles on our faces.
We drove a few miles down the road to our hotel where there were magnificent geothermal pools right outside our bedroom door. A great way to relax after a rigorous hike.
Postscript (don’t read this part Mom!)
Another vivid memory I will always carry with me was the rainy drive out the following morning. This area of the Andes had been getting a considerable amount of rain in the past few weeks. Landslides have been the result, including some slides that killed 6 people driving on the road last week. We must have driven through or by no less than 30+ major landslides and countless smaller ones. Across the valley there were places where it looked like the whole mountainside had just washed away. There were several places where the road pavement was buckling as the soil below was beginning to slump. We drove past one family that stood outside examining a boulder the size of a dump-truck that had landed on half of their house.
I had visions that at any moment we would be hit by a wall of mud from above or the road beneath us would give way. Either scenario would have resulted in our van careening over the steep edge down into the river far, far below. Although my heart was in my throat the whole way, it appeared that for most of the locals this was a regular occurrence during the rainy season and nothing to get overly excited about. You just bring out the bulldozers and clear the road as best you can before moving on to clean up the next slide. Life goes on.