Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?

21/05/2006

MY FEETS ARE TIRED.

As can be reasonably expected, things have been busy down on the Equator for the Mountain Jedi.  I've been working even more with that intrepid local Fernando and he has been making sure I never get a full night of restful sleep or a day without muscle aches, and I thank him (sort of) for it!  He'd make a great personal trainer I think.
 
Three days ago, two of the other volunteers in my omnibus came for a visit.  One lives only a couple of hours away and the other has yet to even visit her very remote site due to weird quasi-inexplicable residency requirements and so has been puttering around the country spending her time visiting with other volunteers.  Sweet.  So the three of us spend the evening (after summiting the little Cross-topped hill above the city to watch the sunset, enjoying the license to drink that is automatically afforded to people when they're normally alone and all of a sudden find themselves in the company of others.  I finally turned on my blender and we tried to mix pineapple, mandarin oranges, ice, and rum together.  Tasty but not pretty and we were tired from just whatever it is in the air in Latina America that makes people tired all the time, unless they're dancing, in which case they can dance nonstop forever.  Instead of staying up late laughing and drinking, we crashed pretty early and got up at five the next morning so we could catch the Chiva truck-of-doom thingy as it screamed down the mountainside so we could meet up with Fernando who had an exciting day of leading us through varying consistencies of cow patties to look forward to.  Oh, and there were three really incredible waterfalls that he had on the tour agenda as well.  This time instead of climbing and climbing and climbing to get to them, we descended descended descended from the road down into the valley.  (An uphill return trip is never high on my list of things I like, but for this place I will make an exception.  It was incredible.)  I will try to describe what we encountered when we reached the site of the "attraction:" 
Carved from the emerald slopes of pasture and scattered native cloud forest is a sort of vertical chute of densely vegetated mountain dripping with epiphytes and moss and vines of every imaginable shade of green.  Through this chute perpetually crashes a white dragon made of water.  It's head is at the bottom, and it is BIIIIG.  Not as tall as the other waterfall I'd gone to (by the way I found out that that waterfall is apparently haunted...wtf) but four times wider and much more impressive looking, plus the laguna at the bottom is muchlarger and better suited for swimming and picnicking.  After marvelling for a moment at this writhing, foaming, elemental creature we dipped back into the nearly liquid forest and headed upwards around to the right side of the wall of water to eventually, with the help of a short length of rope that Fernando had ganked from some kid milking a cow farther up the trail, arrive at the precipice of the lower fall and bear witness to the dragon's middle.  These falls ALSO have a fantastic, albeit quite chilly, laguna to smash into, but is a good deal smaller than its downstream amiga.  What they do have going for them is a uniqueness of design, in the form of a mouth that has carved itself a hole through which to pour.  The water literally found a way to cut itself an arch in the rock and now spills down and through a hole in the stone like some natural water slide.  It reminds me of that part in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when the water shoots out of that runaway mine cart hole in the cliff.  Seeing as there are a lot of mines around here and therefore a lot of mine carts (every day I pass people fitting new wheels to old busted mine carts) it wasn't a difficult jump in imagination to make.  Anyways, we weren't done yet.  We then removed our boots, donned sandals, and crossed over the laguna to once again ascend the stones and trees and moss and whatever else there is there, all under the four watchful eyes of two magnificent red and green parrots whose name escapes me at the moment.  To reach the highest and skinniest of the falls (the tail of the water dragon I guess it would be), the "path" if it can be called that gets really really steep and/or nonexistent.  I won't go into all of the frightening details but I will mention this one part where we actually had to hold onto two vines only about as big around as our thumbs and sort of swing ourselves across a gap in the path where whatever treacherous footing had once existed had long since disappeared in a landslide or something.  We were hanging by vines above nothing.  It was fucked up.  But we made it to the top and ogled the pretty water for a few minutes before gathering the courage to face the downhill part of the journey back to a good swimming hole.  Long story short, it was a great day.  We ate Nutella sandwiches and saw some cool parrots, hung out sunning ourselves on the edge of a 250 foot waterfall below another one that shot straight out of a hole in the rock, and made it back to the city by the end of the day to laugh about trusting our lives to a couple of little vines out in the cloud forest.
 
Yesterday due to a rather Fortunate mixup involving the forgetting of a camera and the crappiness of the weather (early on) and the logistics of getting to my destination, I didn't make it up to Cerro de Arcos with Fernando as planned.  Instead, the girls and I went to the market to buy fruits and veggies, then hit up a nicely kept swimming pool I know of in the area for several hours of swimming, listening to music, catching some sun, and the consuming of what passes for beer here.  To top off a really nice day we went to eat at a restaurant I hadn't tried before.  I had a big roast chicken breast, a nice salad, a plate of well-made french fries, a bottle of Sprite, and a two scoop ice cream cone for three bucks.  They threw in a touristy postcard for free, because the three of us looked like tourists.  Coooool.  I'll definitely be back there to try the fried shrimp platter.  That smelled unbelievable!
 
TODAY, the girls were gone before the sun was up and I had a Chiva to catch at 6am AGAIN.  This time it was a solid two hour ride down intot he valley and then up the other side int he same direction as that Chivaturco mountain I climbed the other day, but this time we kept on the road as it climbed higher and higher and higher into the Andes to bring us to Cerro de Arcos (Hill/Mountain of Arches) at more than 11 thousand feet.  I'm going to be honest.  The hike up there from where the Chiva dropped us off kicked my ass.  My home is at four thousand feet, which is definitely high enough to give some great views as well as keep things very pleasant temperature-wise, for which I am extremely grateful.  What that altitude does NOT do is give me any kind of special acclimatization superpowers.  It's simply not high enough to change my physiology in any kind of substantial way.  What that means is that even though I live among some pretty fantastic mountain landscapes, my body might as well still be in New Orleans below sea level.  I don't get a get out of altitude sickness free card.  I don't get to pass go. I don't get to collect two hundred dollars.  (At least not until the first of the month anyway.)  Sooo, sprinting uphill for an hour and a half at more than 11,000 feet without any kind of acclimatization just plain sucked.  BUT the views were wonderful and I found that the Cerro de Arcos really is a wonderful gem of a landscape to have so nearby.  It is a number of things.  Geologically speaking, it is part of an eroded volcano (pretty much ALL mountains in Ecuador are).  Aesthetically speaking, it is an area of a few hundred yards by a few hundred yards where there is a complete free-for-all as far as the shapes of boulders and other rocks goes.  There are pointy spiky spires, big house-sized boulders squeezed next to one another so as to form vertical fissures and cracks to walk through, hidden caves to explore - some as big as a large living room and others barely large enough to fit two people, all of them inviting a night of comfortable tent-free camping.  There are large flattish slabs of stone that let you
run around and feel like you're an ant on a granite counter top.  And then of course there are the arches.  Fernando thinks there are upwards of fifty but he's never tried to count them all.  Some you could drive a bus through, others you can barely walk under, and there are plenty hidden in the thick tangled brush that skirts some of the area.  It's a really unique place, situated in the midst of a really unique place.  Peter Jackson would have loved it if one of his location scouts had showed him around here when he was getting ready to film Lord of the Rings...  From a sportsman's perspective, I can say that this place is a boulderer's PARADISE.  All of the rocks, I mean every stinking boulder and every craggy cliffside and every cave wall are ideal for the calloused fingers of seasoned climbers.  (I don't have such fingers but with more trips up to the cerro I think I could.)  In some ways it seems like it was designed for climbers.  The weathering patterns of the rocks lends them a scalloped texture that covers them with little handholds and the occasional "jug" to aid in the climb.  The fissures between the larger boulders are often spaced to allow easy chimneying.  There are plenty of points and horns and other shapes to wrap protection around for safe climbing if free bouldering isn't appealing.  Perhaps best of all, you can camp right there in a cave or on a patch of moss, there's plenty of freshwater always available, and the site (no thanks to me blabbing about it now) is pretty much unknown outside of the immediate area.  Right now the few visitors that make it out here simply are not bothered by the presence of anyone else and they can climb and explore and goof off to their hearts' content.  Oh and there are truly fantastic looking flowers and other alpine plants growing all over up there that come in any color you've could imagine, and even though this is the equator there are still growing seasons meaning that depending on the time of year, you can see all sorts of different colors growing in different places on the cerro and it never looks the same.  It's a really cool place and I think that given some time and a well thought out plan, I can help the local people promote it and the other great natural attractions more effectively so that they can put their city and surrounding region on the tourist map for real and not have to rely on the dwindling returns and destructive practices of gold mining if they don't want to.
 
That's all for me.  I'm tired and I have another early Chiva to catch tomorrow morning to go see ANOTHER area attraction.  This one is even HIGHER than today's tromp.  Ughhh!  Like I said, my feets are tired.  I think when I get home tomorrow after another four hours on that busted ass road I am going to go to sleep and not wake up till 3pm Tuesday.  Cheers.  Keep in touch.

 

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