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?


September 29, 2006

I've got a bowl of homemade cinnamon-raisin-brown sugar oatmeal and a Nalgene that until recently was full of Tang at my side.   Through the window I can hear the workers putting the finishing touches on a new roof for the INNFA building (kind of a children's program resource center or something) next door.   Sleater-Kinney is playing on my stereo.  I'm still weeding out which new music I want to keep and which to delete and open up precious space on the hard drive.   I think Sleater Kinney will stay.  As is the norm when I'm sitting around in my apartment, I'm just wearing flipflops and underwear.  This would, if anyone else were in here, allow aforementioned hypothetical other person to see some new scrapes and cuts and maybe even some bruises on various parts of my wooly body.  I acquired these bodily modifications yesterday.  I had a good day yesterday.  Rewind.  I had a GREAT day yesterday.


As decadently enjoyable as my recent trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador's most populous city for FITE 2006 (Feria International de Turismo en Ecuador), was … as much fun as I had racing to build tourism DVD videos on my laptop in the dining room of my Swiss friend "Miguel's" sweet hillside apartment (with pool and real DSL internet), sipping Zaruman coffee at the El Oro booth with two of my counterparts, wandering the venue gathering posters and pamphlets and ideas for future travels and adventures in other parts of South America and the world at large, literally dancing with the Devil at a coastal folklore demonstration, savoring cold beer and hot jumbo fried shrimp at the edge of the decidedly Mississippi-like Guayas river, watching the first forty minutes of an evening fashion show featuring Colombian models (female) in all the latest ropa interior fashions (underwear and lingerie), and playing photo tag with dozens of tame iguanas in the city's Parque Bolivar across the street from the cathedral … all of that classy cultured city stuff couldn't make me give a great YEOWP of joy like my yesterday did.


This is the very very condensed version.  Seriously.   It pains me greatly to leave so much out.


I awoke at 5am in my sleeping bag, having spent the night in a Parroquia (Parish) called Huertas in the home of my "guia nativo" Romel Romero.  Referred to locally as El Alto, the tall one, he wears the same shoe size as I do.   Incredible.  The night before, after greeting me enthusiastically in the center of Huertas and leading me to his place, I was not invited upstairs to mee the family.   I was however given a bowl of soup and two slices of store-bought white bread for dinner and left alone for at least two hours.  I was tired and didn't care much.   I reluctantly scoped a little of the presidential campaign action on TV and then lay back on the bed playing harmonica until I fell asleep.  Anyways, back to yesterday morning.   I change clothes and ready my pack for a day on the trails.  After buying some tuna and crackers and loading up on bananas and oranges, we caught a ride on a pickup truck heading north and west into the mountains.   I wasn't even sure what we were going to go see, just that my job was to take photos of it when we got there.  I was not in a question asking mood so figured what happened would just happen.   And happen it did. 

After bumping and jostling for 20 or 30 minutes, we were dropped off at a fork in the road.   We went down and to the left, over a rocky path strewn with purple flowers towards a pastured and forested valley as the sun was starting to melt the tops of the ridges into warm colors of gold and green.   Crossing a bouldery river on a bridge, we hooked on the road upriver and then left it, crossing the river on foot and heading straight up into some overgrown pasture that had some kind of plant covering which left a gummy sticky residue on everything it touched, mainly our shoes, pants, shirts, and hands.   Especially our hands.  So it goes.  We climbed for half an hour, steadily, hearts pounding, sweat starting to bead on our foreheads and wet our shirts.   Romel kept stopping to look around like a meercat who had lost his way.  I kept my mouth shut.  This was going to be interesting.   We'd climb, he'd look lost, we'd climb, he'd look puzzled, we'd climb, he'd look….well the time came for him to let me in on the deal.  He had lost the trail.   I asked where we were going.  To the waterfall, he told me.  Sweet.  There lay the river hundreds of feet below.  He says then that we will go down and follow the river up, as "there is no alternative."  Up for anything, and down with a chance to get off of the pastureland, I followed.   Down we went.  So it goes.

Reaching the river, he asked me if I minded getting wet?  I dropped my pack, removed my shoes, unzipped my pant legs and transformed into shorts mode, then shod my sandal-tanned feet in Tevas.   "Listo." (Ready).  Romel, still in long pants and shoes and socks, shot off through the boulder and water maze that led up the valley.   In New Zealand they call this streambashing.  In Ecuador I call it fun as shit!  Sometimes getting up to my crotch in rushing water with my camera dangling just inches above the torrent, I climbed and scrambled and hopped and swam higher and higher while Romel picked his own way through and around the cascades.   Under vines and over slippery rocks and past hidden pools we made our way, pausing every now and then to marvel at some giant bromeliad with a flower which resembled a hairpiece, or a native hummingbird suckling the teat of an exotic flower.   We stopped and had crackers and bananas at a minor waterfall of only 25 feet or so, with a seemingly bottomless plunge pool at its base surrounded by walls of ferns and elephant ears and a dense mat of foliage.   An hour and a half of this streambashing up the wild waterway brought us to a small bridge that led a horse trail across the valley bottom.  We went up to the right and broke through the underbrush into the deforested pastureland above.  [While this landscape is upsetting from a moral end ecological standpoint because of the ecosystem havoc it represents - clearing a subtropical cloud forest and replacing it with basically one species of grass, then letting cows trample it into uselessness - it does make for easier traveling, the absolutely ROASTING hot Equatorial sun aside.]   The occasional tree that was spared the farmer's saw is invariably loaded to the hilt with orchids and bromeliads and mosses and for the lucky observer, some exotic birds singing a greeting or warning to passersby.   The sun had dried the stiff on the "glue plants" so that was good, but the steep going was just as steep and with the nearly cloudless sky burning down on us like a heat lamp at a food court restaurant, we were feeling the strain. So it goes. For twenty minutes we made our way up and up and over, presumably nearing this waterfall.   Romel made motions that indicated he thought we were near and beaconed for me to follow into the brush but we soon hit a forested cliff that was impassable.   He looked a little frustrated, but I was just loving the ride, recalling the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere."  Thinking about the situation, he suggested that we shouldn't bother anymore with this waterfall and that we head back along another route across the bridge we'd seen and go to another waterfall instead.   Cool, I said.  Down we went again.  So it goes.  We hit the trail, then reached the bridge, crossed, and started up the other side on a track that was steeper than the last one.   Once we emerged from the forested valley bottom and into the sun scorched pasture again, there was a sight to behold. Across the valley we now could SEE the waterfall that was our first destination.   WOW.  It poured from parts unknown maybe 250 feet into a green cushion of forested valley, and below it through the trees we could see even more whitewater that continued down to the stream we'd smashed our way through earlier.   Now that we could see the lay of the land and could make a more accurate plan of attack than just "go where you vaguely remember the waterfall to be" we descended for our second try.   So it goes.  I removed my wet and grimy sandals and put my shoes on again, had another banana, and started up the other side of the valley again.   More pasture.  More absurdly strong sun. More birds chittering at us from their nests among the orchids.  Dust, pasture, sun, heat, thirst, altitude, painfully blue sky.  This was our world.  Hugging the curves of the steep slopes we traversed and climbed up around trees and some fences and soon enough made it to a point where we could see the cascade ahead, plunging down an enormous black stone cliff past waving palm fronds and into a great pool still shadowed from the rising sun's wrath.   Down we picked our way on cow-rutted slopes until we could hear the roar and feel the mist.  Once there is was clear that barely anyone ever came to the place.   I went swimming and lazed around sunning myself in the crashing mist.  We ate tuna with lemon and crackers.  A walking stick paid us a visit.  Romel retrieved a Coke from his small pack and we drank it.  We took photos and I learned that the waterfall was known as the Paila Del Diablo.  The Devil's Basin.  More like the basin of Heaven.   Anyways, we had more to see and do so Romel scouted the waterway below the plunge pool to see if we could descend that way back to the bridge.  He came back and said that there was just one hairy spot and that we should go that way.   Aight.  I asked if I should wear my sandals or shoes.  He said to come look for myself, so I picked my way down barefoot in just my hat and underwear to the hairy spot he mentioned.   It was a fantastic little cascade that dropped off a bare stone lip into a blue/green pool.  Looks like we were going to have to jump.   So it goes.  My guide said to wait there at the lip while he went up and grabbed our packs and stuff and brought them back down.  When he returned, he got down to his underwear and jumped off the edge.   Deep water, cold water.  That was apparent immediately.  I stuffed his clothes into his little pack and when he had positioned himself as well as he could on a submerged rock, I tossed the bag to him.   His soaking wet shoes followed.  Now I was not really prepared for this kind of true streambashing and didn't have my waterproof camera case or anything.   A little worried about protecting that equipment, I put the camera and my cell phone into the ziplock holding my journal, then put that bag into a plastic bread bag that was holding some sandwiches; my reading material and wallet and other things were just going to have to try their luck.   Once I had hobbled to the edge of the slippery waterfall lip, I threw my own bag down to Romel.  Then it was my turn to jump.   Hot rock on the soles of my Tevas, then a rush of air, then the bubbly freezing plunge, glasses falling off of my face, hat escaping my clutches, swimming, swimming to shore, then solid footing again, laughing, life is good, no - great!   Romel gets dressed while we laugh at the adventure we're having, then I look through my pack for my t-shirt and shorts.  All I find are the zipped off pant legs I stuffed in there earlier.   Hmm.  I check all the pockets.  Look around.  Think.   Umm, hey Romel, what did you do with my shirt and shorts?  He looks like someone just ran over his dog.  Yeah dude they were lying there on the rocks next to the packs.   You got them right?  You would have seen them, they were right there.  He looks whiter than the gringo waiting for an answer from him.   Romel?  He shoulders his pack and curses himself and says to wait there while he finds a way back up and around to the waterfall, as the way we just jumped down is impassable from below.   I find a sunny rock and laugh to myself about how it would be if I had to return to Zaruma just wearing nothing but blue spandex underwear. I wait.  I take photos of butterflies.  A half hour later Romel strips again and jumps down into the pool again after throwing me his pack.  He doesn't look happy.   So it goes.

            What happened?  "I am stupid" he says.   What?  No you're not, it was a little mistake, don't worry about it.  "I am so stupid" he repeats. "Your clothes were in my bag.   I almost died on that cliff trying to climb back up and I was carrying your clothes in my pack the whole time."  Damn.   That was pretty stupid, I thought.  I should have checked his pack too I suppose if I was going to be really thorough, but I assumed (mistake alert hahahah) that he would remember if he had grabbed my clothes and put them in his own bag or not five minutes after the fact.   You win some you lose some, and here was a chance to learn that seriously, if you want something done right you usually can't do better than just doing it yourself.   This is pretty freaking funny, I was thinking, but he was a bit consumed with frustration at himself at this point.  We laughed a bit and then decided to continue the descent of the waterfalls.   For about two minutes.  Once the one hairy spot was cleared from our memories, we discovered that there existed many many more hairy spots that were worse than the first.   No wonder there was little indication that anyone came here often.  It was a stunningly beautiful deathtrap!  So it goes.  Unassailable stone walls dropped down into deep plunge pools with nothing to stand on or hold on to.  The sides of the canyon above the bare rock were covered in tropical foliage but steep enough to give a mountain goat the willies.   They were our only means of escape though, so that's how we decided to make our getaway from paradise.  I let Romel go on ahead, and when he was far enough above that I didn't fear him falling into me and knocking both of us down to our deaths, I started up myself in sandals, shorts, and my hat, totally Michael Fay style.   Trusting vines as small as my pinky finger with my life, dislodging loose stones from their mossy holes with my hands and feet, my heart pounding simultaneously with the fear of death and the joy of life, I inched my way up the several hundred feet of jungle until I reunited with Romel on the edge of the sun-blasted pasture and sat down to reflect and laugh and put my shoes on again.   Six hours of climbing and descending and swimming and clambering and scrambling behind us, and the day had just gotten started.  So it goes.   Wiping blood from my arms and legs, removing dirt, twigs, insects, and any number of other materials from my mop of mangled hair, I stood up and began the climb/descent back to the bridge, across the valley, up the other side, around the hill and down another 1,000 feet to the real valley floor.   From there we could see our next destination, La Cascada Huayquichuma which translates from Quichua to something like "Drunken Waterfall."   The Devil himself had been thwarted, but would we fare so well with a drunk?  Maybe that story another time.  I've gone and given myself carpal tunnel syndrome again.  Or maybe it was all that hanging from vines and thinking I could die.  At this point it's unclear.   I just know that I'm blessed with some new battle wounds, some nicely sore muscles, and totally ready to go back there any time one of you guys want to come visit and tempt fate.


And then I can show you in person the waterfall that goes UP.  For real.   If the computer in the tourism office hadn't destroyed itself A-G-A-I-N, then I could post the picture.  Until then I'm afraid it'll be mostly text from me.   I will try to post pics when I'm in Quito next week.  Peace and love and chuffmation to all. 


Blogger Marisa said...

Awesome blog you've got here. So happy I stumbled upon it.
**I'll be bahck**

5:04 PM  
Blogger suze said...

I did a search once for a festival that had just past in my town and I happened upon a blog by a stranger that had photos of me in it!!! In the festival..How weird is that?

7:19 AM  

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