I have officially gone on my first Ecuadorian hike.
I am lucky enough to have a friend, Charlie, who is living just south of Quito doing biological research in the rainforest for two months while I am here and he loves to hike. He and one of his friends, Steph, from the La Hesperia Biological Reserve traveled up to Otavalo for the weekend to do a little hiking a few weekends ago.
We started out at the Handicraft markets on Saturday morning around 9 am in search for a handmade alpaca sweater for Steph, some coffee, and a bit of food for the hike. By 11:00 we were in a taxi with everything we needed. We bought six pieces of bread from a little store in town for $1.80, six bananas from the market for $0.50, and three large bottles of water for less than $3 at the supermarket and were ready to go.
The three of us hopped in a taxi in the center of Otavalo and drove for about 30 until we reached Mojanda, the inactive volcano we would be hiking. The taxi cost about $15 and the driver gave us his phone number so we could call him if we needed a ride when we were done with the hike. We had heard that if you ask the taxi drivers to come back at a specific time they would be more than willing to help you out. Our taxi driver pretty much shut down that idea real quick. Luckily he did because our four hour estimate turned into six and he would have been waiting awhile.
The drop off point for the buses and taxis at Mojanda was more touristy than I had anticipated. There were more than ten cars and taxis chilling on this dirt road just waiting for the families to take their classic mountain picture before driving off. I talked with two different families who were there waiting for the clouds to move so they could get a picture of the main lake. I asked both of them if they knew which trail was Fuya Fuya and which trail they hiked. Both of them said they weren’t actually there for hiking. Just for a quick picture before they went somewhere else for the day. I guess less people hike the Andes Mountains than I imagined.
The most important thing I learned on this trip is that people lie. I read online and was told by people who had hiked Fuya Fuya in the past that it was very well marked and it was super easy to find and navigate. Well, guess what, it was a big ‘ole lie. Yes, there was a map of all the trails when we got there, but it was a terrible map and it gave no reference to you where while looking at it. We saw Fuya Fuya on the map but had no concept of what direction is was. At this point we were just eager to get going, and one of Charie’s friends from the reserve told us if we just keep right the entire time we were on the correct trail, so that’s what we did.
We headed out and started hiking. I realized that hiking is a bitch and altitude can really mess with your body. The first mile or so went fairly well. My pack was heavy with all my water, bread, and bananas but the trail was fairly flat and time was passing pretty quickly. We had seen two beautiful lakes and some of the most outrageous views of life. Mountains surrounded us and we were headed up a swirly path to the top of the tallest one in sight.
Then I hit a wall. And being a fairly competitive person I was angry that I was already tired and even angrier that the top of the mountain seemed to still be so far away. I wanted to be “winning”, but it seemed like my new friends were kicking the mountains butt and I definitely didn’t feel like I was kicking anything’s butt. I was hungry and hot even though it was only around 40 degree because of the high elevation. There seemed to be no end goal for us. Looking back on it now, I realize we were defiantly not on the Fuya Fuya trail and had already hiked more than a few miles on a low to medium incline. I had a reason to be exhausted, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
We started stopping more and more often for breaks to eat, relax, and take in the view. At some points we would hike an hour and feel completely fine without take breaks while at the other times I would walk about 300 feet and be like “guys, are your thighs burning like mine???”. I soon realized that my friends were just better at hiding their exhaustion than I was and none of us felt like we were kicking and butt. Again, looking back at it. We were destroying that mountain and had no clue in the world.
I’m not sure why this surprised me so much, but the first time I noticed an entire city was beneath me while I was standing on the side of Mojanda was breath taking. At 13,000 feet elevation even huge cities look so small. It was beautiful and each time I saw the cities from a different perspective I was shocked all over again. I realized that every day I look out over these mountain and every day I think Wow that is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It has been weeks now and the beauty still hasn’t worn off. I hope it never does. A constant respect and love for your surrounding is great for your mental health and it is something Lansing hasn’t been able to give me.
Half my water bottle, three pieces of bread, three bananas, and three and a half hours later we had reached the top of Mojanda. We had finally accomplish it and even though we were exhausted from walking around nine or ten miles, at that point we were filled with excitement. We were so high that everywhere we looked were clouds. Personally, I wanted to take a picture from the tippy top of the mountain, but it was impossible. It was all fog. But don’t you worry, I took pictures of the clouds anyways.
We began descending the mountain thinking that it wouldn’t take very long. We could see the drop off point and we just needed to walk down and around one of the three lakes at Mojanda. We were proven wrong once again. The trail was extremely curvy and after a little more than an hour our attitudes had gone a bit sour. I was thinking that, seeing as we were at the top, the rest of the hike would be downhill. That was not the case. There were still long distances of incline and the phrase “Why more up?” was playing on repeat in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t unhappy and I would gladly do the hike again, but the mindset I had going into the hike just wasn’t enough. I hadn’t prepared myself for this.
When we saw a couple around our age driving a truck down the trail, we were more than willing at this point to flag them down and ask if we could ride in the bed of the truck until the drop off point, which look another mile or two ahead. My two friends didn’t know any Spanish, so it was up to me to ask the young couple, but my years of Spanish education never taught me the vocabulary for hitch hiking. I was flustered and my body needed them to say we could have a ride, so I’m pretty sure my exact translation of what I asked was “we sit there?” with a gesture towards the bed. They laughed and happily agreed. I felt so much joy sitting in the bed of their truck bumping my way along the trail of the mountain. We finished our bread and bananas and officially finished our hike as well. I cannot thank the lovebirds who saved my legs from walking another mile or two enough, and yes we did see you kissing from the back of the truck. Windows go both ways.
The three of us had a wonderful time even though our four hour hike turned into a six hour hike. In the end, we walked just over 15 miles and I couldn’t move my legs for almost three days. It was completely worth it and maybe I’ll try to find the actual Fuya Fuya trail at some point before I leave.