If you haven’t yet read the first part of this adventure, be sure to do so before reading this blog. It might make a bit more sense! https://en.globalcitizenyear.org/2011/12/39-hours-pt-1/
Thursday, 7:00 p.m., the abandoned ranchito
Wilson and I wake to the roof being violently blown off the lean-to. The world is a whirlwind of insanity; my clothes have blown into the field nearby and the rain is pounding us with a fury.
“The blankets!” he yells, and takes off after the plastic “roof.” I grab our sleeping materials, stuff them into bunches, and put them under my backpack so they don’t fly into the maelstrom.
The pots and pans are whisked off the board where they sat next to the fire in the fury of the storm. Wilson returns a moment later with the plastic and begins re-tying it. Every few seconds the wind rips it from his hands and he starts over. As I start to help him, he shouts “We should wait for the storm to pass! We can’t do it now!”
We sit down, soaked to the bone, and wait.
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., the abandoned ranchito
The wind relents. The rain is still pounding, but the break in the fury allows Wilson and I to tie down the plastic.
Exhausted, grumpy, water permeating everything I can feel, smell, see, and touch, we unwrap our blankets, squeeze out as much water as we can, and collapse into sleep.
Every sound jolts me awake, but Wilson sleeps like a rock. Around midnight, I finally pass out into a deep sleep.
Friday, 5:30 a.m., the abandoned ranchito
We wake up and finally see the damage. The ranchito is completely trashed. Pots and pans litter a six-foot radius around the firepit. I plod into the field, locate my change of clothes (so much for having clean, dry clothes for today), and come back to the ranchito to find Wilson making a batch of chicha.
Chicha is a fermented beverage, often made from yuca, which the Kichwa and many other indigenous groups drink on a regular basis in the Andes and Amazon regions of Latin America.
I can’t stand the taste of chicha, but I choke down a few mouthfuls for whatever strength it may offer. We pack our things, thank the heaven’s above that our GPS devices weren’t destroyed, and set out for the unknown.
Friday, 8:30 a.m., a small river deep in Bosque Colonso
Wilson tells me that we’re coming up to a waterfall soon. Apparently among his family and Santa Rita, this waterfall is legendary for the huge numbers of small fish that congregate near the bottom. Hunting expeditions a few times a year harvest as many as they’re able to bring back to the village.
We emerge from under the canopy into the sunlight. Already sweating and soaked from trudging through a half dozen streams, I rub my eyes until they adjust to the sudden brilliance.
It’s stunning. A huge volume of water crashes over two massive rocks into a deep pool below. Wilson tells me it’s about three meters, or almost ten feet deep. I peek over the edge and sure enough, see a plethora of fish congregating in the pool.
He snaps a picture of me in front of the waterfall and we continue.
Friday, 9:00 a.m., the side of a mountain in Bosque Colonso
We run into a man, maybe 70 years old, chiseled by years of physical labor and dressed simply, working on a new trail with a machete and nothing more. He hammers away at the underbrush with precision, but jolts to attention when Wilson greets him with “Alli puncha!” (Kichwa for “good morning” or “good day”)
He and Wilson talk in Kichwa for several minutes, and I’m reminded of how annoying it is to be unable to understand a conversation happening right next to you. I vow to myself to approach speaking English the same way: if there are people in the group that can’t understand, make the effort to speak Spanish around my Ecuadorian friends and co-workers.
A few minutes later, Wilson comes over to me perched on a downed log and says “It is much farther than I expected. We will not make it back until this afternoon. We have much walking to do.”
We thank the man, Wilson in Kichwa and me in “Spanwa,” and at his biddance, take his new directions and go off further into the unknown.
Friday, 10:15 a.m., a small creek
We’ve been walking up another creek for over an hour. Wilson says it’s easier than trying to break trail in the jungle, and I grumpily follow him, soaked to my waist from slipping into the water so many times.
As we round a corner in the creek, Wilson suddenly says “STOP! Do not move.”
I don’t know what’s going on, but I stop nonetheless.
He takes his walking stick, thrusts it into the water in front of me, and flicks a three-foot purple and white striped snake into the brush on the side of the water.
“What was that?” I ask, paralyzed in fear.
“Bad snake. Can kill man. It is good you did not walk into it.”
We keep walking.
Friday, 11:00 a.m., a few kilometers farther up the creek
I’m starting to tire. Not having eaten since dinner the night before, my stomach was rumbling like a ’77 Camaro and my feet wouldn’t move as fast as I wanted them to. I found myself losing sight of Wilson every five minutes and hurrying to catch up with him, only to lose sight again within a few minutes.
I call ahead that I need to take a break.
“A break? Why?” He stops and turns back to me curiously, but obliges, whistling to himself and humming a tune I don’t recognize.
Three minutes later, we set off again.
Friday, 11:45 a.m., underneath a waterfall 25 or 30 feet high
We come up to a waterfall towering over us. We obviously can’t go over it. Unfazed, Wilson pulls out his machete and we start to carve a path up and around the mountain. The exhaustion is really catching up with me, and I take out my water bottle and drain the last of my Dasani. Chuta. (“chuta!” is the Spanish equivalent of “shoot!”)
Ten minutes of trailblazing later, we emerge over the waterfall.
“It’s beautiful!” Wilson exclaims, and I earnestly nod my head in agreement, thinking that this event might warrant a break.
Not the case.
“Let’s go!” he says enthusiastically. I grunt in reluctant agreement.
We keep walking.
Friday, 12:30 p.m., once again trudging through a creek somewhere deep in Bosque Colonso
I have no idea where we are. I ask Wilson, and he says “I don’t either, but according to the GPS, we are three kilometers from the edge of the forest.”
How inspiring, I think to myself. The exhaustion is making me sarcastic, and I scold myself.
“One hour more,” he reassures me from ahead on the “trail” we are creating.
Relieved, senses somewhat dulled by the never-ending stimulation of the forest, I take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other once again.
Friday, 2:00 p.m., on a small mountain in the forest
After an hour and a half pass without us reaching the edge of the forest, Wilson adjusts his estimation again.
“We will be there by 3:00.”
My feet don’t want to move anymore, and neither do I. My breath scrapes against the back of my throat like sandpaper, and my stomach has given up rumbling in place of dull throbbing in time with my steps, which grow slower every minute. Even Wilson has noticed my decline in my already-slow pace, and asks if I’m okay.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired.” I ask if he has any water left, but he too ran out several hours ago.
“We cannot take a break. We must get back to Santa Rita before dark.”
I hadn’t thought of that. Several choice words run through my head, and I tell him I’m ready.
Friday, 3:00 p.m., coming down another mountain into a clearing
I can’t go any farther. I’m walking about at about a quarter the rate as when I first started, and Wilson is growing somewhat impatient with me.
I abruptly lose footing coming down a slope and slide uncontrollably 20 feet through the mud before coming to an abrupt halt with my thumb jammed against a rock and an inch-long piece of bark sticking out of one of my fingernails.
Agony washes over me, my vision blurs, and I yank the wood out from my ring finger. Blood spurts in a disgusting arc and I jam my finger into the cloth of my shirt to try and stem the bleeding.
Only then do I notice my thumb: already purple, nearly twice the size it should be, and completely immobile. More choice words fly through my head, and I let out a howl of pain.
Although I once broke my pinky finger during a football match gone bad, I’ve never actually broken any other bones. The pain radiating from my thumb was excruciating. I lose my footing again and fall onto my hand.
Tears streaming down my cheeks (even at the writing of this blog, I can still remember how embarrassed I felt for crying in front of Wilson), heart beating like I had just run a 100-meter dash, I plant myself on a log next to the trail as Wilson makes his way carefully back up the trail to where I sit.
“Chuta!” he exclaims.
“Chuta,” I agree weakly. I feel wretched.
Miles from any village, my thumb possibly broken, a hole in the bottom of my left foot, three wasp stings that have evolved into red bumps on my chest and shoulder, not having eaten for almost 24 hours, sweating out the last of my water, and in a race against time to get to the edge of Bosque Colonso and back to Santa Rita before dark, the gravity of what’s happening hits me.
I start to get scared.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of this adventure, coming in my next blog post. It should be up within the next week. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the green button next to my name in the right-hand column!