“Yo voy caminando a la montaña donde nací,” sang out my brother, Omar, and I as we lugged enormous pieces of firewood up the mountain to the family car. No weight was too heavy to bring down our spirits today, for indeed we were “going for a walk to the mountain where we were born.” The trip up to the summit of Rancho Chico, which we had been planning for several weeks, was to begin today. We would sleep on the mountain overnight and return, triumphant, in the morning. Easy, right? I am now sure that I wouldn’t consider it the most intense adventure of my life if it had been easy.
We ran into our first problem while bringing the firewood back to the house. My uncle, Don Fidel, stopped us with some very bad news. He told us that he thought the mountain was too cold to sleep on, and that we should just go up tomorrow morning to have a look and then come back down for lunch. My disappointment lasted only but a moment when I made eye contact with Omar. Then, I knew what the question was going to be before it was asked. “You still want to sleep on the mountain, right?” It was on.
We ran back to the house to prepare for the trip. My cousin, Alexis, would be joining us, but my brother, Nixon, and my other cousin, Paulo, couldn’t make it. There was much excitement and very little thinking that went on in the next hour or so. We threw two blankets, a sleeping bag, two dozen potatoes, and some beef jerky in backpacks. I had some Cliff bars which I added to the mix, (which probably ended up saving our lives) and the three of us set off at four in the afternoon, much later than originally planned, for our overnight visit to the mountain.
Cold. The only word my family used to describe the summit of the mountain was cold. Not beautiful. Not cool or breathtaking or exciting. Only cold. So when we finally arrived at nearly seven, the sun was long down and I was learning first hand the meaning of the word, “cold.” The top of the mountain is a desolate world of tall grass, powerful wind, and frigid cold. We needed shelter for the night and all three of us knew it. Luckily my brother, Omar, knew where to find it.
There was a small abandoned forest ranger outpost standing alone, overlooking the grassy plains of the summit, and our small group was circled around the door. Picking the lock hadn’t worked, and neither had smashing in the door with our bodies. It was getting closer to eight o’clock now and the cold and hunger were really starting to spread through our ranks. A decision was made, a window was smashed, and we were inside. We built a fire on the floor of the hut and rapidly consumed our dinner of potatoes. Then, we slept. Or at least that is the word for what you do between midnight and six in the morning. In actuality, the three of us huddled in a corner of the hut and literally hugged each other for warmth the entire night. Two blankets and a sleeping bag had proved very insufficient. When the sun finally came up, we ate the rest of our potatoes and packed our bags.
We had the option to return to the house right then for a hot breakfast and a nap. I, of course, told my brother that I wanted to see the summit of Rancho Chico. We were very close, but the hut in which we had slept was still a short walk away. This is where the adventure began.
We reached the summit without a problem. The view was amazing. There were wild horses. We took photos. When we finished, my brother asked me if I wanted to walk back the way we came or take a much more difficult route through the cloud forest that surrounded Rancho Chico. To be fair to myself, I don’t think Omar realized exactly how difficult the forest path was going to be. Actually, “path” is a really inappropriate word for this situation. We actually just found a pipeline that delivered water to the ranch, and followed it through the thick vegetation for nearly five hours. This involved climbing under the roots of enormous trees, walking on branches over cliffs when we ran out of ground, and inching along rock walls while holding onto the pipeline when we ran out of branches. At one point I caught up to my cousin, Alexis, who was just sitting on the trail. Before I could ask him what the problem was, I looked past him at a view of the Ecuadorian farmland. We were standing on a ledge with no possible way forward. We backtracked and found an alternate route.
When we emerged from the jungle back onto the cow fields of my family’s property, Omar told us that he was very tired and just fell down to the ground. Alexis and I didn’t have that luxury. It was half past twelve and our bus for Ibarra left at one. We began to run down the mountainside.
We did not, in fact, catch the bus. We had to hop on the motorcycles of family friends and chase the bus nearly a mile down the road. My aunt was waiting to scold us and give us bread to eat on our two hour trip back to the city. I only remember waking up after we had arrived back at the house.
Our nearly twenty-hour journey to the summit was an adventure to remember. I truly felt that I was walking on the mountain where I was born, for a new part of me has been born here in Ecuador. In the face of a challenge like climbing to the top of Rancho Chico, hunger cold and danger become meaningless. In Ecuador, I hunger only for new experiences, to explore and challenge myself. And so, Omar and I have another trip planned. A seven hour hike to the waterfall on the fringe of the cloud forest. This time, though, we know to bring a lot more food.