Pichincha

Madeline Lisaius - Ecuador


September 18, 2013

The Teleférico is a gondola that carries passengers high above Quito onto the volcano Pichincha where the trail to the summit begins. Although I love the vibrancy of Quito, it has become somewhat suffocating – I am surprised that I wholeheartedly believed that city life was for me – and wanting a small escape from the hustle and bustle, I took the Teleférico up to hike this past Saturday.

The ride up was breathtaking on many levels. First, I am terrified of being high up in a confined space (elevators, airplanes, and apparently Quito’s Teleférico all make the list) because somehow, the potential of these boxes falling with me in them all expressly trigger my fear of dying. Second, this gondola offers literally the best view of Quito and the surrounding area, and the whole ride was gorgeous. Third, the gondola rises from about 3,000 meters to 4,100 meters (or about 10,057 feet to 13,451 feet, according to my dated cellphone), and the altitude literally stole my breath. All in all, the ride itself was very impactful.

The real adventure began at the top of the gondola, though. Stepping off the Teleférico, the thin air gave me a nice smack; I was again at the mercy of planet earth. Just like when I arrived in Quito, it was hard to move, my heart raced with each step, and I was aware of a distinct queasy feeling. As imaginable, the multi-hour hike to the volcano’s summit that ensued was challenging.

Hills that I could easily jog up in the Seattle are required two or three rest stops to let my heart slow from its frantic tempo. And with each hill, the air became thinner. In the enveloping silence, all I could do was listen to my very un-lady-like gasps for air; on this arid volcano slope, I was reminded of my basic human needs.

For me, at least, it’s easy to get swept up in “needs.” The need to straighten my hair. The need to have my internet–enabled phone at all times. The need to buy new shoes when a current pair can easily be glued back together. But having what I thought was a basic entitlement – air – taken away, I was expressly reminded of what my needs actually are.

Purified water (this may sound somewhat pretentious, but after enjoying three days of “explosive” diarrhea from drinking tap water, I am convinced that my water needs to be purified for now), shelter, food, and love are what I need. And each day I am given water, shelter, food, and love, I become more aware of how privileged I am to have not had to worry about these necessities during my lifetime.

A quote I’ve heard many times goes, “to those whom much is given, much is expected.” Descending Pichincha, I had to wonder: what is expected of me?

Madeline Lisaius