We awoke early on Tuesday morning and I was a bit let down to find that it was overcast so that I couldn’t see Chimborazo. I remember back in orientation Dan coming back to Quito and saying he could see Chimborazo from his window and it was so big that it scared him. I read that the drive from Riobamba to Guaranda was also a beautiful drive for the views of the mountain, but so far hadn’t had a good view of it.
We went downstairs for breakfast and were entertained by the two young brothers in the family. Aged 9 and 10, I think we may have amused them just as much by being there. By the time they left for school it was starting to clear up, and though Chimborazo was still covered in clouds, Guaranda was becoming sunny and hot. By 7:30 Matt made his way to Dan’s house and we started the hike, which almost literally begins in his backyard.
Walking up a slight hill, we reached a clearing which then opened up into an enormous valley with giant hills great for hiking. What must have been 1000 feet below was a gentle river with fields along the way. We started down the hill, passing by some of the indigenous farmers along the way, stopping to say good morning. That’s one thing that is great about the countryside. Everyone stops to say hello, no matter who they are or if they know each other.
It was tough on the quadriceps getting down to the river, but Dan told me I’d be wishing I was going down once we start going up. He was right. After only a short time hiking up I was getting winded and sweating. I’ve been living at altitude for three months, but just like it would back on the coast, once you start doing exercise, it’s tough on the lungs. The only problem is that here, higher up, when you breath heavily and suck wind, there’s just not enough oxygen to get into your lungs. So you huff and huff but there’s not much there to puff.
Dan and Matt moved ahead as I slowed up on the walk, the altitude getting me down. I was a bit worried. In just two days I was going to try to climb part of Chimborazo, the tallest peak in Ecuador. It’s technically the farthest point from the center of the Earth because of the Equatorial bulge. I was only going to try to get to about 16,000 feet, but if we were at about 10 or 11,000 and I was having trouble, it didn’t bode well for the future. I thought that it might be a good idea to ask for a horse or donkey to make sure that I make it to the top and get my story about Chimborazo.
We finally made it to the peak of the hill on the other side of the valley, so we caught our breath and took in the views. It was amazing to be able to see for miles in each direction, seeing entire towns along the way. The guys pointed out some things in the distance and showed different hikes they take. Dan goes on a hike each morning, though on this day we were trying a longer, different route. The sun was strong, but losing its power as thick, gray clouds started to move in. We continued on with the hike along the ridge line.
We stopped in a tiny town called Rodeobamba, where we saw a closed down church with broken windows and a bilingual school for Quichua and Spanish. We talked with one of the teachers for a couple of minutes before moving on. The hike was a big loop around the valley and peaks, though I’m unsure of how many miles it was. I was a little afraid that my slow pace would make the guys late for work at 2 pm, but we came back around faster than I thought. Along the way we talked about things from the difficulties of teaching English as a second language to the theories of quantum physics.
Heading back down another valley and crossing through several farms, we rested on a log bridge over a river before starting to head back to Guaranda. As the hike was ending we caught a bus back towards Dan’s neighborhood, and it started to pour. He told me that it never rains before noon, but the rain season was starting, it the storm was as powerful as he’d seen it. We had to run back to his house and by the time we got there were completely soaked through and through. I was mad that my only pair of shoes were drenched, but there was nothing I could do.
After lunch Dan had to head in to work, so I took a nap and was going to come into town to see his 5 o’clock class. While I was at the house, his 9 year old brother Santiago took a liking to me. First we played Macala, then he showed me how he can play the piano. He also was very excited about his new pogs he was playing with, and I thought about how I hadn’t seen those in years. For some reason the kids weren’t going back to school after lunch, so Santiago was going to show me the way into the center because he had piano lessons.
On the way he asked me a lot of questions and insisted we play a game where you had to jump over only red tiles on the sidewalk. I let him win and he laughed as if he’d never played such a fun game before. At Dan’s class I sat quietly in the back and zoned out until the end when he surprised me by having the students ask me questions. One 15 year old asked me if I had a boyfriend, which is funny, but it isn’t.
After talking for a while and saying goodbye to Melea and Matt, we went home for dinner, which was waiting for us in the microwave. I gave Dan’s host mother a handmade thank you card for letting me stay, and she was very happy. A few minutes later I was packing in my room and Santiago knocked on the door. He gave me his pogs as a gift and started to cry. He hugged me and said it was so I could come back and play with him, and that I’d have to visit again. I told him not to cry and said I couldn’t take his favorite toy, but he wouldn’ t hear of it. I tried to console him, but it was the most touching and shocking thing I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know how I made such a big impact on him, but he was genuinely upset that I was leaving.
I didn’t want to take his toys, but Dan told me it would hurt him more if I didn’t take it. I’m going to hold onto them as a reminder of the good in the world. Shortly after that I headed to bed, another early morning ahead as I would leave for Riobamba.
To be continued…
Above: Images from the hike in Guaranda