18 On A Gap Year: Green & Blue

A lot of my memories in green and blue are outside my host community of Ricaurte, when I was traveling in Ecuador or Peru. I’ll take this time to list all the cities I travelled to and share a story.

In Ecuador, I went to the cities of Quito, Ibarra, Otavalo, Tena, Azogues, Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Playas, Puerto Lopez, and Guayaquil.

In Peru, I went to the cities of Juliaca, Puno, Cusco, Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo, Ica (+Huacachina), and Lima.

In total, I’ve probably spent more than 30 hours on ground transportation including private cars, taxis, and buses.

 

My favorite destination was definitely Cusco! In the few days I spent in Cusco, I embarked on many excursions, i.e. to Macchu Picchu and La Montaña de Siete Colores. 

One afternoon in Cusco, while it was pouring, my parents sent me into La Plaza de Armas (a square close to our Airbnb). The sole instruction I received was “find something cool to do tomorrow and let us know.” My budget was < $100 / person.

After a couple minutes at the first tourism office I stumbled into and a phone call to my parents, I purchased 2 bus tickets ($60 each) to Vinicunca, La Montaña de Siete Colores. There was a hike included in the package. My dad had a cold so he opted out, but my mom wanted to go if the hike was not too extreme. The man behind the desk assured me el camino es facil, corto y tan hermoso.

“The path is easy, short, and beautiful.”

That night, my mom and I bundled up for the day-trip and packed lightly. We set out our comfy walking sneakers, as recommended by the man in the excursion office. “Nothing special needed” he had said when I asked if we were to need special shoes/clothes/items.

At 3:36 AM, my mom and I were picked up by the company bus (I know because we took a ridiculous commemoratory photo). We arrived to the base of the mountain at 7:30 AM.

It was heavenly.

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And then the hike  TREK up was demonic.

We were given an option of either walking up the mountain path or taking a horse up. My mom chose a cute brown horse. The rest of us were given broomsticks as a kind of economic trekking pole.

I found out much later that the venture was 22 km total.

People were on all fours and some were even sitting down, defeated. It had just rained the night before, so bodies were hitting the ground left and right. The trail could have been mistaken for a slip n’ slide. There was mud in all my orifices by the end of the first hour and my broomstick snapped before I reached the top (but I think that was just a bonus experience since nobody else’s did).

Meanwhile, my mom was riding her horse daintily somewhere ahead.

At one point, as I was sliding down a small slope after another fall, a kind stranger grabbed my broomstick. We played a kind of tug-of-war mid-slope, both of us hanging on to either side of the flimsy wood, except that in this case the objective was to save me from body-sledding all the way down to the bottom.

I started on the path with two feet, but as I approached 16,000 ft I found myself on all fours. And there was my mom, sitting on a rock, unscathed, waiting for me at the 16,000 ft checkpoint.

We walked/crawled the last leg up to the top together.

 

If you look closely, you can see the death in my eyes. I think I made the entire climb down on my butt. Like I said, a slip n’ slide.

But without that struggle up, I wouldn’t have gotten these bad-ass photos. And in the midst of the adrenaline, in that moment on top of Apu Winicunca, the Mountain of Seven Colors, I was so proud. Here was something I decided to do and I did.

On April 22, 2018, the Sunday I came back to Boston, I attended TEDxBostonCollege. There, Lawyer & Assistant Professor at the Carroll School of Management, Juan Montes, told his story. He was a mountain climbing enthusiast. Juan had climbed Mt. Everest and other sky reaching mountains, he wasn’t interested in baby slope tourist bumps like the one I had climbed. Juan shared incidents of accidents and deaths, casually mentioning ungodly conditions including hypothermia, frozen toes, and sharing oxygen. And the whole time I was thinking wow. This dude is crazy.

When he showed us the pictures, I thought of my own, now seemingly painless and insignificant, expedition.

One of his last slides was a question: Why do people climb mountains?

I stared at this slide and whole-heartedly wanted to know why people chose to put their lives at risk for this extreme hobby, because everything he had told us so far painted a picture of suffering.

“Because it’s there,” Juan quoted George Mallory, a famous English mountaineer.

And an image appeared in my head. This one.

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And I understood. A little.

 

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