Licking the dust off her lips wasn’t such a great idea, as wet lips only increased the application of dirt. But the gringa realized this just a little too late. Not that it really mattered… the rest of her face was quickly being coated in the filthy grit as well. However, she might as well have been riding in the back of a red 1967 Mustang convertible, rather than in the back of the white, beat up old truck in which she was being tossed around. This truck was a life-saver, and she was quite thankful for the bumpy ride. It all started the morning before…
3:30 a.m. had come early, especially when the gringa found out they weren’t leaving until 5 am. However, she was too hyped to go back to sleep. Everyone else was ready to go, too. And by 5 they were headed out the door to meet up with their guide and another friend. They were seven, three chicas and four hombres, geared up with backpacks containing only the barest of necessities; water, food, a sleeping bag, warm clothing, and a tent. Who really knew what was in store for them… One girl, the gringa, especially felt at a loss. Yet, at the same time, she was ready for this great adventure.
The first five minutes were torture. Learning to breathe deeply in the high altitude, figuring out how to walk with the pack, trying to keep up with the others were all challenges presented immediately. It seemed though, that the entire group was struggling, as they stopped often to rest. After a while, the gringa’s breathing became more even, and she grew to accept the added weight on her shoulders.
Each time the group stopped to rest, or the gringa looked back over her shoulder, the view was breathtaking. Higher and higher they climbed. Their packs grew heavier by the minute, yet carried much needed items. The group pressed on. They talked in Spanish, they threw in a little English. They admired the creation of their Heavenly Father around them.
Twelve hours they hiked. Each time the gringa thought she could go no further, someone would smile and state, “si, se puede [yes, it can be done].” The theme song quickly became “Winnie the Pooh,” thanks to reasons that some will never understand. And when the going got tough, the tough sang this song.
They climbed past the tall grass, into the vegetation-less sandy soil. They climbed past where the giant biting insects swarmed. They climbed to where they were higher than the white puffy clouds floating in the sky. “Paso a paso” was the motto of the group. “Step by step.”
The last fifty meters of trail were the hardest on Saturday. Not only because of the complete exhaustion the gringa felt, but also because the trail was steeper here, and was all loose sand. Two steps forward, one step back, it seemed. The better half of Saturday had been spent fighting the sand, but now it almost seemed impossible. “Lerchan!” she heard from above. “Puedes! [you can!]” Though it didn’t help her feet to move faster, the encouragement did give her strength to continue on. She reached base camp third out of their group. The others arrived within the hour.
The group quickly set up camp before the sun disappeared behind the next mountain. The cold came before the darkness. Everyone began putting on every piece of clothing they had brought. Once the tent was up, and before their fingers completely froze stiff, the adventurers ducked inside to find shelter from the icy wind. By 6:30 it was completely dark, and frigidly cold. After heating up some hot cocoa, they settled in for the night. Two had a tent of their own, five crowded into the other, the siblings strategically located in the middle ;). Their bodies were tired, yet their minds were not, and it took a while of talking before sleep would come. It eventually did, but not for long.
Five people in a small tent create an awful lot of body heat, and a little bit of claustrophobia, and the gringa soon discovered she was in for a long night. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way, because often throughout the night everyone woke up at the same time and would talk for a while before going back to sleep. Thanks to an upset stomach [due to the altitude?], the gringa was sick almost the entire night, and spent some quality time on the side of the mountain, staring down at the city below. ‘Twas a beautiful sight to say the least; and one that will be remembered longer than her stomach pain. She eventually settled down outside the tent, resting against the rocks and entirely cocooned within her sleeping bag, with only a small hole through which to breathe.
Sleep was hard-earned that night for each of them, and insufficient as well, as 3:30 in the morning came oh-so-early. They were back on the trail by a little after 4:00 that morning… a little later than they’d originally wanted.
And it was cold.
The gringa realized she was wholly unprepared for the cold. Not even climbing up a mountain created enough movement/energy to heat her body. The short sleeved tshirt + long sleeved tshirt + longjohns + sweater + heavy jacket + hat + gloves + scarf were not enough to combat the frigid cold. When the gringa realized the extent of her lack of energy from being sick the night before, and how badly she was shivering, and the impossibility of completing the much needed tasks of eating and getting warm, she also came to the conclusion that it was time she be done. Altogether at this point she’d climbed for about sixteen hours, and was only a few hours from the point. Yet, her body was spent. She was smart enough to recognize that this would not be the day that she would fully conquer this vocano.
When she turned back, she almost cried. When one puts so much effort into an undertaking, then realizes they cannot complete what they started out to do, it’s rough. Going back to the tent before the others was a walk of shame, in some respects. On the other hand, when the girl reached the tent and became sick once again, she gladly lay down on the pile of sleeping bags and rested. She had made the right decision. The point would have to wait for another day.
After a few hours, the others made it back down. Only three of them had reached the top of Misti that day. Yet they had each given their all. After packing up camp, they began the long trek back into town. It had taken them twelve hours the day before to climb up. They knew that it would not take that long to go down, yet they had new worries in the back of their minds. They had under a liter of water between the seven of them, and only two hours left of sun. With this in mind they took off running down the side of the sandy, rocky, volcano. It’s a wonder that none of them sprained, or even broke, and ankle. The gringa realized that this was not going to be a fun hike back. Her hips began to ache with each jolt of her feet hitting the rocky soil. She often slipped and almost fell. The rocks that accumulated in her shoes began to rub her toes wrong. Yet stopping was not an option. They needed to get as far as they could before the sun set below the horizon.
“Podemos [we can]” was the understood attitude of the group, though the gringa wondered how long they were going to hold up at this pace, without water, and without the ability to eat… the quick changes in pressure coming down were enough to make anyone lose their lunch. Thus, most chose to avoid that possibility by not eating. The gringa began wholeheartedly praying for a way out of the mess. Not that they couldn’t make it, it was just going to be one miserably long, dusty, thirsty, hike back.
Then, like a late addition to a script, or a miracle directly from above, the solution appeared before the exhausted travelers. A truck, with its bed full of mountain bikers drove down a before unseen road at the bottom of the volcano, directly toward them. Though they were still a ways up the side of the volcano, everyone’s minds began to fill with ideas. Do they have water? What are they doing? Could we possibly pay for a ride back?
The group continued with their mad pace, hoping beyond hope that this truck would be the answer to their prayers. Just as it began to drive away [literally], the current leader of the group hailed the driver. After a few quick words he turned to the others, and motioned for them to hurry. What had seemed like a sprint down the side of the volcano now actually turned into one. Like trained runners [more like tripping, exhausted, wannabe athletes] the group descended the last few hundred yards. Converging on the vehicle like children would toward an icecream truck driving through a neighborhood they launched their bags and their bodies into the back of the truck, and held on for dear life as they began the long drive back into town.
As the sun set and the wind whipped the dust into their faces, each gave thanks to God for this unforeseen, unexpected, undeserved gift. The old truck, the bumpy road, and the grit coating each one of them was simply amazing. The gringa was in awe at the providence of her God once again. He had protected them the entire way. The experience had been incredible. Difficult, to say the least. Yet rewarding in indescribable ways. Through the heat and the cold and the wind and the sun, and the exhaustion and the sickness, He was there.
Words of Wisdom [because my brothers always got to add this to their camping stories and I never got to]:
1. When Peruvians say it’s gonna be cold, trust them. They’re not just being wimps.
2. If you read up on how much water to take, and you know how much your body needs, figure out some way not to share it. Being waterless is miserable, especially when you originally had enough.
3. Gatorade is a great source of energy when you can’t eat.
4. If you’re young, and are trying to talk your brothers into making their Boy Scout group into a Venturers group… don’t give up. You may need the experience later when you climb a volcano.