Away Games, like life, don’t always go according to plan. My original plan was smashed once arriving for a second time at the Venezuelan consulate in Boston. After a bit of unwarranted back and forth with the clerks, I walked away thinking I was a spy for the U.S. Government, heading to Caracas to start a revolution with other military contractors. In any case, this romantic idea of climbing Mt. Roriami and searching for “Kevin” was over and Plan B was put in place. I quickly swapped my tickets for Ecuador and made contact with Gulliver Guide Service out of Quito. A week later I was in the JW Marriott in a third world country trying to find someone who spoke English.
As it turns out, plenty of people spoke English (including Marriott’s head of Security who let me up on the roof after a handshake and some jokes, that’s him in the photo). The first few days were spent acclimatizing to the altitude. At 9,350 feet, I had trouble breathing/sleeping the first day/night, but after a few laps on the treadmill, everything worked out fine. I toured the city here and there, venturing into pubs action packed with rich, dreadlocked, crusty white millennials who hate their parents and had a trust fund to blow. Soon I grabbed a ride south to the Hosteria Papaguyo (South) where I would spend the majority of my stay.
Two things this place had a lot of: Animals and Rain. Every day like clockwork, at 1400 it would pour. Pour buckets. That oversized mop in the above picture is an Llama. Or Alpaca. I don’t know the difference and neither do you. This Ecuadorian caravansary was a home base to fellow climbers/hikers/adventurers alike and made for a lovely social environment. Gulliver ran all their guides and services out of Papaguyo, so I just had to wait for my ride to pick me up every morning.
After a day spent acclimatizing near the Quilotoa Crater lagoon, my guide David Truillo and I started cranking in on the real deal mountains, with the goal of summiting Cayambe (19,000ish feet). The first stop was Mt. Rumiñahui (15,489ft) and it was a hell of a doozy. Before this climb the highest I’d ever summited successfully was Mt. Lincoln in Colorado (14,286ft), and that was after a week of sucking in the thin air. With my current employer only allowing a limited number of days off, I had to make the most of my time and leave caution to the wind, pumping through the altitude sickness that comes with these climbs. The walk up was strenuous until we reached 14,000, then it turned to shit. Hail the size of little dipping dots started to pour on us as the incline turned to a 90° scramble all the way to summit. The air had me walking like a drunk and slipping on the climb. My guide David, an Ecuadorian who’s well used to the thin air, was supportive the entire way, encouraging me to push through the motor skill impairment.
Eventually we reached the top and altitude quezyness gave way to big smiles and my normal offensive, arrogant humor. The way down was slippery, but good, knowing I’d just climbed a mountain larger than any in the lower 48. During the decent my chest was working overtime, and I could feel the rib injury I’d sustained months earlier begin to annoy me more than I’d like. After we had hit base camp, we drove home and connected with the wi-fi in town, only to see the weather report said shitty conditions for our next planned excursion. With my ribs swelling with annoyance, and the weather looking grim, David suggested we make a change of plans…..and just drive around Ecuador and make fun of the cornrows occupying the heads of hippie american kids. Obviously, this was my bread and butter.
With my Cayambe dreams smashed, we made new dreams of our own (Mostly nightmares. That’s a real shrunken head by the way. From 1960. That head could be Don Draper. Let that sink in. Mad-Men head hunters). We stopped at Volcanic Hotsprings that was like a massive hot-tub complex. We drove south to Baños, climbing behind waterfalls and swinging on instagram/pinterest wanderlust. Sipping drinks with David (who doesn’t drink. So he always had a fruit mango whatever. I didn’t question it as he was driving anyway), we decided that we’d take a chance on the weather and spend the next two days climbing peaks away from the normal Andes fare.
Mt. Fuya Fuya(14,000ish) to the North was the first of two little jaunts that made my trip worthwhile. My rib pain seeming to subside, I had become very used to the altitude and had no problems climbing this easy bunny hill. Save for a small scramble at the top, this was mostly just walking a steep incline with slippery conditions all around. The thick grass was a nice change to the rocky wasteland of Rumiñahui.
The summit was a nice place for a lunch, and reminded me of many peaks in New Hampshire. More confident in my abilities, David and I rested the night in another Hosteria Papaguyo (North) and attempted a bit of a trek the next morning.
Hiking at 10,650 feet was now a breeze compared to what I’d done in days past, and the Laguna Cuicocha was wonderful. At 14 kilometers, with ups and downs in the trail, it took David and I just under 4 hours to circle the crater. Wonderful weather prevailed and it was a nice finishing touch to the trip. Probably the most interesting away game to date, and by far the most fun. I type this entry now as in only a few days, during my days off from work, I’m heading for a dangerous hike in the south of Spain. Either way, I think I’ll return to Ecuador another day and finish what I started.