One lesson that I have learned here is that in Ecuador nothing ever goes as planned.
Another week at Kamala had passed and we decided to celebrate by taking a trip into the jungle to go swimming in some waterfalls and have a barbeque at the Cascadas de Alex nature reserve. As I may have made obvious with my foreshadowing, it didn’t go so smoothly.
Things started off amazingly. The group loaded into a tank of a pick up truck. Between the seven of us CELTA teachers, one of our students, the owner of Kamala, and two rubias that are taking a diving course, along with all the food, the driver, the cook, and Adas the dog, we just weren’t going fit. Jesse and I volunteered to ride on the top, and the two rubias stood on the fold out bit on the back and hung on. An amazingly fun ride, and brought me back to being in Tonga, loading up the back of a truck with family and food and taking off in to the bush for a picnic. When we arrived Javier started cleaning fresh shrimp and and fish for lunch, and our two guides showed up with big rubber boots for us to wear and machetes and off we went.
This is where things started to fall apart. Pablo told us it was a 40 minute walk and along the way we would be stopping at a beautiful area with waterfalls and pools to swim in. We were prepared for a leisurely stroll through the woods. We were all wearing our swim suits and sun dresses. Out of all of us, only 2 people brought water. I suppose when we saw our guides carrying machetes and wearing rubber boots up to their knees, we should have realized something may have been lost in translation. The first leg of the hike was incredibly steep but the ground wasn’t too loose, so with some huffing and puffing, we made it just fine. The first place we stopped had the most beautiful view of the valley, and after walking straight up for 20 mins, we figured we were almost there and our spirits were lifted.
The next 3 hours were spent literally bushwhacking our way through the jungle across cliff faces, down into ravines, leaping across rocky stream beds of a mountain side that had to be at about a +50% incline down with nowhere but rocks to land on. We were ripped up by thorns and eaten by mosquitos and ants. There were points when the guide would be hacking through the vegetation to make us space to walk, and then turn around and backtrack for a while before changing direction. He was clearly a little lost. The rubber boots that they gave me to wear started getting so slippery with sweat inside that it became pretty dangerous. After losing my balance and sliding down the side of the mountain a couple times (did I mention I was wearing the BIKINI and a SUNDRESS) I gave up on them completely and took them off. I ended up doing about an hour and a half of the hike barefoot while carrying the ungainly boots in one hand, with only the other one hand free to hold on vegetation for dear life. That had its own set of challenges, but I least I wasn’t losing my footing and plunging down the mountain to my death.
When we finally got to the “waterfalls”, I had managed to avoid the dried spiked leaf spines and trails of biting ants with my bare feet, but one of the other girls in our group wasn’t doing so well. She has a medical condition where she needs have regular doses of salt when she doing extreme activites or she starts shaking, has cramps all over her body, and hyperventilating, and can have a seizure if left untreated. Since we had been told that this would be a 40 minute walk as oppose to a 3-4 hour extremely strenous hike, she had not brought her salt tablets with her. Thankfully Anibal had brought a can of tuna with him, and there was enough salt in it to get her through, though twice she started having an attack. The waterfalls, it turns out, only exist during the rainy season. So the reward for our journey was a few murky puddles full of mosquitos larvae in front of cliff faces.
When we finally got back to the base camp area, Javier had an amazing seafood rice dish and a giant grilled fish ready for us. After eating what felt like the best meal of my life and having a dip in the pool/swimming hole they had at the base, we were new people. As hellish as the journey was, we all made it out in one piece and now we have some amazing photos and stories tell our friends.
Original version published January 23, 2011, on tumblr as “El Viaje Extremo”.