January 24, 2013

Papallacta Hike!

Sorry this is so late, but this is from the second day exploring the area on mainland Quito, Ecuador!

After waking up to the roosters outside our windows and religiously taking our ridiculously necessary altitude-sickness medication, we had what seems to be a typical Ecuadorian breakfast of rolls, croissants, juice, and scrambled eggs.  Then we were told to pack for potentially chilly weather.

We made a few stops in the morning where we had the ability to see amazing landscapes, beautiful views, and areas where two glaciers met and created incredible rock formations in the valleys.  Then we made our first attempt to hike in the Andes Mountains at Papallacta.  Here, we all put on every ounce of clothing in our daypacks and began the hike upwards.  The second we left the bus, we could feel the winds whipping around the corners of the mountain.  Then, we took about 10 steps and realized there was definitely not enough oxygen in the atmosphere for all of us to share. Little did we know that we were about to embark on one of the most exciting, but frightening adventures.

We made our way about a mile up a flat road to a meeting point amidst the clouds, breathing like a fish out of water the whole way.  Despite our initial plans to hike the 6 mile trail down to our hotel, the visibility was so poor that we decided to take a better marked trail for safety.  As we began the trek up the mountain, person by person we were completely knocked over by the wind.  Every time there was a gust, we would all grab onto the closest thing to prevent ourselves from being the next victim.  Just picture what felt like Hurricane Sandy-force winds with a sheer drop off to the side of the mountain where you were being pushed.   We finally made it to a little gazebo and took a short break before continuing along the trail.

Then, the rain started.  This clearly meant that huddling in penguin-like groups began to preserve body heat.  Shivering was the commonality.  Every person with glasses looked like they had been in the sauna for the past 8 hours and could not see a thing.  We began a short period of a downhill trek with a direct drop off the side of the mountain.  Those wind gusts kept getting worse and every once in a while, we would grab onto the closest person to ensure we were not about to fall off the edge.  Cutting the hike slightly short due to intense weather conditions, we returned back to the initial gazebo, where we took a chocolate break.  Those have become very common here because chocolate is a good remedy to combat altitude sickness.  That may be my favorite part of this trip–every strenuous activity (or not) is an excuse to eat every ounce of chocolate that you have or is given to you.  Because of my chocolaholic nature, there are definitely no complaints about that here.

After the hike, we made a stop at a lake that was dammed by a lava flow and were able to observe many more amazing geological features.  However, the best part of the day was the hotel, or should I say resort, and the hot springs that came with it.  After driving up, we unloaded our luggage and went to our respective rooms.  I was in a two story cabin outfitted with an in ground tub in the bathroom, a complete kitchen, dining area, living area, fireplace, and outside dining area.  The best part? The hot springs were right outside the window.  After a long, cold day we all had the chance to hang out in these beautiful hot baths, which did wonders for our muscles.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, then we headed to dinner, where we could choose anything off the menu.  It was absolutely delicious.  Following dinner, we were able to take a final dip in the baths before bed.  It started to slightly rain as we entered the baths, which was incredibly surreal.  Another fantastic day on the trip!  There is no telling how much more wonderful things we will get to do!

Here are a few pictures from our time on the Papallacta Hike!

Megan Young

Civil and Environmental Engineering ’13

posted in Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

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