One of my favorite things to do on vacation is hike. We had planned to go a small trek around the Sierre Negra Volcano. The day of our hike, the front desk attendant at our hotel wisely advised us to make sure we brought appropriate shoes, water and snacks for our hike. I internally scoffed at her, thinking to myself, we’re just doing a short hike, we are certainly capable (I mean, I DID play JV basketball for two years 12 years ago…I think I can handle it lady). It turns out she had good reason to make those suggestions. About halfway through what turned out to be a 22km (13.6 mile) hike, I was wishing I had listened to her and wore appropriate shoes, plus maybe an inhaler, some chafing cream, an IV drip. And socks. I definitely wish I had worn socks that day.
After our first bus out of town broke down, the second bus (“always have a backup bus” is my motto) took us to the trail head. There, we met our fearless leader: a 70ish Ecuadorian man with a face that was withered and kind and completely capable of tackling whatever the day held. “Do you want a long hike or a short hike?” he asked the group. I wanted short. The group agreed on long. Turns out long really meant long…we completed the hike about 7 hours later. Like a puppy following its mother, I found myself continually walking next to our guide, asking him about his life, his family, and how in the world he did this hike several times a week. He would laugh and beat his chest and narrate various stories from his past, his travels all around the world, the people he had met, and the food he had eaten. He showed us how to eat the local fruit, a delicious, surprisingly sweet combination of orange and peach. His vibrancy left me inspired, while his pace left me a little exhausted.
The Volcan Sierra Negra is the second largest non-active volcano in the world, and we hiked it from it from toe to tip, encountering pretty much every kind of landscape known to man. Lush green forrest scenes led to prairie like short grass, followed by deep black rocks, which eventually bled into a rainbow-colored landscape, complete with a breathtaking view of the countryside. It was like living in a Bob Ross painting.
Along the way, we also got to know a couple of other hikers, our favorite being a family from Argentina. The mother was Argentinian, the dad was German, and the kid, Juan, was awesome. Now, I’m not normally a “fan” of children, but this kid was amazing. Probably about 10, he hiked the entire time without whining or complaining (he was wearing converse hightops, what a gem!), and even offered us a biscuit in this adorable spanish-german accent that sounded like “biskeet.” Ugh, I wanted to squeeze him.
After a brief rest at the top, we made our long way back down the mountain. I’m not normally one for “exercising” or “physical activity” and I never in a million years would have thought that I could have done a half marathon, up a mountain, at elevation. That being said, the hike was incredibly beautiful and serene. If the lady at the counter would have told us how long we would be walking that morning, I might have even weinered out, knowing that my legs or lungs would surely give out before the end. So thanks, counter lady, your omission of helpful information actually forced me to accomplish something fantastic and ultimately led to a really long, really fantastic day.