Iliniza Norte & Cotopaxi

I'm still in Quito with a couple more trainings left to do for work. I took a long weekend, though, and headed out to the Andes. I did one acclimatizing hike up Iliniza Norte (5,100 m) with a couple of lovely Canadians and a Vasco. We had one rest day before venturing to climb Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world (5,897 m).

I was feeling great the night before, sleeping high (well, not sleeping, but resting), around 4,800. I had proper glacier training with crampons and ice axe (and I learned that I love ice axes). We woke up at midnight to prepare ourselves, eat a little breakfast (but it's so hard to eat when you're that high up), and head out to the mountain. In a blizzard. I seem to bring the Patagonia wind with me wherever I go. It was crazy windy, with plenty of snow.

We were in two rope teams of three people each, except I was with Ramon, the Basque, and I probably should have been going slower. We were supposed to meet up around 5,200 meters to make sure we all felt OK and switch up the rope teams into slower and faster, if need be. But that didn't happen. I guess my group was so far ahead of the other group, that the decision was to keep on keeping on. But, man, the altitude really got to me. I wasn't even that cold, what with the blizzard and all. Just had many symptoms of soroche, altitude sickness. Dizziness, slowness, headache, nausea, etc.

So the guide tested my reflexes... Said to cover one eye and touch his forefinger with my thumb about an arm's-length distance away. And to do this fast. Rápido, Heather. I guess I did it really really, painfully slow, with a lot of wavering. I was so happy to have finally made it to touching our guide's finger that I grabbed onto it. Pure victory. We were moving on up the mountain. The guide and Ramon, apparently looked at each other and shook their heads (as Ramon told me later). We were on our way back down that mountain.

We'd made it up to 5,500 or more, it was 5 in the morning, we were so close! And we had to go down... I was crying. And then on the way down Ramon fell into a hidden crevasse. It all happened so fast, yet in slow motion. I stopped, sat, and dug my crampons into the snow so as not to let him fall deeper and not to slide into it myself. I have no idea how he got out, from my view it looked as if he trampolined himself out of there, springing out like a cat, and screaming, "Grieta, grieta!" Crevasse, crevasse!

Anyway, we all made it down safe. Out of about 8 groups, only 2 made it up the volcano that morning. I think the blizzard was definitely making it more difficult for everybody. Our Canadian friends were already back at the base camp refugio resting when we arrived, covered in an even layer of ice...

Only three days this time

Busride from hell...

I'm becoming a bit of a pro with the overnight bus. I take lots of them, usually sleep fairly well, maybe only needing a shower, meditation and an hour's nap when I arrive to the morning destination.

But the roads in Ecuador are pretty crap. And the buses are even worse. Yesterday and last night my trip was meant to be smooth once I arrived to Bahia de C... Took the bus popular from Canoa (a warm, mellow beach town on the Ecuadorian coast) to San Vicente. Then the ferry from San Vicente to Bahia, then a tricycle to the bus terminal where I would catch the overnight bus (clase ejecutivo) to Quito. I asked for the higher class bus, and a window seat. The ticket seller dude said yes on both accounts. (But every bus I've taken in Ecuador, I ask for a window, they lie and say I have the window, and then I don't have it. Usually it doesn't matter because nobody actually has seats reserved.) But the bus was a regular bus, not business class, no bathroom (took about 11 hrs, when it should have taken 8), and picked up people all throughout the night. I didn't have a window, which is really important on a bus that picks up people every five minutes. At first I moved seats to a window, which was great, I thought, because the aisles were full of people leaning on the poor sucker who occupied the aisle seat.

But in life things are constantly changing. You just have to be ready and willing to accept that as the only constant. Accept things as they are. And as they are, in flux. So, yeah, I had to change seats again (and deal with the dude who only hours before when I was waiting for the bus to leave, started leaning on the wall near where I sat ogling me, raising his eyebrows with a disgusting smirk only 10 inches away from my face). And my seat was right in the front next to a buffalo. I mean: this guy was huge! Plus he didn't want company, so I spent the first five minutes with half of my leg slanted against his dinosaur lap. A flat tire, mechanical difficulties, parties of people getting on and off. Windows closing, because people are actually cold, because they're coming from the warm beach weather to higher altitude. I was sweating, but everyone around me is closing their window and putting on their jackets. Finally, right before dawn, some vendedores climbed on the bus and sat right on my feet. One on one foot and the other positioned herself so that she could lean heavily on my entire sweating leg. I think this is what most people think about when they think about night buses in SA, but that's not the case; usually it's classy. Not uber comfy, but not bad, like being on a flight, except you're on wheels and can watch the scenery.

The only thing that saved me was my ipod. Music, own world. I don't know what I'll do if this one ever leaves me. This is my (blushing) third ipod. The first one being a gift from someone I like to refer to as the devil, and which was stolen on the train from Milwaukee to Chicago. But who wants to keep presents from the devil anyway. The second one I bought and was stolen en route to the states last year (either from Lima or from somehwere in Mexico).

Trip to the States...

Anyway... in way better news. I finally bought my way too expensive ticket to the States yesterday. I leave Natales on 9/24 and return on 10/10. What's more is that I talked to my dad and bro yesterday (called for my dad's bday, 60, it's shocking). And Earon said he can probably come out to visit me, in Cali! This excites me to no end! It was perfect timing for me to reach him, too, because he was packing up to leave for Wyoming today. He'll be working their a year, doing some crazy cool plumbing job. Yay! So far, I have lots of visits with my family, maybe and hopefully to include a visit from Earon, Lydia's beautiful wedding to attend with Timbo as my date, maybe some backpacking, a zany museum exhibit with Marty, and probably a trip to Y! to see the old digs and pretty working faces-oh and to make sure Mikey gets extra whipped cream with that frufru drink. :)

Has it really been three months? I'm being pressured to write something by my lovely soon to be hitched bff. It's been three months or something crazy like that. Gee time flies. Maybe I'll just do a bullet list of updates, though most of you know a lot of what's been going on with me. :)
  • Dog bite healed and I finished up all five rabies shots. It's called a vacuna antirabia. Rabia also means anger/rage. So I like to think I'm safe and healthy on a range of levels.
  • I've been traveling since the end of April, went to visit a Chilote in Castro on the main island of Chiloé. Fun, but realized that my tourist visa was about to expire, so I had to cut my trip there short and travel to Bariloche (in Argentina) to renew my 90-day entrance stamp.
  • Vipassana Meditation, 10 days in silence, no communication of any kind, no music, no reading, no nada, in the middle of May. This was probably the most intense thing I've ever done in my life. It beats a marathon stamina-wise. You wouldn't expect it, but sitting 10 hrs a day or so hurts! And just sitting with yourself with zero distractions is serious business. I'd recommend it to anybody ( There are all kinds of these retreats in the States. It's free, a donation at the end of the journey. Plus the food, wow, delicious, simple vegetarian and super healthy. (I've been veg ever since, apart from seafood, something I'd been thinking about doing for ages.) It was a cleanse in many ways, just about every character I've met in this life visited me. Been pretty good about keeping up the morning meditations, though it can be hard with overnight buses, dorms, etc.
  • Hung out in Santiago, taking a travel writing workshop for the magazine. Here decided that my travels would take me to Ecuador, so I could be trained and help organize a bit the remodel of our web site. I've been doing this whole trip overland and visited quite a few little places on the way north in Chile.
  • I turned 30.
  • Traveling traveling north to San Pedro de Atacama (though I meant to go to Salta, Argentina, but either the pass to get there was closed or the buses weren't running on the days I was ready to go.) From Atacama met some folks and we traveled 4x4 style to Salar de Uyuni. World's largest salt flat (4,085 square miles according to Wikipedia) in the altiplano of Bolivia. The group of people on this trip were so fun and we did all the crazy Salar photos, one of the girls brought toy dinosaurs as props. Awesome. Here's one photo one of the guys sent to me... It's not the funny Salar posing type of foto, just me holding the sun at its dawn... basically the vast expanse of white makes it so that you can take zany pictures because you have no sense of depth out there.

  • This was also part of the trip where I bribed the Bolivian officials at the border to let me in for only four days. I traveled pretty extensively in Bolivia last year before the new Visa regs they have for USA. Now, if you're from the States, you have to pay $100 buckaroos to enter the country. What? I guess it's fair if you consider how hard it is for them to get a tourist visa to the states. Anyway, supposedly Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and you can (and often must) bribe your way around. That means in my passport I have an exit stamp for Chile and then I'm nowhere for four days, before getting my re-entrance into Chile.
  • Other trip highlights include Arequipa, Peru, which seriously has the most beautiful main plaza that I've seen in South America. It's a beautiful city, if a little foul smelling on account of all the diesel autos. There, I hiked around in Colca Canyon... the gulp... second deepest canyon in the world. Ha! I hiked it with a few other people and they had the fish-story way. You know, how the fish that you caught gets bigger with every telling. They swear when they tell of their trip, that they will have climbed down and out of the DEEPEST canyon in the world (which is Cotohausi and in the same neck of the woods). And I kept saying that they can't do that, it wasn't the deepest canyon, and we all laughed at me. But they're right, it sounds way better to day deepest canyon in the world, than SECOND deepest. I also climbed up Misti Volcano (totally unclimatized, not a good idea!). Highest I've ever been at 5,825 meters, more than 19,000 feet. I made it, cold and dizzy. About 7 hours to get up (from a high camp), starting at 3 a.m., and only 45 minutes to get back down to the high camp. Coming down was SO much fun, like skiing, all loose sand, down down down.
  • For the last couple weeks I've been beach hopping on the Ecuadorian coast. It's so nice to be warm. I hear it's frozen solid in Puerto Natales (where I go back in August). Been going for lots of barefoot beach runs and refreshing myself in the equator-warm Pacific afterward. I love this part. Oh, and all the yummy fresh fruit juices. I don't know how I live without fresh squeezed juice every morning. I'm going to have to figure something out for that.
  • Tomorrow, I'm headed to Quito, where I'll stay for a bit, do some hiking, hopefully climb Cotopaxi Volcano, and work on some web site stuff.
That's all for now...


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