As our bus climbed up the side of the large valley, I began to gain some sense of just how big Quito, (Ecuador's capital city with 1.4 million people ) is, houses and buildings seemed to stretch and cover all but the highest peaks of the Andes. I was happy to leave behind the blue air of exhaust pipes and all the hoopla of the Miss Universe pageant that had descended upon the city in a wave of hysteria. It was most likely safer with the increased police presence, but I was in search of quieter things.
Heading south for an hour along the Pan American highway brought me to the border of Cotopaxi National Park. Standing in the heart of the park is the beautifully cone-shaped, snow-capped volcano Cotopaxi (19,342 FT). Getting to the park requires the use of a thumb and a bit of luck. A ride from our town into and back from the park was quoted at $25, plus a $10 park fee. Hitchhiking was what fit the budget, so away we went jumping into the back of pickup trucks carrying families on a weekend outing. Eventually, we were brought to where the road ended, high up on the side of the mountain.
Cotopaxi is an impressive mountain, often shrouded in afternoon clouds; huge glaciers sprawl across the top and sides, serving as testimony to the cold and moisture up high. We followed a wide trail that led to a climbing hut. Along the way, families bundled for cold plodded along. Some kids were suffering from AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and were being carried, pulled and dragged up the side of the mountain by over-eager parents. The clouds quickly blew in and soon everything and everyone was lost in the fog. Then the wind began to blow and snow pellets blasted my pant legs like stinging needles.
It was at this point that I decided it was no longer “fun” being sick and trying to climb to the hut at 15,700 feet. Nonetheless, stubbornness pushed me forward one step at a time atop the loose scree until eventually, through the fog, the hut slowly came into view. It was a good thing, too, because my body was shot. Inside the hut, families sat around tables snuggled together eating picnic lunches. After a brief snack, we headed down in hopes of finding a ride back to the highway. We were in luck! I had met earlier a US Embassy worker and his wife on the trail, and they were willing to give us a ride to the highway.
We had a pleasant conversation about what it's like to live abroad and living in Quito. At the highway, the couple dropped us off and we bid each other goodbye. A few days later, I was sitting in the lobby of our hotel watching the local news. The top story had something to do with the US Embassy in Ecuador. Suddenly on the TV screen in front of me was the guy who gave us a ride out of the park. I pointed to the TV -- why I don't know, since I was alone in the room -- and said out-loud, "That's the guy who gave us a lift!" Of course, I didn't understand much of what was being said, as my Spanish is still very weak. What I did hear was, blah blah blah, corruption, blah blah. Whoops, I thought, someone’s in trouble.
At the border of Ecuador and Peru, we hopped onto a bus that after 20 hours dropped us in the heart of Lima, Peru. It was a night bus, not my favorite choice, but cheap ($12) and efficient.
In Peru, I met a group of airline pilots from England: Nicki, Steve and Rob. They were on a three-week holiday to see the highlights of the area. After a nice chat, I asked them what they would like to share with the people back in the US; "leave America," " get a passport," and "If you are country that is going to get involved in world politics, you should know more about the world." They felt learning about the world was the only way one can be really responsible for the power the United States wields.
Knowing how to travel is just as important as knowing when to travel. Being sick and traveling make a bad combination. So I've made a decision to head back to Nebraska in one month. This will allow me to see a few highlights of Peru. Plus, the important task of coming home and getting well.