Sometimes you backpack, sometimes you are the backpack
Here in Pimampiro there is a hike you can go on that is quite famous. There is a “secret” lagoon that you can go to that is way up in the mountains, 3440 meters high. Its called Puruanta and if you are crazy enough you can hike there. My family wanted to go and I thought it would be quite fun. The problem was that when you tried to find out how difficult it was there was so much conflicting information. Some said it would take 3 hours for a guide who knew it well to get there, others said it would take 10-12 hours hiking. Most said you could get there in about 6 or 7. I was guessing it would be about a 7 hour hike. The said you go through swamps and a lot of mud which is sometimes up to your knee. Everyone said it was really difficult. Its not that I didn’t believe them. I was ready for difficult. I was not read for this though. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to do.
I went on this “little” adventure with Carlos, my dad who is around 50, Carlos, my brother who is 17, his friend who is also 17 (I don’t remember his name), Katy and Carlita, my sisters who are 13 and 15 and Don Jose who is 35 and goes every other weekend to fish. Don jose said he got there in 3 hours once when a tourist got sick. He was our guide and I would have quite possibly died without him.
We were up at 3 am and out the door by 3:30. I began to wonder, after my 2 and a half hours of sleep, what I had gotten myself into. You know the journey will be rough when you haven’t started it yet and already cant wait till you get to the destination so you can crawl into your sleeping bag. We drove an hour to Don Jose’s and had some bread and coffee for breakfast. We then drove to his “hacienda” loaded up the horses got ready to leave.
We started our journey on horseback at 6 am and the horses were able to accompany us for the first two hours, until the trail became to hard for them. Carlita and katty were both afraid to ride alone as they have only been on a horse a few times. Since no one wanted to ride I excitedly jumped at the offer. One horse was mounted up with all of the backpacks to make the first two hours easier on everyone and the other horse I got to ride. This first two hours was an adventure in and of itself. I have never been so thankful for the horseback riding lessons I had when I was younger. Had I not known how to ride a horse I definitely would have been on the ground a few times. Two hours of bear back riding is quite hard on your legs and you can most definitely expect to end up with a bruised tailbone. Its hard enough when you are on even ground but this was more like scaling tall mountains on very narrow paths with steep drop offs on the other side of the mountain. And I thought driving cars here was scarry! The horses definitely know there way though. They have gone on this path many times but it doesn’t make it any less terrifying when they are slipping and sliding all over the rocks. You just hear their horseshoes scraping and sliding on the rocks under them and all you can do is hold on and pray you don’t fall off to you right or you will be tumbling down the cliff. It was not all uphill either. Going down the steep inclines was just as scary because the horses don’t just leisurely walk down… they slide down. I would have one hand on the reigns and a good grip on the main and the other hand I would use to just try and hold myself back on the horse so I wasn’t sliding onto its neck. Jose was in front of me with his machete which he uses to smack the horse (with the flat side) when its not listening. Every time he would raise the machete to cut a tree branch the horse would freak out and jump. We would go through trees that were so low that I would have to lay flat against the horses neck going down hill (which is quite scary) so I wouldn’t get clotheslined by the trees that were scratching over my whole back. I held on so tight with my legs that by the time we reached where we needed to begin walking my legs were already shaking and felt like jello. For the most part I wasn’t scared of the crazy ride (with a few exceptions of thinking I was going to go over the clif) but I was definitely in a lot of pain from holding on so tight and from my tailbone repeatedly hitting the horses spine.
Throughout this time, however, there was a tension between being in pain from the ride and being completely blown away by Gods glory. I was horseback riding through a rain forest with a light misty rain falling and the view was honestly breathtaking. Minus the pain, I felt like I was in paradise and I could not help but worship the God who created it all. My prayers were something like this “God you are so incredible for creating this and I am blown away by your glory and love you so much…please don’t let me die.” Haha. I have since decided that I will take this part of the journey and file it under “most amazing memories in my life” and simply separate it from the rest of the trip lol.
Now I knew that the hike would be hard but when they said mud up to your knees I was thinking maybe an hour or two would be that way. I was not expecting 8 hours of mud up to your knees. I can not even begin to tell you how exhausting it is to walk in the mud. The first time I got stuck my boot came off! You quickly learn how to walk without losing your shoes but the energy that is required is unbelievable. The mud is deeper than your boots and at points is above your knees. My boots were full of mud and water and I desperately would try and find roots or stones that I could stand on instead of sinking. The term “stuck in the mud” took on a whole new meaning to me. We start at 1800 meters and climb to 3440 meters. Parts of the journey are straight up with poor footing and if you grabbed the wrong root and it gave way you were going to fall quite a ways down. I quickly became aware that I was entrusting my life to tree roots and the sovereignty of God.
The first two hours were painful but I still was able to look around and thank God for the beautiful creation and enjoy it. The higher and higher we got the more exhausted I became and less oxygen was available. My little family and friends were used to the altitude. The guys who had gone a few times before walked or ran through the mud like it was dry ground. I don’t know how they did it. My little sisters, who play sports all the time and are very athletic, seemed a bit tired but for the most part were doing quite well. Calros, my dad, and I were the only two who were really struggling. We eventually stopped trying to keep up with everyone else and we walked at a much slower place. Carlos, my little brother took my pack from me and attached it to his as he saw how exhausted I was. He also took his fathers huge pack and one of the girls took a small backpack. They distributed most of the weight between carlos and his friend. Even though they carried all the extra weight they were still way inf ront of Carlos and I. My enjoyment and ability to thank God for his creation quickly began to switch to a “jesus please come back and take me now because I want to be dead and its so clear that I am living in a fallen world” type of mentality as I tried to stomach the nausea I was feeling from pushing my body to its limit.
It was about 5 hours of trudging through mud and wanting to die until we reached the swamps. Now this was a whole new adventure. I remember being at the beach with friends this summer watching an episode of bear grylls where he was walking through a swamp in florida and he said if your not careful you will go under. I remember watching him then abruptly fall through the tall weeds and cut a hole to get back out. It looked terrifying. Luckily this swamp was only waist deep so when you would make a wrong move and plunge through the weeds you didn’t go completely under. It was still quite terrifying. I just wondered what was swimming under there. I only went in once. My right leg was firmly on dry ground but my left leg went straight in up to my waist. My mind was quickly turned from the terror of what may attack my leg under the weeds to the sharp pain I was experiencing in my right leg. My right leg had twisted in another direction and a shooting pain was sent through my leg. Carlos, my brother helped pull me out. Once I was out I realized quickly that I had pulled my groin muscle and ever step was incredibly painful. Lifting my leg was what hurt the most and having it stuck in mud and having to pull it out with every step was agony. You honestly cant use your leg at 50% when it means that you might fall and hurt yourself worse or slip down one of these cliffs and die. There is nothing you can do but grit your teeth and keep walking at full force. I knew we didn’t have enough hours of light left in the day for me to turn back. The only thing I could do was walk the next two hours to try and make it to camp. I walked for a half hour on my leg and wanted to die. I thought about just walking into the swamp, going under, and not coming out. I had a face mask that they call a “passa montanas” which basically covers your face and you look like your going to rob a bank. I pulled it down so they couldn’t see the tears in my eyes and the expression of agony on my face. When I started to think I may black out I sat down and told them I needed a break and couldn’t do it anymore. Jose told me to wait there and he ran his pack up the mountain about a half an hour and then ran back. He rigged up his little rope and basically tied me to his back. He carried me the last hour and a half to camp. (the two girls ended up taking his pack the last hour and a half! They are pretty amazing.)
I was completely amazed at jose. He walked twice as fast with me on his back as I did before I hurt my leg with no pack at all. It was quite terrifying though. I cant tell you what its like to climb straight up cliffs on someone’s back. I clung to him as tight as I could so he could use his arms and I just prayed he would not fall. The rope cut into my legs and into his shoulders and my arms felt like they were going to fall off but it was better than the stabbing pain of me walking.
When we finally reached camp and my body was no longer straining to hold on the cold set in. I think my body may have also been in shock but I for the first time, legitimately though I may die there and not make it back. My whole body was convulsing from cold, pain and exhaustion. It took about an hour for the guys to set up camp. Once the tent was up I could barely take off my wet , mud caked clothes and get on my dry ones. My hands were not working and I was too tired. I wanted to admit defeat and lay down right were I was and die. They guys had to help me take my boots off because I didn’t have the strength. Once I finally got dry clothes on I crawled into my sleeping bag. I could not get warm. I laid there convulsing for an hour and a half. I honestly didn’t know if it was from the cold or the exhaustion and pain. I was scared it would be that way all night and that I just wouldn’t wake up. I tried to make my body stop but I couldn’t. I asked them to fill my nalgene up with hot water and then I put it in my sleeping bag. About a half hour later my body stopped shaking and I fell asleep. I slept from 7 at night until 10 am, which is 15 hours, and I woke up a few times through the night with shooting pains in my leg or the feeling of nausea from the exhaustion. I couldn’t throw up because that took too much energy to get out of the tent and it was so cold so I just tried to hold it down and sleep . It didn’t matter though, I was warm and I was not walking. When I woke up I wanted to cry thinking about the 10 hour trip home. I ate some ramen noodle soup for breakfast and went to look at the lagoon, which I now hated for even existing, and took a picture with the girls. I put my muddy wet clothes back on over my nice try clothing and we packed up and started back. I had taken 6 Advil with my breakfast and was feeling pretty good. I was determined to walk back because I could not imagine having jose carry me for that long.
I was walking slow. I did walk for an hour and a half but it was very slow. Going down was easier in some ways because you start out out of breath and then get more oxygen as you get lower. Its just as terrifying though. Going down these steep cliffs, I was scared of slipping and that being the end of me. At that point I really didn’t care much. “If I were on survivor” I thought to myself, “I would be the first to go and I would opt myself off the show asap”. I however, did not have the luxury of opting myself off of any show so I continued in pain to try and walk. Eventually jose found a tree that he hid his backpack in and told me that we would get back at midnight if he did not carry me. He also told me that it was painful to watch me walk because I looked like I wanted to die. That was accurate. So again, I was turned into a little backpack. The ropes were horrible. I was bruised from the day before so they only cut into my legs more. We found a way to rig it up using his sweater as well as the rope so that the ropes didn’t dig into his bruised shoulders quite so much. I felt like a little koala bear at first… then I just felt like a sack of dead chickens hanging there on his back. I would at times put my head on his shoulder and close my eyes and try and pretend I was not there. That was not possible however when he would duck under branches and come up too soon and smack my head on them. I am not in the least bit trying to complain because Jose saved my little life and im SO thankful for him but he is not good at gauging head room when going under trees. I pulled down my face mask to try and protect myself a little from the snapping tree branches. Jose carried me for 5 ½ hours. If I had to have a hero in life, I think it would be him! Haha. I don’t even know how he did it. He carried me with a machete in hand (which I was so scared hed fall and I would land on) and walked at twice the pace that I could have if I had not been hurt and without a backpack. I was terrified when he would scale these cliffs with me on his back and I don’t know how he didn’t fall. I was honestly as amazed by his strength and agility as I was by the rainforest around me. All I can say is that God provides grace where grace is needed and Jose was definitely Gods grace to me.
We finally reached the horses and I sat there fighting the swarms (literally clouds) of mosquitoes as he loaded up the horse. You cant sit still in the mountains there or you will be eaten. I jumped on the horse and realized the pain would be pretty awful as I had to used my legs to hold on. I didn’t even care about the horses sliping all over. If my life had ended I would have been grateful in that moment. Heaven seemed quite appealing to me. Carlos, who was extremely tired at this point got on the back of the horse with me. My horse did not like that much weight and was not thrilled. Carlos also didn’t really know how to ride that well and I think the horse knew it. He fell off when the horse slipped on some rocks and I was scared hed take me with him, but he didn’t. Then he got back on and my horse was not happy. He was throwing his head around and then he started to buck and kick. I got mad and yanked his head around and smacked him hard. I was not in the mood to be thrown from a horse with my leg killing me and I was in too much pain to be scared by its bucking. I was just angry and kicked it as hard as I could with my good leg. Carlos somehow didn’t fall off this time but immediately jumped from the horse in terror which I thought was a little funny, although it would have taken far too much energy to laugh. I was happy when carlos decided to walk because I did not have the strength to fight this horse the rest of the walk and it hurt like crazy to stay on the horse when it was acting up.
We finally got back after dark. The dark did not help with the horses slipping all over the path but I was too exhausted to care. Once we got to the hacienda they had dinner ready for us. I still felt horrible and I did not want anything to eat. It was agony to sit there while they all talked and laughed and ate. I just wanted to go home, take a shower and crawl into bed. Jose showed everyone his bruises and they laughed. They made jokes about how his wife would divorce him for having a gringo hugging him for 6 hours. They made jokes about his bruises saying I hugged him too hard and how would my boyfriend feel about that? He laughed and joked with me saying he would miss his little backpack or that his back was cold. I tried to force a smile and laugh but it took too much energy. Then we had the hour ride home. I finally got to the house and just about fell into the shower. I prayed and prayed for hot water (its not always hot here) and I had the most consistent and hot shower I have taken since I have been here. I never thought I would praise God so much for his grace to me with a hot shower.
I slept 11 hours last night and everything hurts today. Im just thankful for my little bed and clean clothing. I think im done with hiking for a little while.