Peregrinations & Meditations: Ecuador

There is momentary regret when taking on a challenge you believe is achievable until you get partway through and think this is not doable at all. However, you have gone too far to turn back so you keep trudging along through all the blood, sweat, tears and altitude sickness until you reach the end. It isn’t pretty and you feel really old and out of shape but you do eventually get there in the end without much fanfare and too exhausted to feel a sense of accomplishment.

I didn’t really notice the altitude though I was warned about it and researched the effects of and natural remedies for it before embarking on my trip to Quito Ecuador. Going up the stairs always leaves me breathless at near sea level so I wasn’t sure how I would fare in Quito.

The metal angel, a capital city and an active volcano

I saw the metal angel and was told a taxi would cost me $3 to get there. As I walked towards it I thought it was close enough to walk all the way, so I did. With my map app, I navigated to the top (just a few wrong turns along the way) but then memories of my bout with pneumonia came flooding back when I went up the first set of stairs. Let me be clear that the first set of stairs was actually the first few steps. I thought I was going to die but I kept going and going. I had come all this way and the further I went, the less inclined I was to turn back. I was determined that all my huffing and puffing would not go to waste and I had some dignity to maintain as some of the locals watched me walk along and yelled some words in Spanish at me. I made it to the top and was so relieved it was all over. It could only be downhill from there and that is much easier on the lungs.

At an altitude of 2850m Quito is the second highest capital city in the world. Luckily I didn’t get the hallmark symptoms of altitude sickness (i.e. headache, nausea, lack of appetite) when walking the streets of the old town but I was often short of breath when going up any incline. It was on the day trip to Cotopaxi, an active volcano, that I began to regret not having some diamox with me. We were told to walk slowly up the volcano (and here I was thinking we were only doing a leisurely stroll at the base), so I did walk very slowly. If I were on a treadmill my pace wouldn’t have even registered as I was imperceptibly moving, one foot in front of the other and with great effort. After awhile (about 30 minutes including several 5 minute breaks) I felt like I could keep going at this pace without having to stop and rest every few feet. Then it appeared, the sign that said we had climbed to the refuge (watering hole with hot chocolate, snacks and non-functioning toilet) at just over 4800m.

I always identified with the tortoise in the famous Aesop fable The tortoise and the hare.
“Slow and steady wins the race”, “persevere!” and other reptilian inspirational thoughts seemed most appropriate for my first experience at high altitude walking. Despite feeling several times that this wasn’t doable and why did I think I could do this anyway? I can now look back and say yes in spite of everything, I still did it. Hindsight (with a sufficient dose of oxygen) is 20/20 and in 2019 I am considering the possibility of a Machu Picchu hike.

You never know how things will turn out in the end. You just have to get there first.


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