Today, I climbed a mountain. A small, teeny tiny mountain, when put into perspective; at the time, however, it felt bigger and more intense than Mt. Everest. As a disclaimer, I am not a very athletic person. I belly dance, I do not jog up stairs or lift large amounts of matter over my head. Therefore, when presented with the first of many switch back style, uneven, muddy, and precarious staircases of our 2000m elevation hike, my first instinct was to turn right around and run for my life- at a slow run, of course. Against my instincts, I got in line behind everybody else as we hiked up and up and up, into the cloud forest. With time, the elevation began to take a toll on me. I could barely go 10m without having to stop to prevent myself from throwing up. So, there I stood, bent over with my giant hiking pack strapped to my hips and back, gagging. It didn’t get easier, but I tried to stay positive. At least I’m not dead! I thought to myself. As I started to lag behind, a girl in the course fell back with me. We arrived at the cabin approximately thirty minutes behind the large group. Upon seeing the fire, warm and glowing like a beacon of health, hope, and happiness, beside a large pot of spaghetti, I nearly collapsed and bowed to it and all its glory. I slept really well, even the giant swarm of mosquitos above my head couldn’t shake me from my exhaustion.
The cloud forest is a wonderful place! It almost made the hike worth it. I woke up super sore and crabby. But, the forest is amazing. This little guy ate breakfast with us!
This guy interrupted our lecture!
The cloud forest is unique because of its high elevation. It is so humid and high up, the forest is literally inside of clouds.
There is a high level of endemism, meaning a lot of the animals that live in the cloud forest ONLY live in the cloud forest. For instance, we happened upon this terrestrial leech while on our first teaching hike.
I didn’t even know terrestrial leeches existed. The foundation that sponsored the course, the Ceiba Foundation, set up the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve to preserve this unique habitat and all its cool plants and animals.
At night, we would crowd around the fire with our cooks, professor, and T.A. A fun thing about being in a Spanish speaking country in that our teaching assistant was a native Ecuadorian. She would entertain us beside the fire at night up in the cloud forest with tales of the Chucalongo, a short man wearing a sombrero who kidnapped women in the forest, and other myths and legends of Ecuador. Needless to say, I wouldn’t go to the outhouse by myself the entire time I was up there. Drinking hot chocolate, we would swap spooky tales while speaking in a mix of Spanish and English, the background music being provided for us by the many critters of the night. I will hopefully never forget this part of the trip. Despite the rough hikes and living conditions, we still managed to laugh throughout the night, rain and biting insects be damned.
Unfortunately, the hike down was just as intense. When we hit the lowest cabin, my legs were literally akin to jello. Of course, five minutes into the hike down I fell and twisted my ankle. I now had what we affectionately called ‘softball ankle,’ because that was its size. My body shook and quaked as I loaded my pack onto the bus. I’m not sure outdoor things are my cup of tea, but I am really glad I managed to waddle up that hill. The rest of the course will be downhill- literally.