Wednesday, May 17, 2006

la montaña: a really pathetic documentary

well, i did it. i climbed la montaña and the only proof i have (other than some lame pictures) are some really sore feet, legs and lungs. you all know how much of a photo freak i’ve been since being down here – taking pictures of nearly everything. well, i don’t have that many to show you of this hike because most of the time i was wondering whether or not i was gonna die of a heart attack or something. hopefully i’ll be able to get some from some other people who took better photos or who weren’t dying along the way. climbing’s hard!!!! 1,700 meters of it is really, super hard! i think the final estimate was that we climbed something like 6 or 7 miles. anyway, i’ll try to take you through the hike as best i can.

so after the second parade i’ve been a part of in two weeks here in apaneca, i left for metapán via ahuachapán and santa ana. metapán is the northernmost ciudad in santa ana and it’s where we all were meeting kate. the bus i picked up in santa ana happened to have four other people who were going on the hike too, so we all rode the bus up to metapán together. when we got there, kate was pointing to these mountains in the distance and saying “we’re going there.” it was kind of daunting seeing them standing there, waiting for us. there was also this big cloud hanging over them and kate kept saying she thought it was gonna rain and if so, we were in for a rough night. kate’s counterpart, oscar, came to pick us up at the bus terminal and took us to this place to get panes rellenos and so we all fueled up – which was probably a bad idea....i mean, seriously, panes rellenos? i can’t believe i ate one. it’s basically a big ‘ol hot dog bun with chicken, some kind of chili sauce, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, mayo, ketchup (i think), and some other kind of mystery sauce. there are probably at least four other ingredients i’m forgetting or otherwise didn’t identify at the time, but you get the picture. i mean, in my mind eating a pane relleno right before going on a 6 hour uphill climb is like saying you’re gonna eat a chili dog with EVERYTHING on it right before doing a triathlon or something. i don’t know. maybe not.

so we ate this tasty food and then piled back into the pickup. the pickup ride was great! oscar has this pickup, that’s relatively new, so it’s pretty nice. but it has a double cab so the bed isn’t that big. and there were i think 15 of us AND all of our gear, so the ride was hilarious! we were hanging out of the back trying not to imagine what would happen if the back gate decided to pop open. anyway, we weaved our way through metapán and then finally onto the dirt road that leads to kate’s site, and eventually the area where we’d have to begin the hike. before i start in on how much it hurt to hike this mountain, let me just say that kate’s site is beautiful. it was really quiet and it smelled so awesome, just like a forest should. and by the time we were riding through the forest it was already about 6:30 p.m. or so, so we sat in the back of the pickup and when we weren’t joking around, we were just taking in how awesome it was. you have to remember that nearly everyone in the pickup, except me, lives in a hot-as-hell site where it’s seriously at least 80-90 degrees every single day of the year. so for most of them the experience of actually being a little chilly in the mountain air was heaven.

kate’s house is great – she actually rents a house that’s on the property of some people next door to her. it’s totally perfect – she’s got a sweet porch and the best part is that she’s actually living in the mountains. i live in the mountains too, but i’m in a pueblo and so i don’t have trees on my doorstep and what-not. she’s got everything. anyway, we got all prepared there and her neighbors made us this raspberry fresco – made from raspberries picked right there next to the friggin’ house. york kept calling it “gummi berry juice” and that was just making me laugh. jared also showed us how to hypnotize chickens. and megan showed off her new head lamp which made her look like a crazy person, but was the perfect thing for this night hike. (p.s. i really, really want one!) but the fun-n-games had to end at some point and we all hiked back up the hill to oscar who was waiting in the truck for us. he was going to take us to the place where we could start the actual hike. we could have started it from there, but it probably would have taken us another two he was not only helping us save on time, but probably saving us some muscle pain as well. so we rode for quite a ways and then ended up at the end of the line. some dude lives in his house with his family at this ending point and there was some part of me that wanted him to tell us we couldn’t go. i knew this hike was going to be hard, just like i knew the volcano was going to be hard, just like i knew hiking the grand canyon was going to be hard. and to tell you the truth – i’m not sure why i do these things? i guess maybe personal challenge or some kind of nonsense like that. because i’m not a great hiker. i’m not a crappy hiker either. i mean, i make it. and i always am glad i did afterwards. but let me tell you, i’m not one of those people who enjoys feeling like someone is punching me in the lungs while i’m trying to climb up rocks and stuff. some people love it. or they don’t feel it or whatever. but i sure as hell feel it. i feel every second of it and in my mind, i’m not thinking “oh isn’t this just such a great FEELING? what a great workout!” no, i’m thinking along these lines: “this absolutely sucks! why did i come on this hike! NEVER again!”

anyway, after some dillydallying, we finally pack up and start the hike. uphill from the get-go. we follow this little road until bart turns off and yells that we’ve officially started the hike. yay for us! and it’s “officially” hard. i think the thing that gets me about climbing like this is having to heave your whole body up onto a “step” rock or something. know what i mean by a “step” rock? i don’t know what else to call it. there’s probably some technical term for what i’m talking about, but i certainly don’t know it. just read on, i think you’ll get it. you’re walking uphill, which isn’t THAT bad...depending on how vertical it is. but it’s basically just kind of a rhythmic momentum that you get into. so you’re in this momentum and then suddenly you have to change it and give everything you’ve got to hurl your body to take a giant step up onto a rock and then keep walking uphill. that’s damn hard! then you’ve got the SERIES of step rocks which you don’t know if you should take one step at a time with both feet (one foot up, leave it there, bring the other foot up onto the same rock), or try to climb like a set of stairs (one foot up, leave it there, bring the other foot onto the rock above it, leave it there, etc.,etc.). you honestly want to shoot yourself in the head when you finally reach the end of a series of those. and the thing i hate the most about all of this is when someone is behind me. whether or not they’re “on my heels,” i hate that feeling of someone walking behind me. so i kept trying to bring up the rear, because i could care less if i’m last. in case you hadn’t guessed, i’m not that competitive...i’m not in a race to see who can get to the top first. i’d rather have to keep up than have to hurry because i think i’m holding someone else up. and of course there’d be mark or bart there trying to be the “nice guy” and not wanting me to be at the end alone and i’m smiling and saying “no, it’s ok, i’m totally good” but i’m thinking “no, seriously, fucking GO AHEAD OF ME ALREADY for fuck’s sake!!!! see the red shirt i’m wearing? i’m the caboose in this goddamned train! GO!!”

so we finally get to what kate said was the half-way point, which was this amazing gigantic rock on the side of a stream. it felt so good to take off the pack and eat some food. i’ll admit, that first half was hard, but i felt pretty good. i kept thinking – if the second half is anywhere near the same, i’ll feel really good about this hike. don’t get me wrong...there were parts of it where i was seriously huffing and puffing, but i didn’t feel like i wanted to turn around and go back or quit or whatever. we hung out at the rock for quite some time, just chilling out and eating some food. some of us climbed on top of the rock, which made me feel like gollum because we were actually scaling it – having to find footholds and all that jazz. and at the top it was AMAZING. the sky was only slightly cloudy with the moon behind the partial clouds and just seeing the sides of the mountains looming beside us was beautiful. plus we could kind of see just how far we had climbed which seemed impossible.

but all that ended and we had to start up again which was kind of a glum feeling. but nevertheless, i packed up and shipped out like everyone else. it was hard, but i felt a little energized from the rest so it wasn’t too bad. after a five minute stretch we took a short rest for a second making sure everyone was together and started back up again. and dudes, it was at this point that i felt like i had lost complete and total energy. there were more series of rocks during this part of the trail and it was getting really, really hard to get up them. but i kept moving and trying to drink water and gatorade. i felt like shit though. i was struggling! and i was feeling less and less like i was just doing something hard, but more and more like i was doing something i was gonna kill myself doing. but i kept climbing and climbing and climbing. there were some nice little breaks when kate wasn’t sure of the trail and had to go investigate with bart. kate’s uncertainty was totally my savior! anyway, after what seemed like DAYS, we finally made it to the top....well, it wasn’t actually the top. but we made it to the cabaña where we were going to set up camp for the night. oscar doesn’t just own a nice pickup, but he has this swell cabin up there with this breathtaking view of the valley. it was about 2:30 a.m. and had taken us roughly 6 hours, más or menos, to hike to where we were. but i felt really gross, like sick to my stomach gross. and i couldn’t really tell if it was because i was worn out, or because i didn’t drink enough water (i thought i drank plenty) or because i ate all the wrong stuff before climbing (he-llo?? panes rellenos??). i was just feeling plain lousy. and of course york and mark were getting out the wine and the booze ($2.00 troika rubbing alcohol, i mean, vodka....gross even when you’re NOT feeling like ass) and everyone’s wanting to eat and whatever. i ate some food and even had some wine which actually didn’t taste that bad. we listened to some awesome bluegrass and just sat around the campfire joking around for a while (real mature stuff like repeated lines of “what happens on brokeback mountain, stays on brokeback mountain.”). at some point though it hit me and my stomach lurched. i rounded the cabin and ba-arfed. but like all good barfs, i felt so much better afterwards and re-joined the campfire!

that night was spent on the floor of the cabin in my sleeping bag, tossing and turning. would you believe that the best thing i brought with me to el salvador has turned out to be my sleeping bag? it’s the perfect size and it packs so easily. and it’s totally worked out for me because i got assigned to one of the coldest parts of el salvador, so i use it on my bed too. and it certainly came in handy that night in the cabaña. it was cold, but i felt ok. it was just the wooden planks beneath me that were making me wish i was back in my tiny bed in my cuarto in apaneca. well, the wooden planks AND the thought that kate kept talking about climbing even further in the morning (it WAS morning!) to the cloudforest. AND the fact that we still had to descend this mountain at some point, which may SOUND easy – but i’m the last person to forget the effects of down-the-mountain treks. canyon toe, anyone? my toes still haven’t completely healed from the volcano hike back in november!

so somewhere around 9:30 a.m. or so we started rounding up our stuff and i was contemplating whether or not to go on this second hike. kate kept saying it’d take like 20 minutes or something like that and i know that sounds like a piece of cake. i mean, what’s 20 minutes? but it’s not the length of time, it’s the height that you gotta climb in that 20 minutes. not to mention, 20 minutes for kate is certainly not 20 minutes for me. anyway, i was leaning towards hanging back at the cabin while the rest went to the top because my stomach was still not feeling too great. megan gave me some alka-seltzer and i have to say i was quite surprised at how much better i felt after drinking it. better enough to actually agree to climb farther. so we set off (minus our packs) for the cloudforest. it wasn’t so much getting to see the cloudforest as wanting to just do the damn thing, you know? i’ve got cloudforests in my site, right here in laguna las ninfas and cerro apaneca that i get to hike through without all the pain...well, some it wasn’t like i wasn’t going to ever be able to see a cloudforest again while in el salvador or anything. i don’t know. bottom line is, i willingly hiked further UP that day.

somewhere along the trail – and kate warned us of this – kate didn’t quite know which way to go. she wasn’t familiar with the trail around that area, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal to me. we got to the edge of the cloudforest and she basically just said to start climbing up. “up” meant some almost straight-line vertical climbing...hanging onto vines and branches indiana jones style, and pulling yourself up to the next ledge. the ground was this flimsy leaf-covered, mulch-like dirt that broke away the minute you stepped on it. it was wet (because it’s in the clouds) and over half of the branches you’d grab onto to pull yourself up or for support had inch-long thorns on them. it was great! actually, i really LIKED this part of the hike. it was strenuous at points, but i kind of liked the aspect of having to contemplate my next move. was i going to take this route, or this one? this branch, or this one? i loved actually “climbing.” when we finally got to the top and sat down for a spell, i was dog-tired (again), but feeling really good about deciding to go up there. because that part of the climb i really liked, even though it was still difficult.

going down that part was hard too, but again, i loved it. i liked being in the forest and having to negotiate each and every step made it a little easier to notice things around me – the trees, plants, flowers, birds. we ate raspberries the whole way – they were growing everywhere – and they tasted so amazing. the crap part about being that high up though is that when there are opportunities for good views of the valleys and things below, you can’t really see much because of the clouds. but there were breaks at different points and i felt truly lucky to have the opportunity to be on top of the mountain looking down on everything. this area is also near the honduras, guatemala and el salvador borders so it was cool to think that you could probably see two other countries from that point in el salvador – although i’m not sure if i actually did because of the clouds and all. it was just really beautiful regardless. the euphoria had to end though as we continued the trek back to the cabaña to pick up our backpacks and make the journey down.

we left the cabaña at around 1:30 p.m. and because we were kind of on a time constraint – the last bus from metapán to santa ana left at 5:00 p.m. or something – we had to book it. in fact, kate said something like “we really need to get going” and then bart followed up with “yeah, we need to correr” (which means to run). not words i really wanted to hear. descending the mountain sucked, but i knew it would and all i kept thinking was “at least i can friggin’ breathe!” but it’s a weird feeling after using what you think are ALL your leg muscles to climb, and then turning around to go down and finding out you have a gazillion OTHER leg muscles that are now screaming bloody murder. you’re all wobbly and unbalanced and trying to negotiate the same rocks you just climbed up onto. this, unbelievably, is even more difficult. i don’t know how, but it just is. it could also be something psychological too – like when you’re doing something incredibly difficult, it seems like nothing could be as difficult at that moment. or something like that.

anyway, down, down, down.....back to the rock and i knew this moment was coming too. i had been dreading this stretch of the trail ever since we hiked down it the night before. yes, you read that right. when we hiked DOWN it. there was this huge part of the trail leading to the rock that was pretty much all downhill, and parts of it were kind of steep. and i remember thinking how great it was the night before when i was super tired from climbing....hearing the stream and getting to go downhill and all that. it probably was responsible for me feeling not-so-bad when we arrived at the rock. but at one point i thought – but tomorrow, we have to climb back up this part to get back home. and so here we were – leaving for this part of the trail that i had been thinking about all night and day. and it wasn’t so much a punch-to-the-gut as it was a slow death. having to climb something like that after thinking you’re done with climbing, and having to switch back to using muscles that thought you were done using them and have settled into tightening themselves up is not really the way i’d like to end a hike. but that’s pretty much how it ended. well, we had more downhill after that, but at that point i was kind of zoning out. every rock looked like the last one, every switchback the same as the previous switchback, trees were just trees – not pinos or robles or cedras or whatever – just brown or gray trunks with green leaves hanging off the branches. it was like i was simply putting one foot in front of the other regardless of how it felt or where it would lead me. much of the trail downhill after this was actually a dried-out wash...a very narrow wash. i mean, olive oyl would have had problems standing up. add the loose rocks on the bottom and the fact that you’re going downhill and it’s a pretty treacherous hike. i didn’t remember it being that crazy on the way up – but that could have been because it was dark and all i had was a mag lite. no sé.

FINALLY the roof of the house we had started from about 30-some odd hours before came into view and instead of feeling elated, i still felt a bit of dread. see, we weren’t supposed to be getting a ride from the house back to kate’s house. kate’s house was still quite a ways down the road....and then we’d still have to walk even farther to the actual road to catch a bus going to metapán. the previous night’s ride from oscar was a random thing and on saturday’s hike back we weren’t going to have the privilege of riding all fancy in a pickup truck back to kate’s house. but when i rounded the corner after coming through the gate, i saw his beautiful pickup parked in front of the house and my heart did a little dance. oscar was there! and then i found out that he was going to take us all the way to metapán! i told courtney i wanted to give him a big hug or something, but i settled for shotgunning a cold coke that a woman (i think she is the wife of the guy we saw the night before) who lived in the house sold us. so we loaded up in the pickup after everyone was ready and it was a sweeeet ride back through the mountain and onto metapán. there wasn’t time for me to make it back to apaneca, or anyone to else to make it back to their sites, because it was so late by the time we got to santa we all took the final bus from santa ana into san salvador and ate pizza. i slept like a log that night – the best sleep i’ve ever had, or probably ever will have, at the estancia.

so how am i feeling today, now that i’m back all cozy and happy in apaneca? physically, the muscles are on the mend......still a little sore. believe it or not my stomach’s still acting a little weird. i’m praying i don’t have parasitios, but i honestly don’t think i do. i’ve been eating weirdo food (american!) lately – the pizza in san sal, then i had a hamburguesa the other night here in apaneca. it’s always the american food that makes me sick, so i’m just gonna blame my stomach ailments on the u.s. there’s enough other junk going on in the world right now that’s got the u.s. to blame so why not throw my upset stomach in there too.

mentally, yes, i’m glad i hiked it. i like seeing other people’s sites. i’m proud of myself for making it. it’s weird, though, because sitting here i’m thinking – it wasn’t that bad, was it? see, that’s the problem. it was “that bad.” at least while i was doing it! i somehow think i could’ve been a little more prepared. i thought i was because i’ve been doing all this hiking here. but i sometimes fall into the trap that i’m hiking a lot or far or whatever, when in reality i’m not. you see, here, the mountains are just about as high as the ones up there....maybe a couple hundred meters or so less high in some areas. but the thing is, let’s take cerro apaneca for instance. it’s height is roughly 1,800 meters and change. the height at the cabaña (someone actually had a gps) was something like 2,030 meters...that’s about 200 or so meters difference...not that much. the problem is, when i hike cerro apaneca, i’m starting in apaneca and apaneca is the highest elevated pueblo in the whole country of el salvador. so when i leave from apaneca, i’m already at 1,480 meters, so i’m not actually climbing the whole 1,800 meters – only about 300+ or so. the mountain we hiked this past weekend, well, we started (i think) from about 300, you get the picture. as my friend eric would say - do the math.

i mean, this ain’t the rockies or K2 or anything like that (add another 2,000 meters to get to the top of some of the peaks in the rockies), and i’m sure there are some people that think these mountains are if they’re not super high, then they’re not worth hiking or seeing. but you know, it’s not about that at all. i love being able to see this country. there are volunteers here who don’t do this shit. not to mention probably 90% of salvadorans haven’t even been to northern santa ana. i told some people in san jorge/apaneca that i was going to parque montecristo and they looked at me like i was talking about someplace in thailand. not everyone has the opportunity to do this kind of stuff, and i like being outdoors...not partying in san salvador all the time. this country really is beautiful and it’s a shame that not everyone can (or wants to) appreciate it.

anyway, i maybe could have tried to train a little more? next time? will there be a next time for me? not for a couple months, that’s for sure. oh, whatever. i hiked a mountain. it’s done. i’m back. and i’m not dead. i guess that’s all the analysis it really needs. although, i did get kind of an ego deflator the other day at school. i was watching the guatemalan news during lunch and there was a story about this dude with no feet who climbed mount everest. yeah. he wore these metal prosthetic “feet” and friggin’ climbed everest. he doesn’t have feet and he climbed EVEREST? and i’m whining about my – cough, cough – poor lungs and sore muscles, oh and my aching tummy, because i climbed a goddamned mountain that’s what, fifty gazillion meters less where there’s oxygen? puhleeze! i have feet! end of story. boy, i’m pathetic!

until i get better ones from other people, enjoy the photos! and go subir a mountain, wherever you are!

here´s megan with her cool headlamp

this is the cabaña where we camped

this is what the view looked like for me as i sat on a piece of wood on the ground. this has got to be the shittiest picture i´ve taken of a view that was 1,000 times better. lo siento.

i think this is a nice picture...a tree in the middle of the stream next to the rock (the rock´s on the right)

me at the very, very top of the cloudforest - i was sooooo tired and i definitely look it.

i had to take a picture of brendan with his disposable camera....every time he would take a picture we´d all start laughing hysterical b/c it´d make that boxy ¨click¨ sound.

courtney and brendan in front of the rock

NEW PICTURES (posted august 17, 2006)

early morning view of the valley below the cabin

me and maria

view of the valley looking down towards metapán

courtney, me, bart, mark

york and bart

yours truly