During the hour drive to the town of Triumf where Segundo makes his home, Kleaver talked about the struggling economy, which he blamed partly on Colombian and Peruvian workers who were coming accross the border and charging half what Ecuadorians were for the same work. As we bounced along the muddy road we passed people of all sorts: mothers with children, old men, boys kicking a soccer ball, a man herding cows. Kleaver honked the horn as he passed each group. Unlike the Bronx horn of agitated New York taxi drivers looking to clear a path through the yellow mish-mash, this was a honk of greeting. It was like a wave, or a tip of the hat, and everyone we passed waved back. It reminded me of being on Orcas Island where every person you pass, without fail, raises their hand from the wheel or nods their head. This seemed to be the same sort of tight-knit community.
We arrived at Segundo´s house under dense cloud cover. Like many of the houses here, Segundo´s was made from stacked cinder blocks filled with cement and was finished with an amorphous grey plaster. Uncut rebar columns protruded from the roof. Vibrant laundry hung on a line beside the house, soaking in the rain. We waited in the car while Kleaver went to get Segundo.
“How you feeling?” I asked Tyler.
“Good. I´m excited. You?”
“This poncho smells bad.”
“Yeah. Like chemicals.”
“You wan´t more granola?”
“No I´m good.”
Kleaver returned to the truck and started saying exactly what I was worried he would say. Segundo thinks that with the constant rain and the depth of the mud that the trip to Cerro Hermoso will take at least six days. That is a problem.
“I mean we only have food for like four days,” says Tyler.
“And we don´t even have enough fuel to cook that food. I mean we were going to eat some of that ramen raw right?” I reply.
“Yeah. I don´t really want to go out there and fuck around in the mud and rain if we aren´t going to climb the mountain either.”
“Yeah there really isn´t any point in that.”
“If we went on our own we could do it in four days.”
“Yeah, and never come back.”
“Yeah, we´d die.”
“They´d never find our bodies.”
“So what do we do? Bag it?”
“I just don´t think it´s gonna happen.”
“I´m worried you´re right.”
We go into Segundo´s house and sit on couches. There are chicken at our feet. He shoos them away, shows us a map. He shows us a photo album and tells the stories behind the pictures. There are blue skies in all the pictures. His son comes in. He shakes all our hands as is the custom here. He cannot be more than eleven. Segundo is in his mid seventies. The boy, in uniform, is on his way to school. He runs out the door towards a truck that drives by but doesn´t stop. We sit and talk to Segundo and Kleaver for an hour, maybe more. We tell them we have to go back to the hostel before they give our rooms away. We shake hands, say thank you, say we will try another time. We curse the weather.
The next morning we get up at the same hour, about 6 am. It´s still raining. Again, we are in full rain gear, but this time we wear hiking boots. Nuria is with us. We are determined to do something, to climb something. The camioneta takes us up a gravel road. The gravel changes to stone and suddenly we are not moving anymore. The tires are spinning. The driver pops it into four-wheel drive and we make it a bit further. Then we spin-out again. The three of us get into the bed of the truck. I hang my ass over the tailgate. We ascend.
By the time we reach the trailhead we´re already soaked.
“Gorgeous day,” says Tyler.
“Yeah, beautiful! I mean we are really getting lucky here,” I say.
“Amazing view,” adds Nuria. We give each other smiles of disbelief. The trail is more like a river, or a tunnel. No. A drain pipe. We´re walking in a six-foot deep ditch with dense, interwoven bamboo crossing over the top of it. For a while, we are in almost complete darkness. I´m constantly ducking, trying to avoid being decapitated by vines. This, I think, is what the jungle is like.
It takes us about 3 1/2 hours to climb the 1000 meters from the trailhead to the refugio. I´m fully drenched, my hands are freezing and I´m covered in mud. The refugio is a sight for sore eyes. That is until I realize that the place has no roof.
“I mean I didn´t think there could be a worse place than that last refugio on Illiniza,” I say.
“What do you mean? This is cozy,” says Tyler.
“Oh yeah, look, they even have hot sauce in the kitchen.”
“Yeah, and there´s grass growing out of it.” I can´t help it. I exhale water from my nose. We´re cracking each other up in that sorry-for-ourselves, completely-hopeless, partially-crazed-from-lack-of-vitamin-D sort of way.
“You dick! Don´t make me laugh while I´m drinking.”
We make tuna sandwiches for lunch without sitting down for fear of contracting something. Tyler is singing love songs and asking questions like, “If you could wipe one country off the face of the earth who would it be?”
“Like just the people or the land too?”
“Like drop a nuke on em.”
“So basically unhabitable for eons. Ok. Um. Thats a toughy.”
Or,”How much time do you think the average person spends pissing during their lifetime?”
“Dude, totally depends on the person. I mean male or female, size of bladder, so on, so forth,” I say.
“Well does that include preperation and clean-up or just urine leaving urethra?” asks Nuria.
“Just urine out of urethra.”
“Well in that case there probably wouldn´t be much differance between men and women.”
And somewhere in the mist above us, less than 500 meters away, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. For a moment, I think I hear a rumble. Not really. I´m just saying that. It was only the wind, but as I listen to it I imagine that it is the volcano. Then I think, if that baby erupted this drain pipe would probably be filled with lava. I might actually welcome it. At least I´d be warm.
The driver is waiting at the trailhead when we arrive. We are en punto–exactly on time. As we descend, the driver is flagged down by a women standing outside her house with her son. She needs a ride to Baños. This is nothing out of the ordinary. On our way back from Triumf, with Kleaver, we were stopped probably five different times by people needing a ride. The bed of the truck was full by the time we left the town. However, something is different this time. The boy is sick. He hangs his head out the window and vomits as we drive. I hear his soft, fragile coughs, see the side of the truck covered in pale fluid. There is something wrong with his liver. Or is it his kidney? A tumor, says his mother. He has to have it removed. The entire organ. He can´t be more than ten and is probably younger. We drop them off at the hospital, wishing them luck, telling the boy that we hope he feels better. There is nothing more we can do. I wish there was more we could do.
We are dropped off at the hostel. We pay the driver, thank him. There is a hose in the corner of the garden. I turn the handle on the spigot, grab the hose and begin to wash the mud off my boots.