We started this day with an early morning, leaving Latacunga at 8am and beginning the windy bus ride through the mountains with our friend Humberto. The landscape outside caught my eye – it was a sunny day and and the green Andes mountains were glowing. We made our way up to Sigchos, where we began our journey.
This day we hiked up a GIANT hill! We decided to all hike as one group, and so we went slowly since not everyone was feeling their best. We went on some dirt roads, some small trails, through eucalyptus forests and down into valleys as we made our way to our destination hostel. Sometimes there were even cows in the trail, and at one point Jenna tried to walk around one, slipped in some cow poop and fell on the cow! Luckily, they were both alright. As we made our way into town, we rounded the corner and saw the sign for our hostel down the road… and out came Allie! We all ran to her and celebrated our victory of arriving, making it through our first day of the trek. That evening we had a wonderful family style dinner with other guests, although I’m sure our laughter filled up much of the room.
Day two began with assigning some roles for the day. Our navigators would be Paulina, Maya and Bella – they would hold the directions and make sure we were on track, while also giving other students information about our progress. Sadie was the timekeeper, telling us how long until our next break and checking in with the group about our water and snack needs. Kiki and Ari took on the role of cheer masters, in which they reminded us to drink water and gave us some motivational speeches during our water breaks. Before we hit the trail, Jenna talked us through one of her favorite chants – Self Worth. Feeling strong and motivated, we started our way downhill along the road just outside of our hostel.
This day was mostly flat or slightly uphill until we got to a small little village where some students were playing soccer during their school break. They were all in the road, and we quickly passed through their game so as not to interrupt. Here, we stopped for lunch and had some snacks, also having the chance to refill our waters before we started our big ascent. And it was big! We climbed up a cliffside, working our way up steep switchbacks the whole way. And we did it in less than an hour! Taking short breaks for water and setting a slow pace, we celebrated our strength as we made our way up the steep trail. Although we arrived at the top, we weren’t at our final destination yet – we still had a long way to go along a dirt road and later along the paved road up into town.
When we finally arrived at our second hostel, we were greeted with coffee, tea, and treats. We were also told that the sauna was warmed up for us! What a delight. We had some time to settle in before we shifted gears to math class and study hall, and then back into the main cabin for our dinner. It was the most amazing lasagna!!
Finally, the time had arrived for a rest day. At our mountain hostel lodge, we were ready for a full class day. We had almost all of our classes, including a global class which allowed us some time to spread out throughout the lodge and do some self-reflection and journal time. As if we had planned it, this was the only day of our trek when it rained, but we were protected inside of the yoga room which was serving as our classroom.
Our final day of the trek was our biggest one, and we knew that going into it. We were going to hike at least 10km and gain almost 3,000 feet of elevation – up to an ending altitude of almost 13,000 feet! We knew we would have to work hard, and also that we would have to stick together as a team to accomplish our goals.
We started hiking down down down into a canyon and eventually reached the Rio Toachi river and crossed a small bridge to get to the other side. Here, we took our first break of the day as we prepared for what was next – the uphill. From here, we would be climbing for almost the entire rest of the day, but the part just in front of us was the steepest as we had to make our way out of the canyon. Erin set the pace for us at a nice, slow pace, and then the sun broke out from behind the clouds. We climbed slowly, and hardly anyone was talking aside from a few people working on some riddles in the back of the group. With an intense focus, we climbed our way out of the canyon and made it out to the other side for a long and celebratory snack break.
From here, we hiked slowly uphill on a mix of dirt roads and trails. The climb felt endless, and we passed the time with more riddles and stories about home. Lunch felt like a victory, and also a necessary stop – we were exhausted. After lunch began the switchbacks up to the top of the crater… we were so close! About an hour more of climbing and we made it to the top.
When we got to the crater, we all celebrated with each other. What an incredible feeling! It was beautiful!! Our hard work had paid off and we had made it to our goal. We took pictures, soaked in the view and relaxed as our muscles ached from the climb.
Finally, though, we settled back into reality and remembered that we had more to do. Our bus driver was waiting at the other side of the crater where the road reached, so we would need to traverse across the top of the crater to meet our ride. Just 2.5 km remained, but it felt like worlds away as we headed into a foggy forested area, surrounded by pines above us and walking across volcanic sand. Wildflowers decorated the sides of the trail around us, painting colors of purple, yellow, red and blue. We were almost there, and yet the sand made each step feel like it took the effort of two! We worked hard, took many breaks, and finally arrived to the village where our bus would be waiting for us. We had done it!!!
Now, we are back in Latacunga where we enjoyed a delicious pizza dinner last night, and are headed off for our next adventure today.