9.8 km straight up

Trip Start Feb 05, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2005

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

I got into Tingo (a beautiful and tiny town, population 1,000, sitting alongside a wide river in the Andean highlands) around 11:00AM via mini-bus along another broken, dirt road. I dropped my bag at the empty hostal, and took off for the trail to Kuelap. I had been told by a number of locals that it would take me between 2 1/2 and 4 hours to hike up to the 1,000 year old ruins, and had been warned that it was very steep, and perhaps it would be better to hitch a ride up and hike back down. But I figured I was in moderately good shape, nevermind the altitude, and after all, I had all day....why not go big?

No amount of training at either Drake or Kezar Stadium could have prepared me for this! Tingo, where the trail begins, is at 1,800 meters. 9.8km later, Kuelap sits at the top of a 3,200 meter mountain. Mentally, I almost quit a number of times, tucked my tail, turned around, and went back to my book alongside the river.

Of course, upon reaching the top, I again discovered that the journey was greater than the ends. The ruins, while impressive, were merely a long, tall wall, largely reconstructed by the local department of tourism. The trail, however, was a switchback that toured me past mud-brick homes, agricultural fields and tiny villages, completely removed from any suburban (if you could call Tingo that) town. I passed no other hikers on my way to Kuelap, only a few locals going to or from Tingo on horse, donkey, or foot.

Most humbling was watching the local women make the climb. Dressed in their traditional clothing (brightly colored sweater over a simple colared shirt, brightly colored dress over simple pants, tall cowboy hat, and son or daughter hanging in a blanket over their back), these strong women casually walked up the same hill, minus the gringo panting, and all the while knitting to pass the time. Truely remarkable.

On the way up, I stopped a number of times to both catch my breath and take in my surroundings. It took me near 3 hours. On the way down I did not stop, and made it in considerably less time. Back at the hostal, I took a shower (only cold water), ate some food (typical dish is chicken, rice, and vegetables), read my book, and went to sleep. It was near 8:00PM.

In the morning I awoke early, well rested, and had a chance to take in the climb I had done the day before. I sat in the gazebo at the top of the hostal. Looking around, in front of me I could see the small one road town of Tingo, pushed up against mountains by the river, a pair of villagers walking their loaded donkey back home. Above, green mountains spiked straight up, so steep in places they show only naked limestone and sandstone. Closing my eyes, I could smell charred wood from the controled fires, and hear birds chirp, chickens cluck, donkeys bark, and river flow. Not in some time have I been so relaxed.
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