More altitude and sad goodbyes

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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secret garden cotopaxi

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Before we headed off to the Galapagos Islands, we'd be heading to Cotopaxi for a few days to chill out and get some hiking in. We’d be staying at the Secret Garden in Cotopaxi and I’m sure the fact that Juan (our driver/leader) only brought 3 shirts on the truck (one of which was a shirt given to him by one of the owners) played a huge part in that. You try driving through South America staring at the same shirt for hours on end. Advertising to a captive audience at its best.

The Secret Garden was one of the coolest places to stay. Built by an Australian guy Tarquin and his wife Katherine, it’s an eco-friendly lodge that doesn’t have mains power, telephone lines or any utilities whatsoever. It’s a perfect chillout place where all you hear is some music, conversation and their two boys running around playing with the dogs. Katherine is a chef who cooks up gourmet food and dinner is by candlelight every night. They have hammocks out the front and an eco toilet that has the best view I've ever seen. I've never used a toilet that had a view of an ice capped volcano before.

The day after our arrival, we drove up to 4400m in elevation and started a trek that would see us hitting 5000m at the end. The wind was absolutely howling and freezing. At one stage, I cleared my throat and what I spat out caught the wind and took off. I think my bodily fluids are still circumnavigating Cotopaxi National Park. Every step 2 steps forward would result in one backwards so oftentimes, we felt like we were on some sick step machine. Lots of steps but going nowhere. Eventually we got to the refugio at 4800m and had a rest before climbing another 200m where we couldn’t progress any further without proper ice climbing gear. We had a quick snowball fight or two (any more and we could have collapsed from lack of oxygen) then started heading back down. Then it was back to the guesthouse and into the hot tub to soothe some aching muscles. We had gourmet hamburgers for dinner which we washed down with an expensive bottle of red that the crazy Dane (Lars "the Hammertime" Goldhammer) generously gifted us when we farewelled him earlier in Lima, before turning in for the night.  

Back to Quito the next day, Ted and I found a spot to watch England take on the USA in the World Cup. Watching the England lineup get announced, I heard Ted protest, “Why the hell is Green starting at keeper?” Forty-one minutes later, the football gods would punctuate his point as we watched Robert Green fumble a simple shot at goal and cost England the win and Ted demonstrated most of the expletives in his vocabulary. Just as well Laura and Nic had left early for the Galapagos Islands briefing that was taking place. I should have been there but chose to watch the football instead. I figured that the group should get used to me putting football ahead of group activities.

And just like that, we would be closing a big chapter of our journey away from home. Quito. It was a word and a city that often came up on our thoughts and conversations on the truck. Whether we were having a bad day on the truck and wishing that we would get there sooner, or whether we were having a great day and hoping that the end would never come, Quito was a destination that meant different things to different people at different times of the trip. We all knew that we’d have to say goodbye to friends (which was going to be very sad) some of which would be heading home, others heading on to travel other parts of the world. We’d also be saying goodbye to foes (which was going to be great) and to be honest, we didn’t really care where they were going or what they were doing. Just so long as we'd never see them again. Four months and 20,000+kms in close confines will give you those polar opposites. We made the most of our final days together with plenty of partying and lots of reminiscing. We’ve done so much together since we started in Rio and trying to remember all of it without having a journal to hand wasn’t always easy. It was often made harder after a few beers under the belt.

I don’t want to get too nostalgic but we really should give our rag-tag bunch a proper introduction before saying farewell to them.

Theo – At our group meeting in Rio, he introduced himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Theo. I’m 19 and clearly the youngest person on this truck and I’m sure I’ll annoy everyone.” Well, he lived up to that bill quite a few times but he more than made up for it. He was a genuinely great kid who had a unique and unconventional view of the world. I’ve never met anyone who was equal parts worry and carefree at the same time. Theo’s clothes survived the trip inspite of him. If he doesn’t do well at uni, North Face have a job for him testing their gear.

James - In Jimbo’s eyes, nothing was impossible. Whether it was scaling a wall, running down a mountain or hunting tarantulas on the Inca Trail, he always did everything at full pace and a scant consideration for danger. Jimbo’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a streetfight because he’s got a heart as big as a warhorse and he’s as loyal as a warhound. It’s apt that he’s now back in England going through the tests to become a fireman.  Just don’t ask him to pack your bag for you. Seriously, he’ll find a way to fill up a 70 litre backpack with 2 t-shirts, an English military-issued hammock and a pair of his smelly socks.

Kerry – Another big hearted Brit. If you needed anything, check with Kerry first. She was so generous that she would have given the shirt off her back to you if you asked for it. It’s a pity she spent much of the last month of our tour with a stomach bug. That wasn’t enough to stop her though. Even at her sickest, you could still hear her yell out, “GROUP PHOTO!!” We can't wait to spend Christmas in Australia with you Kez.

Sam – The kid driver. He’ll hate me for calling him that. He handled himself so well that you wouldn’t have picked that he was only in his mid 20s. Oh yeah, he’d also completed a physics degree and was a professional jazz musician before deciding to lead a pack of gringos around South America, driving a 16 tonne truck. You’d struggle to find a cooler character. Trust me, we had a few passengers who tried to get under his skin. Where I might have resorted to violence, he resorted to reason. Classy.

Juan – Our Argie leader. Any more laid back and Juan would be comatosed. He taught me the subtleties of drinking matte as well as the skill to drive a truck with one hand and balance a matte cup in the other. His silken Argentinian Spanish got us out of roadblocks with corrupt police. The same tongue also put voice to our frustrations on the road when some insane driver would cut us off. Juancito, you’re always welcome in my house, all it will cost you is one of those special Argie barbeques. I can still remember the taste of the slow cooked ribs that you cooked. Oh and don't forget some Dulce de Leche for Nic.

Ted – A riotously funny Brit who had the same humour as me. Always fun having someone else who understood the value in a well timed Simpsons quote. A founding member of Team Meat (the best cook group ever) we battled hard with our food budgets to produce great food that was jam packed with meat. I am happy to report that it was a battle we never lost. Ted's observations and views of the world are as funny as they are unique. Do yourself a favour and check out his blog here. We’ll be seeing you in Sydney soon amigo.

Laura – A true sweetheart. She soothed our aching muscles with her physiotherapeutic fingers and constantly reminded us how lucky we were to be travelling the world. Our chats about science, evolution and atheism on long hikes will be sorely missed. I remember one day when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself on the W-Walk when she said, “I feel lucky to be able to be hiking like this because I work with people who physically can’t do what we’re doing.” With just that one statement, she changed my attitude completely. Laura, you’re our favourite arachnophobic lesbian atheist!

There were plenty of other characters who we met on our travels, both good and bad. To the good people (Hannah C, Erin, Hammo, Lars, Sarah V, Sarah A, Salt & Pepper, Bry & Faye, Hannah A and Grace, Jo, Darragh, Paul, Anki and Mick),  thanks for the laughs. 

To the bad, thanks for reminding us that the world is also home to selfish, rude, inconsiderate people with crappy attitudes. When you're blessed with great friends and family, you sometimes forget how lucky you are. It's often at such times that these pricks spring up and remind you of just that. 

In our next blog we head to the Galapagos Islands - a place two Science nerds like Nic and I have been waiting to go to for a very long time. We get to hang out with sea lions, swim with turtles and see Lonesome George. If you don’t know where that is then you should have stayed awake in Science class.
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