Cuenca Stories and Tips

Week 88 - Into Oblivion (Ecuador)

Corpus Christi - Pujili Photo, Ecuador, South America

While in Quito awaiting the arrival of an old friend, one of the hastiest and possibly rashest decisions of my life was made, deciding to enter the Quito Marathon (www.maratondequito.com). Different to other marathons where I enter months in advance, this will take place next Sunday, allowing a little less than two weeks training for. It's a good job I enjoy challenges, although I have a feeling this one will cause greater amounts of pain than most.

I am sure for some people, the words crazy, stupid, and incompetent spring to mind, especially considering the small fact I will be running all 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres) at an altitude of over 2,800m above sea level. Indeed, FIFA have just banned all international football matches taking place over 2,500m due to concerns about players health and physical safety. I suppose it puts into perspective how silly this plan might be. Hopefully it won’t backfire on me.

After meeting my friend at the ungodly hour of 5am (my fault!), ready to start the first days activities I was accosted by an innocent homeless man asking for some spare change to help fight the harsh cold of the night. A security guard at the opposite end of the street sensed either danger, or the chance to impress and after sprinting the length of the road, jumping across a couple of parked cars as if starring in an action movie, decided to pound the defenceless, slightly drunk homeless guy into oblivion. Accepting my role as the fair maiden in distress I quickly thanked my handsome knight with a manly wink and shake of the head, before making a speedy exit.

Not wanting to disappoint an eager friend, five action-packed days were prepared, including return trips to the extinct volcanic lake of Laguna Quilotoa, the indigenous market of Saquisilli, where I tasted my best ever guinea pig, and Quito's old town where the sights of a church covered in seven tonnes of gold and the changing of the guards at the presidential palace were taken in. Wanting to see some new sights as well, two places were ventured to that I’ve been rather excited about seeing since arriving in Ecuador.

The first was touted as one of the most original, colourful and energetic displays of indigenous heritage in the country, the fiesta of Corpus Christi in the nearby Andean town of Pujili. Sadly it didn’t quite live up to expectations. You could blame me for this though, choosing to stand at the very end of the festival, past the VIP stand and the watching President where few performers could be bothered to dance, more interested in drinking the alcohol they should have been giving to a crowd full of anticipation.

Even though slightly on the disappointing side, humorous moments were still there to be had. The Presidents secret service, army and police personnel, sent to protect his every move decided to guard the wrong road while waiting for his arrival, leading to an amusing scramble when he appeared, helpless against the huge, mobbing crowd, his security staff sprinting down the road to save face and probably their jobs.

Morale levels were improved the following day where along with fiance and friend, steps were made towards the summit of Cotopaxi Volcano (via Marcelo Araque Expediciones, $50 for day trip shared between a maximum of seven people, Tel: 271/9524 or 098/698/125, maexpediciones@yahoo.com, www.hihostels.com.ec), standing proud on the sierra skyline at an impressive height of 5987m. Considering I’ve been living on the slopes of this active beast since arriving into Ecuador, this trip had been a long time coming.

Expecting to be struck by zero visibility and copious amounts of cloud, as was the case for the previous two weeks, a stroke of luck saw picture perfect blue skies and excellent visibility upon awakening. Such weather can be slightly misleading in these parts, as it normally portrays gale force winds around the next corner. After seeing rock faces where mighty Incas be-headed young virgins and reaching an altitude of 4,500 metres, the highest altitude of my life these ferocious winds struck with a vengeance. So strong they were that the next 500m rise in altitude, a climb to the refuge and glacier was almost impossible. Deciding to rest, saw you sliding back down the sandy soft incline towards the starting point, stones the size of fifty pence pieces hitting you smack in the face.

With only fifty metres left to the glacier, I decided to admit defeat and call it a day. Walking in snow on nothing but old worn out trainers and with the wind threatening to blow you off into deep ravines at every turn I decided the dangers were too much. Not everyone agreed with my expert decision. Teenagers half my age, dressed more for a beach holiday than the sub minus temperatures of high altitude mountain climbing happily made it to the glacier with very little effort. It seemed the weather was a huge problem for those attempting to reach the summit, as only two out of ten passed had actually succeeded in their goal. The President also cancelled a visit here due to bad weather. What a pussy! I swear this man is stalking me!

After a fond farewell to my friend it was time to venture back to school life, finding a female student abandoned by her mother. The girl, a product of rape, who at the age of seven was raped herself, had apparently been put in a spot of danger by her abusive step-father, who the mother suspected was planning on harming the girl in some sort of revenge attack. With such a situation placed before her, the mother decided there was no other choice but to run away to a female abuse shelter located in a secretive position for her own safety. One rule though of this organisation is that women are only allowed to bring two children maximum with them. After realising this, she decided to abandon the poor schoolgirl, the one person who seemed to be in the most danger.

Not having a mother or father and living with 'put-out' relatives probably isn't the happiest and enjoyable of childhoods, especially considering everything else that has happened in her youthful existence. Even before this incident she openly admitted she knew her mother didn't love her. Maybe if a certain Senorita Jolie and Senor Pitt were made aware of the situation they would be willing to adopt again. In such a situation I think adoption is the only way out of a miserable, sad existence.

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