by Jo Costello
It’s 30th November and the heavens are throwing every bit of rain they can find straight at us. I have been suffering altitude sickness and I’m frustrated there has been no improvement.
After some discussion the decision is made that I stay in the ruins of an old mountain dwelling and the team go ahead. I’m not alone, I have Angel, one of our guides, Milton, Jerry and Gabriel for company. They have no English an my Spanish consists of a six week course taken earlier in the year.
The hut is a haven for mosquitoes and many butterflies, certainly more welcome than the former.
The first day is spent with Gabriel and Jerry alternating English and Spanish words like schoolchildren, lots of pointing and flailing hands! Jerry cooks lunch over the open fire, simple rice, onions beans and tuna but so welcome after days of freeze dried fare.
Angel and Milton have gone fishing and return with seven trout. In the quiet of late afternoon, sun blazing and socks drying over the fire, Angel and I communicate over his book of birds of Ecuador.
Time for dinner and Milton flours and fries the trout. We continue our conversations and manage to understand Angel describing One thousand years of Solitude! I have to explain the trout being delicious and they are now all saying it.
My tent has been erected inside the hut over two huge holes in the wooden planks. To ensure I don’t fall through, I place my large bag over one hole and lay my socks out over the other so I know not to step there. I spend the night in my sleeping bag at a very odd angle, slightly concerned at falling through the floor.
There is hardly any intact floor space so the men are all in a row outside the tent covered in various clothes, blankets and a very large plastic sheet. Jerry coughs constantly, someone yells at him and the plastic rustles throughout the night.
1st December and there’s early morning noise, the water is boiling, Angel is chopping firewood and Milton is wrapped mummy style in a blanket. Breakfast is a slower affair today, Jerry has made a vat of pancake batter and Angel constructs a wooden tripod to hold the skillet.
The sun is starting to move around but is closely followed by the mountain mists. I’m writing this at the open broken side of the hut, swiping at anything buzzing and listening to my four new friends and work out we are all discussing Jerry coughing and Angel snoring, Milton likens it to a bull charging down the mountain. This is the fifth day in the same clothes, wet wipe washing but it’s “no problem”, Angel’s phrase.
Angel and Milton catch what looks to be a huge wasp. They take out the sting to show me and talk about intense pain and swelling, I start waving my hands around even more frantically! Milton saw a kingfisher down by the river this morning and is checking the book of birds, he was also incredibly lucky to spot a Harpy Eagle.
2nd December breakfast time. Jerry is feeling unwell, lack of sleep and dry clothing I would think. Jerry and Gabriel are cousins, they walked from their homes in Venezuela to Ecuador, they had no money and it took them fifteen days. Angel looks out for the younger guys in the team and there is great camaraderie, you don’t need to speak Spanish to see it.
This hut is definitely an oasis in the boggy marsh land. I don’t feel like walking as nothing is firm underfoot. It’s nice to sit and just listen to the river below and the bird, could do without the mosquitoes and waspy/stingy things!
I’m not worried or concerned about being here with the guys, they are enjoying the down time as well. I am wondering how the team are getting on and hoping the rain is staying off for a while at least.
More about the hut. Over half the floor, half of one side and some of the back panels are missing. The fireplace is just utilising space where floor planks are gone and the door is stuck half open. There is a lot of graffiti, mostly Spanish and the team have added our names in charcoal. Socks, jackets, bags and trousers are hanging from the rafters in the hope of some drying.
Tent companions and machetes
Today is fishing with Angel and Milton. They go to the same site as yesterday but decide the fish aren’t biting and tell me they’re going further upstream, leaving me on a sandy bank with two machetes, mosquitoes and the sound of the river. After a short time my imagination is working overtime, have they left me for a laugh, hoping I’ll find my way back to camp. Have they just abandoned me (don’t be crazy, they wouldn’t leave their machetes behind). What will I do if a puma appears for his morning drink, I decide run at it shouting. After what seems like an hour or more they appear with eight fish. The afternoon is spent in our makeshift English/Spanish lessons before Milton cooks for us again.
The evening comes in bitterly cold and the fire is blazing. I go to bed and it’s only 19.30, I drop off really quickly. I’m woken by noise and movement which is coming from under my sleeping mat. It’s then up by my head and the penny drops, rats. Running around the tent and I’m hoping they don’t get through the inner. The following morning and the men have slept through the rat visit. They find my mime of El Rato amusing. I get to spend two night with my new pal.
The morning arrives with blazing sunshine and it is the day we begin the return journey to our river camp. I forgot how boggy and arduous this walk had been and I can’t wait to get to the river. The crossing is particularly hairy, two long trees have been felled but the height means you are bent double holding onto the top one, not an easy task with your back pack on. Sitting on the river bank washing muddy clothes and I hear some very odd animal sounds. Looking up I see Luis followed by everybody! The team is back together.