l o s t
Last weekend will go down in Village Education Project history. On Saturday morning at 4am, the volunteers rubbed the sand out of their eyes and set off for an epic hike. They were accompanied by Christian Cifuentes (Gilberto’s son), and 4 other family friends with significant hiking experience. In all truth, however, the poor saps could not imagine what was lying ahead of them.
I awoke that morning feeling not quite recovered from the saga of vomiting and defecating that had haunted night two days prior. Despite my groggy nausea, I knew that I would kick myself later if I allowed myself to go back to bed. And so, I sat on the bus to Imbabura (monster of a mountain) with the window open at my neighbor’s expense. I’m pretty sure everybody hated me by the end of that ride, seeing that I was sweltering in my tee-shirt while my bundled up companeros muttered under their breath about the frigid breeze.
I did not make it all the way Mount Imbabura. I’d like to take this opportunity to blame my fragil and debilitated state for this unforgivable embarassment. I’d also like to point out that Imbabura boasts a 4,600 meter peak, which at that altitude can literally take your breath away. The first hour and a half or so was painful, but not excruciating. However, once you pass the midpoint (which we did after about 2 hours), things become a lot less pleasant.
The altitude is enough to make you gasp for breath after a minute’s worth of climbing. What’s more, it get’s frigid and windy enough to chap your cheeks scarlet. This day was particularly unpleasant because it was drizzling the whole way up. Once we got 3/4 of the way there, though, the drizzle became a shower. Fog hovered over us like a fat, school bully laughing at our misery. Though we were over 4,000 meters above sea level, the thick mist prevented us from seeing anything 10 feet beyond the last cliff.
It was at about 4,400 meters (just 200m shy of the final summit) when I called it quits. I was having no fun at all, and I was pretty sure that my face was frost bitten. And so, the very nice and very lovely Max (Gilberto’s daughter’s husband) led me down the mountian. We made it in record time, probably because I was so elated not to be ascending any higher.
Down at the bottom of the mountain, I considered for a minute regretting my decision. But when three of our friends didn’t show up hours later, I reconsidered. It turned out that three volunteers had made a wrong turn on the way down the mountain. While the rest of us watied in confusion, Juan and Christian circled the roads surrounding the mountain in a desparate attempt to find them. When they still hadn’t appeared by nearly 3 in the afternoon, part of the group decided to go home, while the experienced hikers remained in order to start a search party.
The volunteers ended up missing for over 24 hours. I later found out that they went down the wrong side of the mountain, and ended up in the forest. Sleeping under the shelter of a few large rocks, Gage, Jocelyn and Angela remained calm. They were found around 1pm the next afternoon, but by that time panic had already proliferated through the hostel.
For the fact that Gage, Angela and Jocelyn are alive and well, safe and sound, we are all incredibly grateful. Grateful as well we are for the people who spent the entire night searching tirelessly, without food or rest, so that they could bring our friends home safe. Juan, Christian, Pablo, The Red Cross, and the National Police of Ecuador spent countless hours without sleep for our friends. And now the only thing left to do is cherish their safety and remember our own.