40. Travel Story

Climbing up.

Thursday November 30. It was 17:00h when we had dinner. We, a German couple and me, ate so early, because we were suppose to wake-up that very same evening at 22:45h. Why? We where at 5000 m in the highest refuge of the Chimborazo volcano (6310m).

Because of its location, close to the Equator, it is said that the top of this volcano is on earth the closest point to the sun, that you can get. For this title the highest mountain in the world, the Mount Everest is situated in the wrong location. I will probably never be able to climb up the Mount Everest, so for this reason I was already thinking about climbing Chimborazo when I first came into Ecuador in 2004. I went then to the Galapagos instead. But now I had a new opportunity. With my tour through the Andean I had been on a altitude above 3500m for almost 3 weeks. This was two weeks ago, but it should do. I got a nice tip from my leaving group, so I made a promises to them that I would use a part of this money to reach the top of the Chimborazo.

At 22:45h we got our wake-up call, however for me it wasn’t really a wake-up call since I wasn’t sleeping. Almost 3 hours I had been resting, but I couldn’t sleep. Well, it would just make the challenge bigger. We put on our special clothes and shoes for the cold and walking on the snow and ice. The day before we had already climbed up for 150m high (the couple had an altitude instrument) and this went very smooth. I went up quite easy and had no headaches or anything that could indicate having trouble with the altitude. We had heard that a few days before a guy from Denmark climbed up to the top in 5 hours and the German guy thought that I should be able to do that as well. I was a bit more careful, but it sounded as a good challenge, since the normal climbing time is about 8 hours.
After breakfast I started exactly at midnight. The Germans had left 10min. before, but I wanted to finish my café and was not in a hurry. For safety reasons there never go more than 2 persons with one guide, so I had my own guide.
It was a very clear sky, with a lot of stars and a almost full moon. This made that our surrounding of snow, ice and stones looked very special! It was so clear, that the first hours we didn’t have to use our headlamps.

The climbing started again not to difficult. We had a good pass and passed the Germans in a little over half an hour. We might be able to reach the top before 6am, before sunrise…
The view was beautiful during the walk! Sometimes we could see the lights from the closest village and sometimes the view got blocked by passing clouds below us. Because the others were using their headlamps, I could see their lights when I looked down. It was a mysterious view to see those lights moving through the gray clouds.

After about one and a half hour my guide decided that it would be better to wear our metal climbing spikes under our shoes, for a better grip on the snow and ice. For more safety we also tied a climbing rope between our waists.
About half an hour later we arrived at an area that was a little more flat. At this point we had accomplished to climb almost a third of the total altitude we had to climb to reach the top. However from this point on the climb became far more steep as well. With an average angle between 60 and 80 degrees our tempo slowed down a lot. I guess on some parts the angle was even more than 80 degrees, where we had to use our hands and pickaxe to climb up.
There was more wind here and slowly it became colder. When the wind blew some clouds in our direction, even we had to start using our headlamps.

Then suddenly it hit me. I still don’t know exactly how or why, but my legs started to feel a bit like jelly and I started to feel unusual tired. I decided to take a little brake to eat and drink something to gain more energy. It was our first real break, since earlier I didn’t feel the need and also didn’t like the idea of taking off my thick cloves and getting cold hands for being able to eat and drink. After a cup of tea from our thermos bottle and almost a whole chocolate Barr, my guide decided that it was time to move on. He was probably right. We still had a few hours to climb and I wouldn’t be able to eat more anyway. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t even finish the chocolate Barr, since I needed my mouth to breath enough air.

From this moment on I started to ask for more stops. Stops from half a minute to one or two. Sometimes after I had made 40 steps, sometimes already after 10! I knew that I would be able to continue walking until I would literally drop down and this was something I clearly wanted to avoid. That I had to be careful became more clearly when I suddenly felt the urgency to puke?! Out went my last energy supply.
I experienced moments that I wanted to lay down and sleep for a few hours or something and it took me a lot of will power and also a bit of fear to fail, to get over these moment and keep on climbing.

Yes, those last hours of climbing were one of the hardest of my live. I remember only ones before that I had been almost this tired. This was when I thought that it would be a nice challenge to run out of the Grand Canyon in California. We had our tent at the bottom and I was wondering how fast I could run up and down the canyon wall. I made it up until about a mile (according to signs) distance from the top, when I had to give up. I had to give up with the idea that I still had to go back as well. Sometimes I still regret that decision, but I know it was the best.
This time I was even more dedicated to reach the top, because who knows whenever I would get the change again?

With precaution and all the little stops I needed, we finally reached the top at 6:40h. But before I could take my first picture, I first had to puke again. My third time in the last hour, but now it didn’t matter anymore, I made it! Or did we not? We reached one of the two tops from the Chimborazo at an altitude of 6275m. To reach the other top, we would have to go down and up again for about 40min. in total. But apparently the snow was to soft to make it a save climb to go there. Damn, after al these trouble I went trough…
Luckily the view from the up-coming sun above the clouds and the gaps between them was very beautiful!
The Germans arrived in the end not much later on the top than I did.

Then it was time for all of us to go back, before the snow would become to soft.
Going down wouldn’t take much energy I thought, but that was wrong. The whole steep part was a heavy exercise on the ankles, under legs and knees. We had to walk down under those steep angles, but still needed to put our shoes, with spikes, flat on the surface for more grip.
I still had to make some stops to rest, but very slow I started to feel less tired. I could even drink something again and didn’t have to puke anymore.
When we finally arrived at the little flat bit, we also came out of the shadow of the Chimborazo. The weather was still beautiful and the sun gave a warm feeling. When we walked down a little further we suddenly found out why it was best to climb at night and why we were wearing helmets. A rock, the size of a football, rolled in high speed, op less than a meter in front of me, down the hill! Apparently when the snow melts, it sometimes loses its grip on lose rocks and then they start to roll or fall down…

No more incidents followed and we all made it save, tired, but happy to the refuge.
Although happy? I wasn’t sure if I was happy. I was/am satisfied that I made it and maybe the struggling made it even a bigger accomplish. But there are some things I’m not really happy about: For example, that we didn’t really made it to the highest point at 6310m. However most people don’t get there and it was to dangerous, still I can’t really say that I was at the closest point to the sun. I also wondered what happened to me there on the mountain? Was this a form of altitude sickness? But why didn’t I feel anything in my head? And I never really had problems with altitude sickness. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, which I’m kind of used to as well? Or maybe my body was still recovering from the parasites, which apparently had been in there for weeks. They had made me feel weak during the end of my last tour and again about a week before the climb. Only 3 days before I got medicine that really worked.
I will never know what really happened. It will probably be a combination of all and also from a lack on good exercise in the last two months.
Lets say that everything together made this climb very special. I’m happy that I did it and it was something I will never forget!

On the same day that we climbed down, I went back to Mera (3 hours) as well. I wanted to have a good place to rest, but I ended up going to sleep at 23:30, because my friends had finally found out when it was my birthday, and they wanted to make up for it ;-)

All right, how is the situation now in Mera?
First to inform all of you who is interested in Merazonia. It happened already before, but I wasn’t really sure if it would be for permanent. From now on Merazonia is mostly resting on the shoulders of Frank and Jennifer. Alex went out because of the pressure and private reasons and Toby’s girlfriend wants to start a family. Toby will still keep on working on the website and promoting Merazonia.
Now your up to date about the Merazonians, how about those brothers? Did they go to jail?
No, the second verdict was the same, but the brothers have one more change to appeal this in Supreme Court and that’s what they did. This means again about three more months of waiting. But this is not the only case against them. There is still one for the stolen camera and an other one for destroying nature. Meanwhile the Merazonians are thinking of stating an other one for, destroying and stealing property. During the past year, the brothers have damaged their bridge, damaged and stole their roof plates, damaged their kitchen, broke the locks on the house and kitchen, stole barbwire and expensive rope. Although some things will be difficult to prove, I think they have a very strong case. However then the problem is still that no-one knows what will happen if the Merazonians win all the cases they can win. Will the brothers accept their lost and try to get a final deal? Will they go to jail and learn from that? Or will they not accept anything, learn nothing and keep on making problems??? This is a very big question and taking the stupidity and stubbornness from them in mind, at this moment I don’t dare to predict… You can imagine how difficult this is for the Merazonians to deal with.

There is a little hope. Just before I left to Mexico we have been working on the land again, for a few days. During those days the brothers didn’t show up. It seems that in the last 3 months they only went a few times a week to the land and no longer every day. Let we keep this positive sign as good hope for Merazonia for the coming year.

For all the Ecuadorians (except those trouble makers) I hope that their new chosen president Rafael Correa (44) does keep his promises and makes the economy of Ecuador stronger and more independent.

I’m now back in Playa del Carmen for my last Maya tour of this year. It is almost the end of the year but for me it doesn’t feel like that at all. I did have a very good year, during which I’ve had a lot of adventures and learned a lot. But also one during which I kept stubborn about my own ideas and principals. Some say that I will not be able to keep this mentality if I keep on working in Latin America. I hope they’re wrong.

Now it is time to end this mail, time to end my last story of this year, maybe even the last story of a book I have been working on… But before I forget, I still want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and all the luck, love and adventures you want for next year.
And for myself? I would like to find my Media Naranja ;-)

Saludos desde Playa del Carmen,
Martijn

P.S. Sorry for sending this e-mail at the last moment. Just today I finally got my big backpack back, which had been lost from the moment I arrived in Cancun. It is a very long story about Latin American ‘efficiency’ to explain what happened, so I keep that for later ;-)

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