21 January 2020
I am in the middle of the forest while it is pouring out and I am all by myself. The alone part was by choice. The wet bit is most unfortunate because the weather has been sunny for ages. The day I arrived was the day the skies had a drastic mood change. So now I’m lying in bed, writing to you, while munching on broccoli.
When I first got to Ecuador, I worked at a fruit farm in Arenillas, if you recall. Back then, my host, Tanya, told me about this riverside paradise in Quito, owned by her parents-in-law, Pilita and Jorge (P&J). Tanya said if I wanted to go camping there, she could hook me up. As I am not a fan of being in the capital itself, I thought, why not? In my mind, the campsite was close by. Instead, I got to P&J’s house and found out it was about 3 hours away, in an area called Pachijal Forest. What? How was I going to get there? I was very confused but didn’t want to ask too many questions. Seeking clarity in Spanish added to my confusion. I arrived on a Sunday and Pilita said Jorge will show me where the land is tomorrow. Monday rolls around and Jorge says, “How about tomorrow?” Tuesday morning, I’m all packed up, they look at my stuff in horror. That’s too much stuff, they say. I leave behind my tent, sleeping bag, and half of my clothes. Pilita hands me a pair of black rubber boots. I’m going to need them for the hike.
We take a taxi, a 2-hour bus ride, a half-hour private car hire off-road, and then we get out. “Put on your boots,” says Jorge. He grabs two bamboo sticks. He keeps one and passes the other to me. We trudge down a super narrow path. I was so glad I didn’t bring all my stuff. I surely would not have been able to balance myself. It was raining. The ground was slippery.
When we got here, I realised my expectations were a little too unrealistically. Mainly because the family really sold it to me as this magical mountain land. Common sense would have told me, no one lives here, of course, it’s going to resemble an abandoned site. It was a double-storey, open-air cabin, surrounded by lush trees. Three rooms on top. Kitchen and living area below. There was a super old, drunk squatter sleeping in one of the rooms. Jorge yelled and chased him out. The kitchen was filthy; I was fine with the trash, but not with the chicken poop. There are chickens everywhere and it seriously stinks. Their poo is wet and green and simply puke-worthy. I have now developed a newfound disgust towards chickens. Endlessly squawking too. Terribly irritating.
The biggest bummer of all though, was the river itself. Jorge led me to it, then said, “The waters are usually crystal clear and blue. Now it’s all brown due to the rain.” At which I thought, “Why am I even here then?” I would never have expressed any of this because a) The family adores this piece of land and have created many memories here. b) Jorge travelled with me for 3 hours just to show me where it is. I needed to appreciate this place.
After Jorge left, I checked the taps and they were not working. I found some bedsheets in a chest and hung them out to air on the balcony. Swept the place. Washed some dishes. Gathered and chopped firewood. I didn’t really have any desire to cook cause it’s hard to develop an appetite with a kitchen in such a state. I wish I could drench the place with hot water and buckets of bleach. I cooked anyhow. Any later and I’d eventually get hungry but it would be dark by then and I’d rather not perform candlelight cooking. But I was so lazy, all I did was boil some broccoli using rainwater collected in a bucket. No garlic, no spices; only salt, sprinkled at the end.
22 January 2020
It stormed all through the night. I got up just past 8AM and it was still pouring. I guess my initial idea of camping here would not have boded well anyway. I miss sleeping in my tent but only in good weather. All the firewood is damp even though I kept them under a shade. The humidity must have seeped through. It took an extra-long time but I managed to start a fire. Boiled water for a cup of coffee and powdered milk for a bowl of granola. Couldn’t finish my breakfast in the end, and fed it to the cat. The cat ate up everything. Oats, raisins, peanuts, and all. It’s my mother’s birthday today and I forgot to wish her before I left for the woods, so now I feel deeply guilty for forgetting. Even if I had a local sim card, there’s no signal down here.
Around 1PM, the skies cleared up for a bit. With my toothbrush, reading and writing materials, a mat, a foldable camping chair, and some snacks, I headed to the river. Dipping in for a bath had to be done with caution because it was rather rocky and I could not see the bottom. Despite knowing I’m meant to be alone and the nearest person is probably 10km away, every rustling sound made me look up like a deer in headlights. I was hoping to get a tan but the sun wasn’t scorching enough. Still, I’m going to stay out here because at least the air is fresh and doesn’t smell like chicken poop.
23 January 2020
So, uh, I just heard a loud thud and some scratching. It is past midnight, pouring once more, and pitch black. It couldn’t have been the cat, could it? But the thud was so loud it sounded like a person tripped and fell on the wooden floors. My room is locked, the candle is still burning, and I sure am praying hard no one else is here. And if there is someone, may the candlelight make him not want to risk coming into the room in case a bigger man was in here. Dear God, please keep me safe. My heart is pounding. I need the morning to come soon. If tomorrow I see that someone has been here, I am going to pack up and leave immediately. I doubt there’s a person though. This location isn’t easy to get to. Especially not in the middle of the night. Unless it was a wild animal. Either way, not ideal.
Okay, doesn’t look like anyone was here after all. I thought the bathroom door was previously shut but I could be imagining things. Or that could have easily been the wind. Although it’s noon, it’s gloomy, and I’m still hiding in my room.
I overestimated the amount of food I’d need. Surprisingly, I haven’t been very hungry. I’d feel silly lugging all this rice and oats and pasta back up. I’d hate to leave it behind too. Then I’d need to buy them all again at my next destination. Decisions, decisions!
Anxiety is kicking in now. I hope and pray the path is clear tomorrow. That the rain didn’t cause a landslide or blockage of any sorts. I didn’t properly pay attention to the path when we were hiking down. I believe there was only one way, really. There shouldn’t be a possibility of me getting lost. Right? Oh, why do I do this to myself? And please, please, please, let there be sun in the morning. I arranged for the private hire to pick me up at 11AM. So I need to be out there by then. If not, it’s a long walk out to civilization. I need my nerves to calm down now. I want to go to sleep.
This trip was meant to be a calm stay, out in nature, yet turned out quite the opposite. It had its good moments, sure, but I guess I chose the wrong week to land myself here. Sorry, I’m ending this letter on a less than enthusiastic note. The rain has been a real mood dampener. Hopefully, things pick up from here on.
Espero que todo está bien contigo! 🙂
Cover Photo: Hiking into Pachijal Forest
*All photos courtesy of the author