Una Caminata en la Montana (Part 1)

By walk, I mean more like trek, but my Spanish is limited.

A couple weeks ago, the communications team headed out for a three day hike into the backcountry. We were going to visit two of the homestays that our students stay at on course so we could get a better feel of what they do and what it is like.

It started with a 3am departure time. (Since we were all up doing a WFR scenario the night before, it definitely came early.) Eight of us piled into one truck (two in front, four in the back seat, two in the very back), and headed up some crazy roads and over some scary bridges before arriving at our drop off point just after dawn. The stretch we were doing is usually done over 2 days for students, but our goal was to finish it this morning and be at Orlando’s (our instructor’s) house for lunch.

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The hike was absolutely beautiful, but challenging. We’d go up, up, up then down, down, down. Orlando is from here and he is so knowledgeable about the plants and animals. We stopped to snack on leaves and flowers along the way. Coming from California, the amount of water is incredible! We were constantly crossing streams and filling our water bottles in waterfalls.
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Then… it started to rain. By rain, I mean pour non-stop. The rain is actually really nice because it’s relatively warm. Even though you’re soaked to the bone, you’re not cold. Unfortunately water + dirt = mud. The soil here is very silty, so when it becomes mud it turns into a slip-and-slide. We were on our way downhill by this point, so it was slow going for much of the trip.
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Remember that lunch we were supposed to make? We got there at 4pm. We walked into Orlando’s homestay looking like the wettest, saddest, and most exhausted people you’ve ever seen. They quickly handed us some agua dulce. Agua dulce is a sweet water drink made from melting trapiche (sugar cane candy) in water. It’s the perfect after trek drink! We took off our boots, hung up our soaking clothes, and sat down for the best warm meal ever made.

Our stay was brief; we had to move onto the Lopez house quickly to get there before nightfall. We all grumbled as we put back on our dripping socks and boots. But off we headed for the hour or so hike to our next stop.
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We arrived at the Lopez house (our most common homestay for courses) just as the sun went down. After hanging up our wet clothes, taking the best cold shower ever, and changing into some amazing dry clothes, we sat down with the Lopez family. We were probably terrible guests, just sitting there in a daze as they sat and chatted while Doña Flor cooked dinner.

Sidenote: I loved “el campo” (the country side) and could have stayed there forever. But I could never be a wife here. The women are incredible. Doña Flor makes three meals a day for her family, students, and whatever guest stops in. She does it all on a single wood burning stove. She’s up before the sun chopping wood to build the fire so everyone can have a hot breakfast and coffee when they finally roll out of bed. During the festival (which I’ll explain the later) the women were either 1) in the ridiculously hot kitchen cooking or 2) watching the little children while the men drank and played or watched soccer.
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The homes here are simple. They are made of wood with many windows and openings. The houses we visited were all surrounded by a large cement porch. This is where you take off your shoes and put your gear. I imagine it is the only way to keep things clean around here. We passed out on mattresses strung along the floor. As we headed to bed (around 8pm) many guests were just showing up to prepare for the party tomorrow.

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