As mentioned in Shove It, Travel Shamers… We’re Going to Ecuador, while on San Cristobal in the Galapagos, a few of us set out on a hike to Playa Ochoa that would climax in some mild rock scrambling down to Playa Baquerizo to link up with the marked trail. Genesis, our guide, alleged the trailhead for Playa Ochoa was well marked, and the pathway well traveled. She also proclaimed we should “just follow the rocks” back to the other beach with its marked route back to town. She made it sound so effortless. Upon completing the aforementioned hike… She very obviously hadn’t hiked any of these paths herself before. Now for our perilous journey…
Necessities that one, two, or all three of us wished we had known we needed: Long Pants, hiking socks, decent hiking boots, a machete, a flashlight, food, bandaids, and some climbing gear.
I shall paint a picture of all of our preparations for you… Colette departed for the hike at least 45 minutes prior to us gathering up our gear and leaving. She had on super light-weight, non-hiking approved footwear, long pants and a short-sleeved t-shirt, a single bottle of water, and no food. I was clad in shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, Salomon hiking shoes, carrying a day pack with a 2.5 liter water bladder that was completely full, as well as a few snacks and a sandwich for lunch. Hubs was wearing pants that could convert into shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, Salomon hiking boots with shorty socks on, carrying a day pack with a 2 liter water bladder, along with a boatload of diabetic approved sugary snacks and a sandwich for lunch.
Part one of the trek was on the roadway, snaking through town before heading up a roadside bike path towards Capilla Nuestra Señora del Carmen de la Soledad (a Catholic Church on a hill). It was a lot of uphill walking at sea level along well-traveled roads. We were passed by three separate bike riders, each displaying varying levels of athleticism as they attempted to climb the hills. As we climbed higher, we came upon a cemetery, which generally would not warrant a note in a post, but this thing was peculiar. It was lined with “tombs” that basically looked like square, white bookshelves. Some were walled off, some contained crosses and flowers, and others simply contained a coffee can for an urn with a name scrawled on the wall behind it. It was not well cared for in the least. Also during the walk, we saw first hand that hitchhiking is not only still practiced on the Galapagos, it is considered safe, and we were offered several rides ourselves. We passed what looked to once have been a school and entered someone’s farm. Right about then, we caught up with Colette, who had apparently just appeared from the tree line mysteriously. The proprietors of the homestead advised us we were not on the road to Playa Ochoa, and Hubs was able to ascertain in broken Spanish that it was back near the school. Still unable to locate the trailhead, Hubs again utilized his sad Spanish skills to speak to a Rottweiler-owning old gent, who showed us the way to the trail.
Contrary to Genesis’ affirmations, the trail was not well marked. The incredibly narrow path just continued at the end of another unpaved farm road. It wound through the underbrush, which included sharp cacti, dry prickly shrubbery, and evil barbed hedges. All of which could quickly change to teetering lava rocks with very few markings to assist with following the trail. My legs looked like I’d been the victim of a thousand paper cuts of varying severities. All three of us bitched and moaned about the trail, but little did we know, we would later wish we had gone back the way we came.
Hubs kept referring to Google maps to let us know how far we were from the beach, and each time we moaned in disbelief as he repeated a dozen times, “We’re about halfway there.” Liar. A strong breeze would rustle the tree tops, and we would mistakenly think it was ocean waves. After several hours we finally spotted Playa Ochoa… about two hours later than we had initially expected to reach it. Instead of spending some time snorkeling in the gorgeous water, we very quickly downed our lunches, and started the rock scrambling, which started off deceptively easily. We can handle this shit for a little bit, no trouble at all! As long as we make it back before sunset.
Hindsight………. Three hours of rock scrambling is not easy. Especially, over lava rocks that have tumbled down from a cliff above, and when you leap from one to the next, you don’t have a clue if it’ll give way beneath your weight or not. Nor is it child’s play when the tide is bearing down on you, gradually climbing higher and higher on the rocks that are keeping you from plummeting into the Pacific Ocean. The crabs and iguanas don’t seem to find it problematic.
Our first ample obstacle slapped us in the face when we approached a valley that was entirely brimming with sea water. Uhh… this is a bit of a complication. We either dive into the rock strewn water and hope we miss the jagged boulders and avoid getting swept out to sea, or we ascend up to the top of the bluff to go up and around. The latter ended up being our sole option, even though plunging into the rocky water could still become our obvious misfortune with a sudden slip. This is about the time where climbing equipment and a machete would have been essential.
By this point, we were all still mostly uninjured and generally still upbeat. Thankfully, this climb was relatively straightforward, and we managed to get to the top alright. Once up there, however, things started getting dicey. Two lessons were quickly learned… First off, do not trust the trees growing from beneath the volcanic rocks – those little bastards support little to nothing. Secondly, the thickets we were attempting to navigate were unrelenting and very challenging to negotiate sans pre-hacked trail. Colette was the first to be claimed by the terrain, as her less-than-stellar footwear penetrated a gap in the hardened magma. Hubs and I lost sight of her, and later discovered she was feebly struggling to free her extremity. Once finally unrestrained, her leg bore the brunt of the damage with lacerations bleeding through her soiled pants.
Next obstruction, finding a way back down to the shoreline because as it turned out, rock scrambling was painless comparatively. Well, I can tell you all we successfully ambled down the unbalanced stones and resumed clambering. For what felt like an eternity. I turned around a few times, and later kicked myself for it, just to realize the beach we were trying to escape was still in sight, but the one we were trying to reach was nowhere near. All while the sun creeped closer and closer to the horizon.
Since I’m on the verge of getting old, a few body parts have begun to not respond quite as I would like them to. One such piece of my anatomy is my left knee. My IT band relishes in punishing me on the downward portion of hikes when they resemble steep stairs. Anyone that has ever partaken in rock scrambling knows that’s an integral component of the endeavor. About halfway through this portion of the trek, my knee began throbbing. Given that we were racing the sun, I popped six Advil and powered through the pain. Like any good former athlete would. I make great life choices, as I’m sure you can discern. Anyway, gradual progress continued until luck would befall us yet again as we encountered another chasm. Time to scale the cliff again, and cliff was a far more applicable term this time. How in bloody hell do we get up there?! Knowing I needed to take the route more aligned with being vertically challenged, I started up one side of a protrusion while hubs took the other. Another poor life choice that resulted in me climbing through a gap in the rocks to squeeze over to the other side. But we all made it up! Only to have our spirits perish… in order to navigate around the valley, we had to move inland and bumble along our own path, a path that was innumerably more arduous than last time. My legs paid the price as the underbrush became my nemesis, and I ended up wrapping a hotel towel around my waist to ward off the branches. Colette got a foot stuck not once, but twice, and ran out of agua (that’s Spanish for water). Hubs announced, “We’re fucked.” Cellular service was activated, but I can assure you that it’s a fruitless venture in the far reaches of the Galapagos. Many questions were considered… Can we flag down a passing boat? Can we survive in the Galapagos wilderness overnight? Will Genesis send a search party? Iguanas don’t eat people. Lava rock makes for an uncomfortable bed.
A last ditch effort was made as Hubs went off to explore the ridge line in hopes of finding a way down because establishing our own way up there was not going to provide a happy ending. Colette and I suddenly hear an excited shout. Too bad we had no clue where Hubs was hollering from. I did eventually find the fucker though, and he’d found a way down! Woohoo!!! And then Colette got her foot stuck again. Never fear, she escaped the clutches of the lava rock, extremity intact.
Gratefully, that was the final experiment with the bluff. After a significant stretch more, we glimpsed the last peninsula we would need to round before reaching Playa Baquerizo and the marked trail. Excitedly, I leapt up the next rock step with gusto, only to slam my knee into the bottom of the sharp stone. After some brief, but colorfully phrased, wailing, I tied a handkerchief around my knee, and pushed forward. I made it 85%through without injury. Fuck off karma. When I finally did plunge my Salomon’s into the sand, I screamed, “We made it!!!!” as I pranced awkwardly along the beach. I made sure my proclamation made it back to Colette, who was a touch behind us, but had some serious bragging rights having (mostly) kept up with us.
After a short photoshoot with a sea lion, Hubs and I started the final push back to town – a 45 minute hike on a defined trail. Not an issue at all except when the light is failing you. Insert the need for a flashlight. Colette said she’d be along shortly (that’s foreshadowing). By the time Hubs and I finished off the last of the scrambling, the sun was only a memory. Hubs would have greatly benefitted from some illumination, as he slammed his head into a low-hanging tree, producing some shiny stars in his vision. He managed 90% hike completion without hurting himself. Well, sort of… little did we know at the time, but he had at least five blisters on his feet courtesy of his poor sock choice, as well as two black toenails. Time to book it back to the hotel, find Genesis, and alert her to Colette’s possible location should a terrible incident befall her in the night. Spoiler: She was discovered a bit later with no new trauma, just starving from her lack of sustenance.
On the bright side, we did have our first Blue Footed Boobie sighting on the way back to town. And some dark views of the cove we had snorkeled in the day prior. Also bright, my rockin’ farmer’s tan that I was sporting on my arms, legs and neck. Painful reminder that while sunblock was utilized, it needed reapplication since we were hiking along the equator, after all.
Colette would proclaim at dinner a few nights later, “Once you’re committed, you’re in,” while giving Hubs and I a knowing look. Thanks to FitBit, we learned we traveled about 18 miles, and about 50,000 steps, over our nine hour journey. And my knee made me pay for the remainder of our time in Ecuador.
Hubs and I have declared this Our Biggest Mistake Ever while traveling.