Yesterday we conquered the mountain. Or volcano rather. A group of about ten of us left the compound at 7.00am on a Sunday morning, amid the sounds of thunder and boarded the mini-bus loaded with food and bottled water, bound for Pico.
After a two hour check-in and negotiation of our paperwork providing us with permission to access Pico, the “gate” was opened and we were in. And at approximately 9.10am, the fun began.
The hike is up a gravel road. The road is well-maintained and intended for vehicles. Let me be explicit – you can drive up to the top. We knew this. That wasn’t the point. The point was, Pico is there, and we were going to hike it. You could see our bus driver’s thoughts on more than one occasion: blancos locos.
If a 30km day walk isn’t enough to put you off, consider the fact that you are also climbing 10,000 feet. There are no downward sections. The only way (so to speak) is up.
The bus travelled along with us, going ahead of us to collect any hiker who wished to take a break, and carried our energy supplies so that we didn’t have to. Before we set off I thought this was overkill. I can say now that it definitely was not! As with most mountains, the inclines started off longer and slower, and became steeper and longer the closer we came to the peak. You know you are in trouble when your legs are aching and you are not even half-way up. If you take a break for too long, it is actually worse, because your muscles start to seize up. For me the tactic was maintain pace, don’t stop for too long – just keep going! My mantra almost failed me on a few occasions when I realised for example that after 4 and a half hours, we still had 12kms to go. Really?? It was at this point I found myself bent double – almost crawling up the sign-posted 10% gradient. Funny, somehow, that all the hills were signposted as being the same steepness… A question of accuracy perhaps?
Among the sound of parrots and gun shots, through the bees which insisted on buzzing around my sweaty shoulders despite the liberal application of Bushmans, we continued. My heels blistered, the skin peeled off and was soon red raw. The back of my knees, my hips and back ached – I knew then that I am no longer as young as I was – how can hips ache?? But somehow they do.
The summit rose in front of us, as we neared closer the group became more and more staggered. Making it to the top became a case of every man for himself – one by one we ascended towards the summit. The first three of us approached the concrete road and communications tower cautiously as an icy wind froze the sweat to my skin. Suddenly I was back in Victoria on a cold Spring day. The security guards at the top were not bothered by us – after what seemed like hours, our bus finally meandered up to the very top, approached the guards but our papers weren’t needed.
Unfortunately, and is so often the case at the moment during the dry season, little view could be seen from the top. On a clear day they say you can see Cameroon. However, this day we were not so privileged.
Though we didn’t quite have the view, we did have the achievement. Our muscles screamed, we shivered around the telecommunications tower and I scoffed shortbread. At the end of the day, pretty damn pleased that we did it – although I can’t say if I’ll ever do it again!
It is now only 4 days until we leave the island for Chile. I am absolutely looking forward to the break from work – and to see some more of the world – being the reason we came here in the first place! Our flight leaves the island late Friday night towards Madrid. Hopefully the muscles will have forgiven us somewhat by then.