Climbing Pichincha

On my first free Saturday in Ecuador, one week after I’d moved in with my Quito host family, I took the gondola up Pichincha. Pichincha is the active volcano that lines the Western edge of Quito and the last time it erupted, in 1999, it covered Quito in several inches of ash, but no more. I got up early to beat the lines at the gondola, and took the 2,500 ft., 10 minute ride to the lookout point with a few other Fellows. From there it would be 2-3 hours of hiking to reach the summit of Pichincha, along the ridge, looking out in all directions on Quito and its surrounding beauty.

After a couple pictures of us overlooking the city, we took off. After about 10 minutes of walking, we were all saying: “This isn’t too hard.” and “We can totally do this.” At that point, we had not walked up any inclines. Our confident statements were soon stopped in their tracks. The first hill left us out of breath, with out hearts beating unbelievably fast. We had underestimated the effects of being at 13,000 ft. After this, with each hill getting harder, with more frequent stops to catch our breaths, I couldn’t help but think how this hike was so much like my time in Ecuador thus far: there have been struggles, but all along the way, they’ve been accompanied by beautiful views.

Each morning, I take the bus to school with two other Fellows. As the bus pulls up, we cram ourselves into the entranceway, sometimes standing on the steps, with the doors wide open, as we fly down Avenida Diez de Agosto. The struggle is to hold on, while the vehicle makes abrupt stops to engulf more people on their way to work. The struggle is get over my ideal of personal space, as my back is pressed up against someone else’s, and people on either side of me get closer and closer. The beauty of packed bus comes in waves. The people, pressed against me on all sides, hold me up as the bus makes a quick turn. The landmarks and stores on the way to and from school have become familiar, the most beautiful sight of all. I feel confident climbing on the bus every day, knowing that it’s going to take me where I need to go.

That, along with many other things (food cravings, long silences, homesickness), have seemed like the challenge of climbing up a mountain. You start up an incline, only to stop 10 ft. later to prevent the heart attack you’re sure is coming, but while you’re catching your breath, you can look out on Quito, the beautiful sprawling city in the valley, and the mountains that surround it on all sides. The moments of slowing my heart back down have allowed me to see and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me everywhere I go.