There are times in your life when you look at a volcano and think: I must try to climb that. You’re not sure where this impulse comes from. Possibly from somewhere deep inside you, possibly next to your pancreas. You look down at your shoes and see they’re woefully inadequate for mountaineering and think, To hell with it. I’m going to try anyway.
I left El Fresnito at around 9am, armed only with my skate shoes and a half-full bottle of water. Almost immediately I ran into another group of hikers, two girls and one guy from Guadalajara. I asked them how many kilos they were carrying.
Fifteen, one the girls said.
Fifteen? Are you carrying cinder blocks? A hardcover copy of 2666 (In which case: Can we get married?)? I couldn’t understand how they could have so much weight. It sometimes seems like in Latin America the appearance of doing something properly is more important than anything else. You DO NOT go cycling without cycling shorts and a cycling jersey. You DO NOT go running without stretchy pants and running shoes. And you DO NOT go hiking without a huge, overly-loaded backpack.
An hour in I was treated to a welcome sight. The Pacific Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii (to those of us who speak more cultivated tongues), is extremely common in the Pacific Northwest, but only found at higher elevations in Mexico. I like seeing them because they make me feel at home. They’re easy to spot because of their distinctive peeling bark that reveals a smooth, usually green or orange surface underneath.
It soon became apparent that the trail was not the best way to go, so I abandoned it for the longer, but much more manageable, dirt road. Things were instantly better. Instead of a struggle, it was a walk in the park. I was happy. I began to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
The air began to get cooler and after about two and a half hours of walking I got to a campground called El Alcazar. It was deserted. There were bathrooms and outside them a sink, and I wondered if the sink water was drinkable. After some debate, I decided to fill up my water bottle half full, and on the way down if I saw the people from Guadalajara ask them if they knew if it was safe to drink.
Luckily, I ran into them almost immediately. They were struggling up the steep trail I’d fallen on just a few moments earlier trying to see if one of the water tanks I’d been told had water had some kind of spigot where I could fill up my water bottle.
What don’t you take the road? I asked.
Because this is more direct, one of the girls said.
How about we get married right now? Is that direct enough?
But of course I didn’t say this. I said, The trail is hell. The road is so much nicer.
I also asked if they knew if the water from the sink was potable, and they said they didn’t think so.
You can just drink from those tanks, the guy said, pointing up the trail.
You just pull back the lid? I asked.
Yes, he said.
This was welcome news, since I hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. The guy and I peeled the lid back to reveal a rushing brook of pure, cold spring water.
What a difference a small thing like access to fresh, cold water can make. Even though I hadn’t made it very far up the mountain, I was completely content with turning around and going back down. They continued to struggle up the trail with awful, sliding loose dirt, and I bounded off down the dirt road, happy as a lynx.
The trip back down was long and uneventful. I’d made it to about 2,700 meters from a starting elevation of about 1,700 meters. The summit, for reference, is just over 4,200 meters.
When I got back to the Airbnb where I’m staying, owned by a couple named Augustin and Lupita Ibarra, who’ve hosted travelers and mountaineers since the 90’s, Augustin offered me some beer. It was perfect. I decided to put my water consumption on hold, and instead take in the cold, refreshing suds.
And that was my first attempt at summiting the Nevado de Colima. With skate shoes, I don’t know if I’ll make it to the top. I might try to get a ride up further tomorrow and get closer to the summit. And find the group of girls (and one guy) I’d shared some nice conversation with.
Or maybe I’ll just stay below, drinking beer with Augustin. Both options sound pretty nice.
A special thanks to SCL for supporting this “blugh.”
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