For those of you who read my last post, you’ll know I’m a big guy. More specifically, I’m 6’7” (201 cm). I love to travel, and I’ve spent time in the Philippines, Morocco, and Central America, and I could go on for days about all the things that make travelling while tall particularly interesting. One fun fact: I can’t buy clothes in most of these countries. Go figure, there’s not much demand for a 36” inseam in Manila. And there’s not much demand for a pair of US size 13 (47 EU) hiking boots in Ecuador. Which is why when I lost mine in a frenzied rush to get on a bus, I was gutted.
I was coordinating the digital mapping of one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen — Cajas National Park in Ecuador — and everything was more or less lined up. Trailhead Labs was keen for the specification they contributed to via Code for America to be put to good use outside the US. ETAPA, the organization that oversees the running of Cajas, was excited to have their trails digitally mapped on an open source platform. And I was so excited to go out with the park rangers and see these awesome trails firsthand. But I had no boots. And I had more than a week of traveling with my friends before I could even begin to find a solution.
We were on a bus heading from Puerto Lopez to Cuenca after having spent 4 tranquilo days in Ayampe. One of my friends suggested we call the hostel where we’d stayed, but that seemed ridiculous — the guy with whom we’d hitched a ride was well on his way to Quito by now, and would only realize he had a pair of enormous boots in the back of his truck when he was too far for it to make any difference.
I decided to be proactive. There was no way I was going to find boots my size in Ecuador, so I called my mother-in-law in Texas to let her know I’d be ordering some boots to have them sent to her right away. That was the 2nd of September, 2 days after I’d lost mine. With a lot of luck, they’d arrive on time for my tentative start date of the 14th, but the post in Ecuador can be tricky so my fingers were firmly crossed.
Meanwhile, I had new problems. There were a number of small fires in Cajas, which meant that the park rangers who would have been my guides were tied up in sorting out those issues. But after nearly six months in Ecuador, I knew that things generally move a little more slowly than I’m used to in Europe, and the best bet is generally to sit tight, and things sort themselves out. An American we knew who’d been working in Ecuador for years suggested I post an ad on GringoPost.com, an online forum for American expats living in Cuenca, to see if anybody had my shoe size and could loan me a pair of boots. Since there was as yet no sign of the boots I’d ordered, and as I needed to be ready to go as soon as the fires let up, I thought I’d give it a go.
I posted a request on the 14th. Over the course of the next few days, I had 10 replies. I guess that speaks to the number of Americans in Cuenca, or the size of their feet, or the extent of their generosity, or all of the above. In any case, I figured that problem was sorted out, but wished I hadn’t invested in new boots that I still wasn’t sure would arrive on time.
Then the weirdest thing happened: I got an email from Sandra the owner of La Iguana, the hostel we’d stayed at in Ayampe: Chris, I have your shoes!
I couldn’t believe it. Turns out that the guy who gave us a ride had been staying at Punta Finca, a hotel/restaurant that had the most amazing sunset view and where, consequently, we had a meal (great food!) with our friends while staying there. The server, Mariscal, was really cool, so we invited him for drinks at ours the next night. Our Good Samaritan must have, upon realizing my shoes were in his truck, turned around to bring them back to our only point of reference: Ayampe. When he described me to Mariscal, of course he knew who I was — suffice it to say there aren’t many people my height in Ecuador. So Mariscal got in touch with La Iguana so they could get in touch with me. And as luck would have it, one of his neighbors was heading to Cuenca to visit family a few days later, ergo I got my boots back! Which was awesome, because I still hadn’t gotten the boots I’d ordered. But I also hadn’t heard back from ETAPA. The fires continued to burn, and as the days passed, I started to wonder if I would be able to do the walks at all.
There are a total of eight rutas, which are the longer trails, and I’d only done one. The plan was to do the remaining seven, which ranged from just over 5 km to 18 km in length. I was really hoping to have a full two weeks in which to do them, particularly as I was sure some of them were going to kick my arse, so to speak. It was now the 5th of October, and we had flights back to France booked for the 21st. Time had begun to run out.
On the 6th I headed down to the ETAPA offices to see if I could meet with someone face to face to move forward. I was keen to have the opportunity to carry out the project — I’d already invested a bit of time and money in just being in town and ready to go, not to mention the boots I’d ordered (that still hadn’t arrived!), as well as a pair of mud boots they’d advised me to get for the walks. I suddenly had more shoes than I knew what to do with, and their presence in our flat only added to my anxiety — all these boots had to be for something!
But ETAPA, as previously mentioned, has a lot on their plate. They’re responsible for everything from potable water to telecommunications, and couldn’t meet with me. Time was really of the essence at this point. I knew they wanted to be a part of this — they had made that very clear from the outset. So I sent an email that afternoon underlining the importance of haste.
The next morning I got an email with a full schedule. We wouldn’t be able to do all of the hikes — the whole team was on training for the week that followed, but because Sr. Agustín Ordoñez, the lead ranger, was willing to work on his weekend, we’d get through at least four of them, which would mean five out of the eight.
Ruta 3, Valle de Quinuas (Valley of the Quinuas), would be the next day.
Stay tuned for more of my mapping adventures…coming up next: The project actually starts…or does it???