Freezing… That’s how cold.
No, really, I’m not lying.
But let me start from the beginning.
There’s a mountain in the Dominican Republic. It’s a little-known fact, but there are mountains in the Caribbean too, not just beaches. The smaller Islands, like Guadeloupe, were formed by volcanoes, but the larger islands owe their peaks to two tectonic plates colliding and raising the ocean floor above sea level. More than 3,000 meters above sea level.
If you’re like me and you’re not good with numbers, the highest peak on earth, Everest, is almost 9,000 meters above sea level. Mount Kilimanjaro, 6,000 meters, Mont Blanc, 5,000… Yeah, Pico Duarte, with its measly 3,000 meters, isn’t a GIANT but it’s the highest in the Caribbean, alright!!
We laughed at it too. We had no idea what we were getting into when we decided to do this hike.
The total distance of the hike is 23 kilometers, for an elevation of 1,500 meters or so.
Now this is my own personal account of our hike. Everyone has their own little variations I’m sure… but it went a little something like this….
We started at the town of La Ciénega, at 1,110 meters above sea level.
Here, the path mostly looks like this:
Looks easy enough.
We hit this trail at about 7 am.
By the time we got to Lost Tablones, about an hour and a half later, and only about 100 meters higher than we started, we still had no clue what we were in for.
Here the path is just really lush and pretty. We stopped a lot to take pictures of the cute bridges we crossed over:
Eric doesn’t look too sure about them, but they were pretty sound.
No really, trust me.
The mules crossed through the rivers. We hadn’t started using them. No, not even thought about using them.
Some of us, myself included, at this point thought we were actually going to get to the top without them.
At this point in our tropical jungle journey, who could blame us!!
After Los Tablones, it started getting a little steeper.
By the time we got to Alto de la Cotorra the trail had started getting very steep.
Also, it was getting close to lunchtime (by which I mean 11, yup, I’m a fatty)
So we took a little break and shared an avocado and some chips while we took a breather.
The mule joined in and started eating pine needles. Weirdos.
The mules with our food were a bit behind, and we were all very upset at this point that we hadn’t taken Sarah’s brownies with us.
The next stop was La Laguna, the sign said an hour and a half… we’d been cutting a half hour off all the signs until now, so we figured about an hour away. Maybe we could stop and eat lunch there?!? Laguna means lagoon.. “Can we swim” someone asked, it was getting hot. “no” Said Pepo. “There’s no water there”
That’s Pepo on a mule…. the
trail riverbed started getting steeper.
Beautiful though still.
At this point Elena was about ready to mount a mule, but we all had egos to defend, so she was waiting for someone to break.
When Gaby asked Pepo how much longer we had, and he answered that we were about a seventh of the way there, Gabriel broke, which made Elena very happy, and they did the next little bit by mule-back.
I was determined NOT to ride a mule. I’m about as stubborn as a mule. So when I got to La Laguna (where you can hear the faint and distant sound of a river, but nothing nearby) I was getting tired.
I rested up waiting for the slackers to catch up and Pepo to refill our water bottles in a nearby stream.
By now it was about lunchtime, and we were all starving.
The food mules were still behind us though, and we were all (more or less) still feeling full of vigor, so we decided to keep going a bit, until we found a nice view, then wait for the mules and fill our tummies with lunch.
At this point we’re all sweaty, we’re all tired. We’ve all climbed some pretty close to vertical bits of trail, and we think we’re getting close.
I mean, for crying out loud, this is the view of where we started. all the way over there!!!!
How far can we possibly be?!?
We crossed some very happy looking Swedes who came running down the mountain, frolicking with their blond hair in braids flying in the wind behind them.
See, they’re happy!! There are great treasures to be found at the top of this mountain!!
So we keep climbing.
Occasionally stopping for a good photo op.
Here’s Micheal and his gorgeous daughter Elena.
We’re still in good spirits.
We get to La Cruce, which was only about 20 minutes away, like the sign said, but a BRUTAL 20 minutes, 100 meters up, and only half a kilometer away. That’s an average of 1 meter up for every meter over.
We kept going a little bit beyond La Cruce, but barely.
Gabriel’s gotten off the mule to let Eric have it.
Elena’s let Shada have hers, but Shada was only on very shortly. She didn’t like the mule.
We pretty much just stop at the closest resemblance of a view and plop our tired bones down for a rest, waiting for the mules which have our food.
This wolf dog joins us.. He had been following the Swedes, but came back up to hang out with us.
We welcomed his company, he made us feel more badass. His name is Voodoo.
We scarf down our food and put on a sweater for a bit, because although we were all very warm a minute ago, that mountain air is chilly as soon as you stop moving.
This is the first sign of the temperature to come.
The guides with the mules catch up and let us know the worst is yet to come.
I don’t know for everyone else but I don’t really register. I’m too busy eating cheap mayo dip and ham and cheese sandwich on colmado bread. I’d never normally touch this food with a 10 foot pole, but right now I’m so happy for all of it, as well as the
juice sugar flavored yellow water I’m guzzling like fuel.
Gabriel feels like a new man with food in his belly and starts prancing ahead to take some shots.
Now we’re up in the clouds, and I’m really excited about that. we’re so high up, and I’ve climbed up here all by myself… Superstar!!!
It’s nearing 3pm, the landscape has changed completely. No more ferns and lush tropical plants, this is all pines.
The climb here is still brutal though, and now the path has gotten rocky, which is tough on the ankles.
The temperature has dropped and the sweat on my skin feels very chilly, but keeping a sweater on is way too hot.
We’re still not quite up to Aguita Fria, but there’s a flat spot with some benches and it’s time for a rest.
We’re all sweaty and exhausted, but we’re all still able to manage to pull a smile out for the camera.
Gabriel’s still feeling the sugar rush from the bread and juice.
Back on the road we go. Eric mounts his stallion.
This is where we feel the first droplets.
I think it’s cute.
We’re in a cloud, and the cloud is condensing on us.
It’s not quite rain, it’s just cloud-stuff.
Last time I touched a cloud was when I dropped through one while sky-diving… now I’m actually INSIDE of one… pretty cool.
I’m still stubbornly climbing by foot. I AM NOT GETTING ON A MULE DAMN IT.
I hurt everywhere, but I am making it to the top without getting on the friggin donkey.
And then it starts raining.
Not the cute cloud stuff.
Giant drops of freezing cold rain.
Wait, is it actually freezing.. yes, it is. WTF?!
I put my pants back on, and my sweater, and my rain jacket, and we all keep trekking.
We’re inside the cloud though. As in, the thunder and lightning are right next to us. If we were in civilization, the car alarms would be going off, setting off the dogs, but Voodoo’s used to this, and we’re about 14 kilometers away from the closest settlement.
At one point lightning hits right between Shada and I and the rest of the group about 10 meters away, BAM!! we both jump at the thunder. I’m not scared of thunder, but I’ve been to a lot of concerts, and stood way closer to speakers than is advised by physicians, and I’ve never felt bass in my chest like that. WOW!!
I’m cold, but this is pretty intense and unbelievable.
And then it happens.
The first bits of water make it through my supposedly impermeable jacket. Fuck you “Bench.” I said it!! Make your waterproof jackets waterproof damn it.
Freezing water is infiltrating at the nape of my neck and dripping down my spine.
Cold is my kryptonite. And I’m losing strength quickly.
I figure maybe running is going to help me warm up… so I start jogging past everyone else.
That does nothing. I’m shivering, and all i’m accomplishing is getting cold water inside my impermeable boots my stepping into over-the-ankle deep puddles that are forming.
Did I say puddles. I meant river. We’re in a riverbed, lined with clay… and the rapidly draining cloud which is not cute AT ALL anymore is turning this path into a full on river.
It’s ok… we’re almost there. We’re almost there…we’re been hiking all day.. we’re almost there.
I huddle myself and I jog.
And then I get here:
This is the picture Gabriel took on the way back down.. when it wasn’t raining anymore.. so you’ll have to do some mental photoshop to get the point.. take the picture above and add water… lots and lots of falling freezing water. And wind. And thunder. And lighting.. And all the fury from all the mountain gods.
And then look at the sign. “Aguita Fría” (translation little cold water) Next stop “Compartición” 4 kilometers…….. two hours.
I’m already frozen, but I freeze.
Two Hours?!?! Two more hours?!? I can’t do this. My waterproof boots won’t drain the cold water I’ve stupidly let in and I’m standing in two personal pools of water. I might as well not be wearing a jacket, water is driping down my face, I’m pretty sure I’m 15 minutes away from hypothermia, and this sign is telling me TWO MORE HOURS!!!!!
I think I just screamed that outloud.
I might be crying but I can’t tell with all the water and all.
The mules catch up. I get on one.
Everyone else thinks they have a better chance of staying warm by walking, and they’re probably right. But I’m completely demoralized and frozen.
I get on the friggin’ donkey and eventually the rain starts dissipating, and then stops.
Mules aren’t very fast, they go about regular human walking speed, so everyone speed walking their cold away is far ahead of us now.
Left on the donkeys are Gabriel, the guides, Pepo and Monchie, and Me. And I’m miserable.
Finally I open up my bag to try to find something warm and dry to change into now that the rain has stopped.
Nothing. Everything is soaked, except for the parts of the giant towel for two that were on the inside folds.
I take it out and wrap myself in it like a blanket.
I’ve lost all pride.
Finally Pepo convinces me that if I got off the mule and started walking again I’d warm up. So I drain the water out of my shoes, tighten my grip on the blanket, and start putting one foot in front of the other. The thought of Gabriel’s dry clothes in the bags that went ahead with the food mules acts as my carrot.
Ahead of me, so far ahead I can’t see them, are Eric, Elena, Shada, and Michael.
Michael hasn’t ridden a mule at all yet, like a boss, but in my defense, his jacket is actually waterproof… Shada though.. she’s my hero, she’s freezing, but she’s putting one foot in front of the other and trekking on, hasn’t gotten on a mule either.
Once we get over the hump of the hill that the Aguita Fría sign was on, we see another hill, but on that hill is a little blue house, and I know that house is Compartición.
It’s getting closer, one tiny step at a time.
Once I’m about half way between the peak of the last hill and the blue house, now going down a very steep hill, happy to no longer be climbing, I hear Eric’s happy shouts of arrival!!!
Then at last:
It’s 5. We’ve been walking for 10 hours, the first eight, mostly enjoyable, although challenging… The last two, humbling, and now.. we can change into some dry clothes before nightfall, and start a fire.
All of our stuff got wet.
The food mules didn’t escape the storm and everything is soaked.
Plus, finding dry kindling and wood is not the easiest thing after a rain.
Sleeping bags, socks, EVERYTHING is wet.
Finally we get a fire going and start drying everything we own… one piece at a time.
It was all worth it though.