My uncle Kevin sent this video to my mom who sent it to me who watched it and then had to lie on the couch with a compress on my head. Perhaps you've seen it, almost 650,000 people have visited the website below. When I hit play I was thinking, "Yeah, whatever, hike up a mountain, blah blah blah, I've done that too."
Yes, the trail seemed kind of exposed and the cliff side kind of steep but that happens when you climb up mountains. See: Me and Alli Jones hiking in the Cascades, me slipping off the trail and tumbling down out of Alli's sight who starts wailing, "JESS RONCKER! JESS RONCKER!" And me, on my stomach, hanging on to branches below, getting irritated by her screaming, yelling back up, "I'm FINE!" Alli, sorry I got testy when you thought I was dead. I was in shock.
Anyway, I stuck with the El Camino del Ray video and at 1:25 went, "Oh."
And at 2:30 went, "Shit."
At 4:00 and 4:50, I grimaced and at 5:45, I was sweating and my tummy felt funny.
The El Camino del Ray hike is not just about fear of heights. It's about fear of, I don't know, not being a circus tightrope walker. It's about not really being in the mood to plunge 700 feet to your death. It's about how they should hand out diapers at the trail head. In fairness to Spain, the 1901 trail has been closed since too many people died there in 1999 and 2000 but people sneak in, which I think says something about cultural difference.
I've noticed that Germans are into safety. Germans cross streets like they do in Seattle and Salt Lake City i.e. they are freakishly well-behaved. If they do cross against the light, they run as if their lives depended on it even though the nearest car is four blocks away. When I cross on a red here, I get the feeling that someone wants to scold me. And, in fact, my German roommate told me that she's been reprimanded for illegal crossing and for walking up the left side of stairs and sidewalks.
In Ecuador, there was pretty much a total lack of concern about safety. And now I know where the Latin Americans get their attitude: from their colonizing bastard ancestors, the Spaniards. Their GOOD LUCK IN NOT DYING approach is genetically coded.
The sidewalk from my house in Quito to the neighborhood where I hung out was pitted with crevasses and ditches, some so deep that if I'd fallen in, I don't know that I could have gotten out. There were no signs and no barriers to keep you from falling in. You were just supposed to use your eyeballs. I don't know what the survival rate is for blind people in Ecuador. I woke up many mornings in Quito psyched that I hadn't lost my footing while walking home in a blackout the night before. Just kidding, mom, not really. That wasn't my most studious year.
There is also, of course, the Ecuadorian train. My friends and I took the train from Quito to Riobamba and like everyone else rode not inside the train but on top of it. We sat up there and drank beer, ducking low-hanging power lines and broken pipes pouring water in the urban stretches and holding back branches whipping our faces in the rural ones.
We arrived in Riobamba sunburnt, sooty, and feeling very alive.