"Great things are done when men and mountains meet This is not done by jostling in the street"--William Blake

October 26-27. Parque Nacional Cayambe-Coca.

I can feel the thin air and sharp winds grab my lungs and stretch them past their asthmatic capacity, like the way one stretches and pulls a balloon before blowing it up. The day started brilliantly, with unusual amounts of sun and clear skies sending us off on our trek. We started the trek at about 10,000 feet above sea level, and by the end of the day would have climbed another 4,500 feet to our campsite at Laguna Parcacocha. The landscape painted before us a misty,  mysterious land, pitted with countless valleys and a multitude glassy lakes around every turn. Tall tussock grasses and extreme altitude plants dotted the rolling hills, some resembling more like coral reefs than photosynthetic organisms.  The air was  cold and fresh, and the silence when no one spoke was astounding, full of weight and empty of sound.

We continued the hike, following tracks of Andean pumas, tapirs, and deer, and  arrived to the campsite late afternoon, and soon after setting up camp were treated  again with clear skies and sun, revealing he true colors of the deep valley and lake carved by ancient glacier movements. The sunset was unlike one I had ever seen before. Melissa, Frannie, and I climbed up a hill to get a better view and were treated to a lake that reflected the late afternoon and early dusk sky with a brilliant pallete of colors, shimmering like an iridescent watercolor painting. The photos you see below are as close to true to life as they come, I really only edited for contrast and exposure. 

When the black, cold night fell, we tried for 3 hours to make a fire, but it was all in vain. At almost 15,000 feet, there was not enough oxygen to light a fire with the semi-dry tinder; even toilet paper would not light easily, just burn as I held the lighter to it. In the night, the water we left out to purify turned to ice, and I woke up with a start at sunrise to frozen toes and the echoing bellows of the Andean spectacled bear (smaller and less scary than the North American version).

As we made our descent to the small town of Papallacta, my body took on more of the signs of altitude as the changing pressure filled my stomach with air, painfully inflating it. #thingsyoudontworryaboutinNC After getting a ride to town from some friendly conservationists, we ate a fresh trout lunch and soaked in the thermal baths before catching the last bus back to Quito.

My time here is running out. From today I have 24 days until I touchdown back into the homeland, and 8 of those will be spent visiting friends and Krochet Kids in Lima. There isn't any time left for me to be homesick, I realize, I have to soak in the last bits of my South American life before the chapter closes on me abruptly, the beautiful treasured bits as well as the ugly ones. Here's to carpe-ing that diem.

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Because I promised you pretty pictures in my last post... Busted.

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Super-paramo endemic plants? Or tropical coral reefs?

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