I walked more than a marathon yesterday, loaded with a pack, through mud and across streams, to return to Mindo from Quito.  Now every time I move my legs I’m reminded of the journey.  But it feels good.

I went to visit Armando again on Saturday, and after a couple days of hanging out with the beach bunch, we got it together to do the walk he´d mentioned many a time.  It actually runs from a small suburb south of Quito, called Lloa, and follows the Rio Blanco, which then joins with others to become Rio Cinto, past Volcán Pichincha and the thickening cloud forest reserve called Mindo-Nambillo.  Juanita, a friend who lives in Quito and expressed interest last time we talked about it, joined us in the afternoon, and we were walking by 4 pm.  With only two hours of daylight on Monday, we made it perhaps 8 kilometers in before night fell and it started to rain.

My feet were already aching from the rubber boots I´d bought for the trek.  We quickly set up our tents and huddled together to feast on some pork fritada, mote (hominy), papas, and sweet plantains we´d bought in Lloa.  The mosquitos were swarming our flashlight, just a thin netting between us and agony.  Although the rain continued off and on throughout the night and I woke up dozens of times to get more comfortable, we awoke dry and well-rested.  Miraculous.

For breakfast, I had the first bite of peanut butter since I left the states three and a half months ago.  Bread, banana, brown sugar.  Juanita was in love instantly (she lived in Houston for most of her life, though– how could she have missed banana-PB combo?) and was dreaming of those sandwiches for the rest of the day.

So, here´s the math: we started walking at 7:30 am.  Stopped at 9:45 for about a half hour to eat tuna and avocado (and a lot more).  Got slowed down at one point to scale a small, root-entwined cliff where the path had been swept away by the shifting Rio Cinto.  A couple pauses to take photos, gather water from little streams, or pop some toasted fava beans.  Stopped again at about 3:30 to eat, by then brain-dead, wobbly, and slap-happy.  Got picked up, joyous!, by a truck at 5:00 pm, just 4 km from Mindo.  All in all, we walked about 45 km (28ish miles) in 8-9 hours.  Not bad, eh?

Armando helping Juanita across one of the many streams.  She brought hiking shoes instead of rubber boots, but she quickly gave up on trying to stay dry and clean and ended up covered up to her shins.  Tough gal.

What with the distance still to travel, the sharp pains in my toes and feet, and the impossibly mucky, rocky terrain to concentrate on, I surely missed the majority of the scenery– not to mention the record diversity of plants and animals.  That said, I´m walking with some gems: the morning sun gilding epiphyte-covered guava trees, a section in pura selva that felt akin to the Old Growth Trail in Corvallis, gigantic heart-shaped leaves and hordes of yellow-beaked toucans and green parrots squawking over the way north.

Armando and I were cracking up all evening as we tried to hobble our way back to the house.  I went down for a 10-minute nap at 7 pm and ended up eating dinner when I woke, groggy, three hours later.  Even though we´re fit and strong, I guess walking a marathon with an extra 20 pounds requires a wee bit more training.