Written by Neon
Coming back up to Loja was akin to coming home – we were back ‘on track’ after a river respite. Time to move forward and work our way across Ecuador, continuing our walk north to Colombia and the Caribbean Sea. As we planned ahead, Fidgit and I decided to walk separately to the next city. This gave us space to decompress from a month around other people as well as process through swirling thoughts. We stayed a night in Loja to set ourselves up for success and make sure we would be able to stay in contact during our time apart. The next morning we made our way to the bus station and hopped on separate buses to the towns we had left off at – me to Saraguro and Fidgit to Ona.
I made it to Saraguro just before lunch and began walking. It felt so good to be walking and on my own schedule again that I attempted a few short cuts – some worked out, others did not. At one point, I found myself looking down a steep and loose dirt wall at the road I was trying to short cut to. As I neared the town of Ona in the late afternoon, the clouds rolled in and it began misting. I also noticed a pain starting in my right foot- an achy twinge below and slightly forward of my outside ankle. Every step a twinge, though it didn’t hurt when not in use. I didn’t quite make it to Ona that night walking, though caught a ride in so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone on the side of the highway.
In the morning, I came back to where I had left off the night before and walked into Ona, grateful to be turning off the pavement (which I blamed for the foot issue). My foot continued to hurt along the dirt road, but not if I stepped just so. I walked along through the windy, rainy morning into the sunny afternoon. Everyone I encountered was kind, some even mentioned my friend ahead or walking with me for a bit. I walked to the small town of Cochapata, where I learned Fidgit had stopped for breakfast. The family I stayed with in Cochapata told me she had stopped through and talked with the grand-kids for quite some time that morning. It was fun to hear what they had to say about my hiking partner. I was exhausted from a 36 km day so didn’t make it much past dinner before hobbling back to my quarters and falling into a deep sleep.
Waking up the next morning, I had more energy to offer the grandparents as the grand-kids slept in. After a tasty breakfast of chicken and plantains, I was packed up and fed, though that didn’t help my foot issue. I took some ibuprofen (a resource I was running quite low on) and walked on. I also sent Fidgit a message to update/tell her about my injury. I walked on, and made it to the small town of Nabon around lunch. Nabon had a pharmacy! I bought enough ibuprofen to be able to take some with each meal, ate some ice cream, and walked on. Following a lesser dirt road out of town, I came upon a large landslide that Fidgit had warned me about – it looked like the side of a hill had just given up and slid across the road into the creek below. It was simple enough to walk across for a person on foot, though it made the rest of the road walk to Ranas nice and quiet. From Ranas, I had a decision to make: go along our originally planned route or along a route we had seen on Google Earth Pro. As it was later in the day and I had a legitimate hobble/limp at this point, I decided to walk the original route, hoping to find a decent spot to stay for the night. I ascended a winding dirt road up and up, scowling as I hit a paved highway at the top. Walking along at the end of a long day, I came upon the area where I thought there may be some place to stay. I walked past a small one-room restaurant and found a large building that claimed to be a restaurant and hostel. It was locked up tight, so I walked back to the small restaurant and was able to get dinner. I asked if the man and woman behind the counter if they knew of a place I could stay or set up my tent and after thirty minutes or so (after another customer left), they offered me floor space in the restaurant. Grateful to be indoors, I took them up on their offer. Throughout the night, the wind howled through the spaces between the wooden floor and wall slats and shook the tin roof as the rain fell. I shivered myself to sleep wearing all my layers.
Thankfully, the building held together until morning when I packed my pack and wandered into the cloud that consumed the mountaintop. Carefully walking/hobbling along the side of a highway in a cloud after not much sleep, I did my best to avoid the cars and trucks careening through the mist.
After a few kilometers, I was grateful to once again turn off the highway on to a dirt road that followed along the crest of the mountain before descending out of the cloud. A large valley opened up ahead as the wind and rain died down. My foot pain had slowly become all-consuming and was getting worse as I tried to hobble down a steep area of the dirt track. I stopped and wrapped it as though it was a sprained ankle, which turned it from a light throb to a full on “don’t walk on this unless you want to cringe/yell in pain every step.” So the wrap came off and I stopped for lunch. I messaged Fidgit to let her know where I was (physically and . . . physically), and she requested I try to come into Cuenca sooner than planned to allow my foot some rest time. As stubborn as I am, I’ve learned when to push and when to acquiesce. After walking multiple 30+ kilometer days on a bum foot, I called it. Dejectedly, I hobbled into Cumbe and caught a bus the last 25 kilometers into Cuenca to meet up with Fidgit.