Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Guiding Wear Wear

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." --Steve Jobs

To date. I have guided the El Hoyo/Asasosca 2 day trek 6 times and the Cerro Negro Volcano Boarding trip 8 times. I think I mentioned before with Cerro Negro we climb up and go down twice each trip so I have climbed that puppy 16 times. All this has been done since December 11th. This week will be exciting as on Thursday I am heading to Telica for the first time for the sunset trek. Telica is very active volcano. The crater is impressive and the views and the sunset are superb as anywhere. The hike itself is not difficult but a new volcano is always exciting.

What mother nature has done to my shoes and hiking shorts is another story all together. The scree of Cerro Negro has ripped apart my Merrells and the sun plus hiking has literally worn and torn my shorts. I have another month or so of guiding but I do not think the shorts are going to make it. The shoes have worn down to the point that when I am hiking down my toes are getting crushed. On the upside when we reach the lagoon as Asososca I jump in and my feet throb in relief. We then repeat the process the next week. I did buy a pair of new/used hiking boots at a local shop and have been breaking them in. However the last thing I want is to have new shoes on a hike that blister me up, so Merrells, keep doing your thing my old friends.

Brand new Docker shorts and Merrell hikers literally worn to shreds
I have helped guide 115 people from 19 countries. The youngest was 13 and the oldest 77. The average age falls in the early to mid 20s and every person has made the journey to the top of what ever volcano we are climbing. There have been a few challenges along the way that is for sure. For example, on El Hoyo the first 20 minutes of the first difficult hour can be brutal. Excitement turns to "holy shit" as people try and find their pace and breathing rhythms. What sees like immediate exhaustion turns into what can be best described as a "walking meditation".  You do realize you are not as exhausted as you think and you find those lost walking and breathing patterns and away you go, slow and steady. I am getting fairly strong on the hill however on the first 10 minutes of El Hoyo I struggle to get myself in my mode. Once I get there I feel no issues what so ever. No issues that is until the hike is over then I sleep for 12 hours, wake up, have coffee and sleep for another 3 or 4.

Sunrise on Momotombo
The hikes have not been without their issues. It is not uncommon for someone to puke up their pre-trip hike snack of banana and a few cookies. They literally toss their cookies. Yesterday we had a couple of young Canadian girls, aged 17 and 19 and you knew they were going to struggle. As an aside the biggest reality check for some trekkers is they read about and sign up for one of our trips because they sound "cool". Then when they put on the 30lb pack and start hiking the reality of what they signed up for hits them pretty quickly. Well the girls started to struggle almost immediately so I took away their water bottles (four 2 litre bottles) and reducing their load by about 8 pounds. Then after the older sister puked real good, I took our her food packet. Now my pack was pushing 50 lbs and some of the other hikers took on some of the load as they usually do. Its amazing how quickly people step up to help without questioning.
 As we were staring up again I could hear the girl who got sick say with every step "I can fu**ing do this, I can fu**ing do this". The human spirit was alive and well in the squeaky voice of a 19 year old girl who just threw up and was determined to get to the top of the volcano. The younger sister had banged her leg a couple times on rocks as she tripped so she was not having the best start. We cleaned up the cuts and with the same spirit through tears of pain then anger she got up and pushed on.
To climb Cerro Negro usually takes 45 minutes. There were a couple from the States at 77 years old. He was a bit over weight but you could see was strong as an Ox. She had 2 knee surgeries last year and the scars were visible. They would not be deterred. Walk, stop breathe, Walk stop breathe. We found their patterns and 90 minutes later, through a very windy hike we had the at the top gearing up for the ride down. With huge smiles they hit the Cerro Negro like teenagers screaming and laughing all the way down.
You have to be careful as excitement can turn to exhaustion. Another American who told us he was out of shape started up Cerro Negro and you knew he too was going to struggle. We reached the first lookout/rest stop and he looked terrible. White a sheet and sweating more than he should be. When he laid down to rest and had no thought of getting up any time soon it was time to take this a bit serious. His pulse was racing more than it should have been, he had not drank enough water and had a few to many beer the night before. I sent the rest of the crew up while I monitored him and was on the fence about sending him back down. When he finally caught his breathe and got some colour back I sat him up and made him drink a litre of water. I then stood him up and he drank a litre more. We took a few steps forward. He showed some strength and balance and the colour had returned so off we went, slow and steady. He made it to the top at a decent pace and was excited as a kid at Christmas when he got there. As he said, he would have been disappointed if he could not make it but would have respected my decision to send him back. He also jumped on the board and laughed the entire time down the hill. Once at the bottom he literally had tears in his eyes, grabbed me in a bear hug and thanked me. How can this not be a great way to live ?

Our chariots await
Walls are reduced and people open up quickly when you are hiking and spending so much time together over a 2 day period. People like to tell their stories and if you stop talking and listen you will hear interesting and inspiring tales from all age groups and nationalities. The common thread is travel and exploring the world. I do get asked personal questions and as I am trying to be a more open person (those who know me know how challenging that can be for me) I try to oblige. Most questions are of the mundane variety, "how long have you been living in Nicaragua?", "is it difficult finding a teaching job?", or "is it fun living like this?". These questions are easy and relatively non intrusive. Then, as on my last El Hoyo hike I get into some great conversations that lead to really thoughtful questions that make me think. The first was "what do you get out of living like this that you would not get back in Canada?". It is a question that can instill an immediate defensive response to which I have learned not to use (thanks Bell Canada executive training).  I replied with thoughtful but generic "tired of being a corporate shill", "not motivated by living for $$", or "the world is vast and I want to be a part of it" replies. I then asked them what they get out of the way they live their lives. Most reply without even realizing it in a very defensive way. I do not get offended as it is human nature to justify ourselves and I lived that way for many years as well. Regardless the conversations were enlightening and I do force myself to open up more.

This day was different. While sitting and waiting for our transport home after our hike I was chatting with a few mid 20s Canadians, Lana and Scott. We chatted along the trail and they were open, friendly and funny.  We talked about travel, books, music, politics and personal histories and sports. They asked "what year I was born" which is less intrusive than "how old are you?" and you have to respect that. Then generic "what I did before", "where have I been?" etc. Then out of the blue Lana asked, "why do I live like I do?". It was a variation of all the questions I have been asked but what struck me was both the simplicity and honesty by which it was asked. I really did not think about the answer and out came "It makes me a better person".  That surprise the shit out of me. I then proceeded to get into some depth about my answer but the simplicity and honesty of the question allowed me the simplicity and honesty of the answer. Lana replied with "that is a great answer" and smiled. No judgements no more questions. It was a quality moment. And with that I feel I have reached a new level of self spirituality and openness while on this journey. (I will reach out to both Lana and Scott for a picture and permission to use it as a thank you)

Keep it simple and keep it honest. It's really starting to work for me

A surprise night lava flow on Apoyeque, just below Momotombo

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