The First Hike

So, hike number one. It’s technically the first hike I’ve ever been on, but I figured the new experience would be a good one. If I remember correctly, Keely and Monica had already been on numerous hikes before, and Monica had already run this particular path about nine times before.

When I leave the van, I’m immediately struck by how much cooler it is up here. Guess that’s what happens when I go on a hiking trip another 5,000 feet above sea level, but most of the group came prepared with a few extra layers.

We were considering the five hour hike for a moment, but the group eventually settled on the three hour hike since it would take us through a cave or two.

We leave early enough, and the first thing that draws the group’s eyes are these large plants that looked really close to an aloe plant if it happened to have only a little flesh in the leaves and was five feet tall.

We do ask what they are, and our tour guide tells us that these plants are actually used for distilling mezcal, which is an alcoholic beverage primarily made within Oaxaca. The leaves and roots are cut off to access the heart of the plant, which is then cooked for three days to give it a smoky flavor before it is mashed and left to ferment.

I start taking pictures of flowers. Flowers are pretty.

It does take a bit of walking through the countryside before we finally make it to the forested region of the hike. We do pass by a couple animals, which happens to include the cow in the pictures, but there were also the sounds of a donkey or mule somewhere in the distance.

Once the group enters the forest proper, the path quickly narrows, and we proceed single file. Laurel gets a bit spooked by the steepness and slipperiness of some of the downhill slopes, and I quickly get in front of her to take silly pictures.

We do get to a trickle of water coming from the cliff face. The tour guide told us that some of the water and bottling companies actually use this water for their products, and we were encouraged to try some.

It was pretty refreshing and cool. I think Laurel was the only one not to take a sip, but I could be remembering that wrong.

We get to a resting point, which was pretty convenient since most of the group was feeling a touch out of breath. The hike itself may not have been especially terrible, but the lack of oxygen was definitely starting to take its toll.

Once we start up again, we get to a pretty narrow path between the rocks. It was a bit difficult to see, and if Monica didn’t helpfully comment on which way we were going, I probably would have missed it. There was a sign mentioning that there were coyotes in the area, but they primarily come out at night.

It’s a bit of a shame. A picture of a coyote would be pretty nice to have.

We do get through fine. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but nothing too difficult. The next encounter was with a cave where we actually needed to climb. There were two paths up, an easy path and a hard path. Being the kind of people we were, most of us chose the hard path just to have the experience of the hard path, though the easy path wasn’t anything to sneeze at. Turns out both paths were about the same steepness, but the hard path was composed of just rock, which my ten cent shoes had a hard time clinging onto.

Monica eventually had to use a hand to provide a footrest for me to finish.

Keely went back in so that we could get pictures of her coming out. I wish I knew how to operate my camera a bit more, but I’m pretty sure color and exposure could be adjusted in any of the photo editing softwares out there.

The first viewpoint. It takes a bit of climbing, but we do manage to get the the top of one of the rock structures for an excellent view of the surrounding wildlife. There’s also one tiny tree at the top, right behind Keely’s leg in one of the photos.

I do take a while getting back down, after letting everyone else go first. Monica did mention how no one had gotten seriously injured on her other hiking parties, and I was not about to be the first by any margin.

Our hiking trail does widen a bit, and the group gets to a visible trail as we head to the next vantage point.

We start to reach the end of the hike, and it’s at this point that I start to get a bit uninterested in taking more pictures of countryside. I started lagging behind the group even more than usual because I was too busy taking pictures of flowers.

The second vantage point provided us with a pretty good view too, and we were able to spot a few of the larger birds in the air. Laurel does spot a little lizard under the light pink flower I took a picture of, so I immediately hop down to get a picture of it. It does run away when I got closer, but it was only hiding in a nearby crack. I tried to make myself as small as possible against the rock face and held still until it felt brave enough to come out again.

The climb back was tiring because of the higher altitude, and the group had a bit of a discussion on how altitude affects blood and RBC count as well as what too much oxygen will do to a body.

I eventually had to look it up afterwards, but I did confirm the tidbit I had heard about oxygen poisoning. I thought it only made people pass out, but a high enough partial pressure of oxygen could lead to death if left for too long.

My camera actually ran out of battery here, but we do make it back to the original starting location. The hike itself left me really winded on some of the longer climbs, but actually being surrounded by wildlife and these spectacular views that I only previously saw in photographs online made the entire experience absolutely fantastic. It’s only made me more excited for the road trip next week to one of the smaller villages in the mountains.

Steven Mao



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