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Climbing a mountain in the Andes – another experience to add to the list of what NOT to do before you die!

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One of the extracts used by Cambridge IGCSE English language describes a journey to the Andes through Merida in Venezuela. They say that it was so amazing that they couldn’t think of enough superlatives to describe it. Well, I did the same trip, and I have my own list of superlatives, but not for the same reasons. In fact, it coincided with an article in ‘The Guardian’ listing things NOT to do before you die. Can I add climbing a mountain in The Andes to this?

On arrival in Merida – after one of the most hair raising journeys by bus I have ever made – (another story), there were adverts everywhere where experienced guides would take you up one of the mountains of the Andes. I need to add here, that neither my partner or I are walkers or climbers, we are city people really, but felt it was something we should do. We were back packing so only had trainers to walk in – and as the climate changes the higher you get, we weren’t prepared for cold weather. To be fair the guide had thought of this and provided us with a traditional (itchy) Fair Isle style jumper to wear. I just about squashed into mine, but, as the Venezuelans are not a naturally tall race, and as my husband is 6 foot 6, he just about managed to squeeze into his. The crop jumper short sleeved look on him was hilarious for me, for him the only saving grace was there was only the guide and a couple of wild horses to witness such a spectacle.

We started off well enough, the guide was a young student, and he was relatively lucid at the start of the climb, unfortunately the higher we climbed, the less lucid he became, and we did start to worry about our safety. We were supposed to be camping overnight, but there was no sign of any camping equipment – we were assuming (hoping) that it would be all ready for use when we finally arrived.

We eventually made it to the camp and began to settle for the night. We were at 4,000 m, which is high. The air was thin, and it was like we were camping in the clouds. We had a stew thing (vile – god knows what was in it) for tea…played a bit of football as there was nothing else to do and when a British couple trekked passed us and said they had had the most brilliant experience of their lives and the best night sleep ever. We looked forward to settling down for the night in preparation for our very own best night’s sleep ever.

With more enthusiasm than normal we went to our tent. I have lots of camping experience – out of the necessity of cheapness, rather than love of the experience – and I have camped all over Europe and America. My husband was not so experienced – or keen. It was a tiny two man tent, it was pitched on an angle and our heads were angled downhill – not comfortable. Unfortunately, at 6 foot 6 my husband just could not fit in the tent – he had to put his feet out of the exit just to get in. In addition to this, he was sleeping in his cropped jumper because the sleeping bag only came up to his waist, and it was FREEZING.

My nose was blocked and running, I couldn’t get warm, and I had a full length – for me- sleeping bag. I was feeling grim, but for my husband it was even worse. WE settled down for the worst night’s sleep EVER. It got so cold my husband resorted to wrapping toilet roll round his head to keep warm THIS IS TRUE; he was on the edge. I was crying with a mixture of hilarity at how bad he looked, and hysteria that this night was NEVER going to end. Unfortunately, our disappointment with the night was heightened by the fact we had been PROMISED that this would be one of the best times of our lives, and it was swiftly becoming one of the worst!

We eventually settled and started to feel better when we heard a terrible retching from the next tent. On a separate expedition a Dutch lawyer form Curacao was on a bonding expedition with his 17 year old son. Unfortunately, he was experiencing altitude sickness – and we shared this experience by having to listen to the poor man retch every few minute, all night! We honestly thought he was dying, it was terrible to hear.

As soon as it was light we spoke to the guide and expressed out concerns. He wasn’t too worried, and said it sounded terrible, but as soon as he went down the mountain he would be ok. We then had to decide whether to climb to the top of the mountain, or stay with the lawyer and his son. We decided we couldn’t leave a 17 year old to deal with this on his own, so we made our way back down the mountain. Surely enough, a couple of hundred meters down, and the change of altitude cured his sickness – unbelievable, but we were so relieved.

We eventually made it back, went back to our hotel to find our stuff on the street, having not quite had the experience we had envisaged.
I still feel a pang of regret that we never made it to the top of the mountain, nearly getting there fell well short of the feelings of euphoria we were promised. I cannot use the superlatives that others have used who have completed the experience. But, I am not regretful enough to ever feel like I would like to repeat the experience either! So, unless you love the mountains and climbing, and are well equipped, don’t think your life is any less full for having NOT climbed a mountain in the Andes, I highly recommend that you find some other expedition to fill this particular gap in your life!