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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

It’s the journey

It’s the journey not the destination. I find adventures approached with this mindset to be the most rewarding, and our dayhike on Saturday was the perfect example of this classic adage. The hike was the first of our “mini x-phases”, practice runs for our expedition phase, meaning that the whole day was student run and the instructors were just along for the ride. After much deliberation and some last minute changing of plans, we settled on Las Cascadas (waterfalls) de Apote as our destination.

In the morning we met at the program house and took a trufi to la plaza de Apote. Due to our rushed planning we weren’t quite sure where the trail started so as we walked we asked people we met on the street for directions to the trailhead. Answers matching the hazy details we already had did much to improve our confidence and we set off, the morning air already heavy and hot and the forested mountains to the north drawing ever nearer. Gradually the road dwindled, then ended, and the trail began. Leaving behind the makers of civilization and entering the hills served to further our excitement.

We walked through a variety of landscapes: hot open fields, small pockets of trees, and shady ravines, before finally coming to the main river, and the canyon in which it ran, that we would follow for the rest of the day. Travel in the canyon was challenging and very fun. Sometimes we walked alongside the river on gravel bars and over large boulders, and sometimes we walked higher up on the brushy and forested banks that rose away from the rushing water. Above, the rust orange rock of the canyon walls, dotted with cacti and other shrubs, stood out against the wide open blue sky.

At one of our breaks, sitting beside the river on big flat boulders in the shade of a large tree, Jhasmany told us that we were on the wrong trail. To reach las cascadas, the route we needed to take was on top of the cliffs above us. We were faced with a choice: continue to follow the river, and possibly have to turn back if we reached an impassable section, or turn back right there and try to find the trail that would lead us to the falls. After briefly discussing our options as a group, the decision came easily. We were all having such a good time navigating the beautiful canyon that we would rather continue up it for as long as possible instead of changing course to reach our intended destination. With that, we reshoulderd our packs and set off upriver.

I think that making that conscious choice prompted a new level of appreciation in all of us for our surroundings. As we walked we talked about the merits of hiking in the canyon, the reasons we had chosen to stay our course. The beauty, the challenge, the river, none of which we would have experienced to the same degree on the “right” trail far above us.

We continued to follow the river, laughing, smiling reveling in the unmatched splendour of the landscape surrounding us. Eventually we did reach a point past which travel was impossible for us. After a quick exploration of the hillside above, we returned to the river the rest, play and eat. The water was cold and refreshing after the the day’s heat and the peanut butter did wonders for the bread we brought as a snack (¡muchas gracias Jesse!).

Retracing our steps back through the canyon, we savored our time in that wonderful place because we knew we would soon leave it. Back through the ravines, the forests and the fields, finally coming to the road. The hike left us feeling rejuvenated, accomplished, tired. Without even seeing the main falls, without reaching our predetermined destination, we had still managed to have an amazing adventure. Our hike serves as an important reminder to all: It’s the journey…