Date: Thu, 03 Sep 1998 09:50:25 PDT
From: Claude Marthaler <>

Subject: Up and Down

Dear Redfishes !
Trujillo, Peru, km 77163

Since we entered Ecuador, "Los Bomberos" (the firemen) became our best "basecamp". Surprisingly, some of the places had no fire or even no water, but people have always been very friendly. The first records of eruptions of the volcano Cotopaxi (5897m.) (literally "the sweet neck of the sun") - the world's higgest active volcano- had been written by conquistadores in 1534. Twenty years ago, a Chilean cyclist rode around in a 72 hours non-stop challenge. More recently, Craig Walker, a Scotish cyclist ( now in China, climbed the peak with his bike on his shoulder to raise money for charity.

At the entry of the national park, car tires were burning. After a few kilometers, a bridge had collapsed. Further on, entire families were cutting the last trees of this damned "protected area". One could hear the aggressive sound of the chainsaws all over and the trees were falling one by one in front of our wheels.

The next day, we almost walked the whole trail up to 45OO meters, riding only along a laguna with wild horses. The snow started to fall. We pitched our tent and boilded some "pavela" (raw sugar) to warm us up a bit.

The wind had shaken our tiny refuge all night long, but by the next morning the cloudy weather brought us some quietness. "Safari", a travel agency based in Quito had offered me the climb and fortunately, at the last minute, my friend Ruedas could get the climbing gear for free and join us.

Cosme, an Ecuadorian mountain-guide (whose name is close to cosmic), said straight away :"I'm also a vagabond !". I immediately liked him. His small stature, his long black hair, his Apache-type face, with his clear opened eyes reflected an extremely strong determination. He was the man of the situation.

As we climbed with Susanna Wiksman (the first British woman to reach the magnetic North Pole), the sun rose and projected a growing triangular shadow of the Cotopaxi towards the full moon. A metaphysical invitation.

Back to the valley, we met Catherine and Franck (, a French couple riding for 13 months fromVancouver with Madeleine, their four and a half year old daughter. Madeleine was in her "Cannondale" cart, playing with her bells and toys, smiling behind her big pair of glacier-type glasses. She illuminated with her presence the next "basecamp", that men's world where at any time of the day or the night we would be left alone in the huge and suddenly empty firestation, as if we had always been the legitimate owners of the place.

A few days later, I climbed the Veientimilla summit (627Om.) of the Chimborazo with the same mountain vagabond, Cosme.

As I came down to the base camp of Riobamba, a small town located in the middle of "volcano avenue", I chat with Los Bomberos about our respective lives, Ecuador and Switzerland. Two drunken policemen came to speak with me. Finally I even helped them to push their stuck car. One of the firemen felt ashamed of his country.

On the continent, whose name had been taken from the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, nothing had changed. Even Simon Bolivar, the great Latin America liberator wrote to Flores : "America is ungovernable. Those who serve the Revolution are harvesting the ocean. The unique thing to do in America is to emigrate".

The YAK_ and Ruedas (

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