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To the Mountains of Mordor

In the "Cult of Escapism": To the Mountains of Mordor

Friday, April 8, 2011

To the Mountains of Mordor

Thick grey clouds bubble over the distant mountaintops like boiling water over the rim of a pot. We’re headed straight for them and they seem to say, “Go ahead and try, white boy.” I think of Mordor and wonder if, after six hours of hiking straight up, my companion Mamerto will have to carry me, Sam and Frodo style, up the final leg.
Mamerto is the president of one of the farmer’s cooperatives that I work with (“The Coffee Guys”) and we are going deep into the Comarca to meet the members closer to home. Most of the members live three to nine hours away from Soloy and come down once a month to make coffee together and have a meeting. The March turnout was pitiful so I suggested that, instead of waiting a month and hoping for better results, we go to a location more convenient (for everyone except Mamerto and I). So we rode a truck until the road ended and then began what would be a four hour hike.
A note about Ngöbe hiking  - all Ngöbes live in the mountains and must frequently hike multiple hours to do basic activities like visit other towns, buy rice, brush their hair, etc. When not attending the cooperative’s store in Soloy, Mamerto lives eight hours into the mountains and makes the trip at least once per month. So he’s pretty good at it. Like most Ngöbes, Mamerto carries no water, no food, and hikes in a pair of cheap plastic shoes with the breathability of garbage bags. He rarely stops and his sweating seems more like a polite gesture to me, rather than an uncomfortable strain for him.
In contrast – Me. Nalgene bottle full of treated water, bag of “Omega Optimized” trail mix, North Face hiking pants, and extra breathable, quick dry, hyper-intense-super-performance-maximizizing Asolo hiking boots.
Fast forward three hours. Mamerto’s pace (fast) has not changed and we have stopped twice, though he did not sit down. He walks purposefully, like the Terminator looking for Sarah Connor. In tow – a clumsy-footed gringo sweating enough to drown a family of five. I’m still under the impression that we will hike for six total hours and I’m wondering what kind of shape I’ll be in after three more hours; will the hike end in the crater of an active volcano? Will I finally get rid of this increasingly heavy ring around my neck?
Fortunately for my trail mix and I, the hike is only four hours and Golem does not meet us at the top and bite our fingers off (ok I’ll stop with the Lord of the Rings references). We arrive at our host’s (the Vice President) house and finally sit down. Mamerto is yet to drink or eat anything since leaving and his fast continues until dinner four hours after our arrival. I, however, immediately fill what will be my fourth liter of water that day. The men keep asking me if I am tired and I act nonchalant, saying “I’m fine…it wasn’t that bad.” To prove it, I do 27 laps around the house at full speed.
Conference Room

Ok, that didn’t happen, but I did get a tour of the area and the nearby coffee farms (that’s another blog post).
The middle of the Comarca is picturesque. Untouched by all but a few thousand Ngöbes, deep green mountains dip and peak as far as you can see. In the distant south lies the Pacific and in the not so distant north, a wall of gigantic mountains, whose peaks are obscured by thick clouds (the Mordor Mountains). I’m told the mountains are a border between us and the next province and I can’t think of a better border, except perhaps a raging river inhabited by sharks with laser beams attached to their foreheads.
The next day, I lead what turns out to be a six hour seminar on short and long term planning (also its own blog post). It is late afternoon when we finish, which means most of the hike down will be in the dark. Ngöbes hike at night all the time (it’s cooler); I had never done it before. So naturally, Mamerto decided to take a different route down – a route going directly through the jungle (trails are so overrated).
In the fading light, I run to catch up with Mamerto, jumping rocks and ducking vines. He surges on, undeterred by minor obstacles like large trees and bears and I hear him muttering something softly to himself. Listening closely, I can make out only the words “Sarah Connor” as he continues relentlessly forward.
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At April 24, 2011 at 12:16 PM , Blogger joel said...

urgent news from the north: a recent lord of the rings binge in the local tongue has revealed that comarca means shire. i hope you didn´t know that yet.

At February 5, 2013 at 9:24 AM , Blogger bama said...

What a challenging and lovely adventure! Billie


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