Part 1

Sumaco, pronounced soo-MAH-koh. I like that name. I still remember the first time I heard it. I was a little kid, I think I was in third grade. I used to travel with my father to the Amazon rainforest. He used to organize social work with a community there. The trip to the community was long and exhausting. It was a muddy road that was always in bad shape and filled with potholes. Nine out of ten times it would be pouring rain, so my dad drove slowly to get us safely to the village.

I remember that one of those few times when it was not raining, the sky was clear and blue, a rare sight in the Amazon. We were driving through a hill when the canopy parted, revealing the vastness of the forest. It was as if time stood still. Stretching endlessly to the horizon, the sea of trees stood as a mesmerizing green ocean of life. In that moment, a perfect peak revealed itself on the skyline, a perfectly shaped cone. Immediately, I told my father to look at that mountain. He parked the car, and we walked to enjoy the panorama. "That is a volcano, it is named Sumaco," he said. "Sumaco," I repeated. Since that moment, I knew I had to climb that mountain. I don’t know why, maybe it is its symmetry, or the fact that it stands alone, an isolated peak in the middle of an ocean of green.

Every time I would pass through that part of the road, I would cross my fingers, wishing that I could see one more time that spectacular sight of the volcano. Sometimes I was lucky, and every time I saw it, I would feel the same admiration as the first time. However, time went by, and I didn’t get an opportunity to climb Sumaco. I became an adult, and Sumaco was still roaming in my mind. I had been rock climbing and hiking for a while, but somehow, there was never the precise chance to go to that mountain.

One evening, I went to a party with some friends. We were chatting and dancing when a friend, C, whom I had not seen in a long time, came to greet me. The conversation mainly focused on catching up on what we both had been up to since the last time we saw each other. I told her that I was working on a project in a remote village in the Amazon rainforest. “Does the route that you use to get to the community pass near Sumaco?” she asked. I was stunned. “Yes, I’m fascinated by that volcano. Every time I travel, I wonder when will I climb that mountain,” I said. She told me that she also really wanted to climb that mountain. The conversation then drifted to something else, the dancing resumed, and the party continued.

Several months went by. Rivers, work, travels, life passed by filled with its own magnificent quotidian adventures. Until one day, I received a message from C, “Do you have any plans for December? Let’s climb Sumaco,” it read. I didn’t think it twice and replied, “I’m in!”

C is an experienced mountaineer. She has climbed lots of peaks and hiked more kilometers than what I have strolled in my whole life. C also invited another friend, A, to the expedition. He is also a talented high altitude climber and an awesome cook. So, from that moment on, we started planning the trip. There are several layers to plan a trip like that: permits, food, guide, and those nuances that appear once you think that a specific detail has been finally solved. Sumaco is a national park and access is difficult, so it was hard to solve all those details. Nonetheless, between the three of us, we were able to solve all those intricacies. Finally, by the beginning of November, the expedition was set.

The phone rang. It was 4 am. I never get calls at that time. So it was definitely something important. I answered; it was my mother's voice on the other side of the line. “Your grandpa just had a stroke,” she said. It was a shock. I sat there on the side of the bed, not knowing what to reply. “Where are you?” I asked. I got dressed and left to accompany her at my grandfather’s house. Those couple of weeks were emotionally draining. I wanted to be next to my family to offer my support during that harsh moment. However, the date to leave for the expedition was getting closer. I started doubting if I should leave; I was afraid that my grandfather would pass away during the trip. Until one night, I had a very intense dream. In that dream, I saw that the volcano was calling me, and my grandfather told me to focus on that. So the next day, I visited my grandfather; he was recovering slowly, and the prognosis was good. Three days later, I was on my way to climb Sumaco.

After a long ride, we arrived at the community late at night. The expedition starts from a community that is the last settlement before entering the reserve. The night sky was clear, so we were able to see the majestic Sumaco in front of us. To be honest, the moment I saw the volcano, I realized that we had a lengthy hike for the days ahead of us. However, my heart was pumping fast, and I was prepared for the adventure.

The next day, we woke up at dawn, had a nice hearty breakfast, and proceeded to meet our guide. M was a thin young man; he told us he was in his early twenties. He carried a small backpack (suspiciously tiny) and a machete. His face was not very expressive, and he seemed shy. He asked if we were ready; we nodded and started walking. The adventure had just started.


I’ll continue with the next part of this story in the next publication. You’ll find more information about the volcano’s environment, myths, the hike, and adventures with phantom boas.