A few weeks ago I climbed Mt Tom, one of 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall. Since moving to New England in the late 1970s, I have climbed many of these peaks, but in the coming months I’ll climb all 48. May take me a year or two? … we’ll see.
So that’s a new journey. Along with a brief description of each of these climbs, I’ll also reflect a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc. Over the next months, 48 posts.
Mt Tom is 4051 ft tall (1235 m), and I got to the top (a solo hike) on 10 May 2016, leaving from Crawford Depot:
There isn’t much of a view from Tom’s top, as it’s surrounded by short pine trees, but near the summit you can look over towards the “Presidential Range” – Mt Washington, the tallest of the 48, can be seen clearly, still with snow on May 10, 2016.
And here is the summit of Mt Tom – not the most spectacular! Well below the tree line, so no real view.
An easy and enjoyable start to this project, with few other hikers. So I had a nice, solitary walk for the most part…
However, as I neared the top, I found myself on snow and then ice that had been packed by climbers over the winter. I had brought my Yak-Trax on the trip, thinking that there might be some risk of snow, but it was quite warm at the trailhead, with no snow visible, so I left them behind, in the car. Big mistake! Because as I walked from Mt Tom over to my second 48-footer – Mt Field – I ran into much more snow and ice and the trail became steeper. The few other hikers I saw had brought along micro-spikes, and used them. I felt a bit nervous on the ice.
I will write about getting to the top of Mt Field, and down, soon. For now I’ll just say that the descent was very tricky!
Another new journey began on Valentine’s Day, 1984, when I flew from Boston to Miami to begin two years of Peace Corps service. That was an emotional day, because I was leaving Jean behind in Boston. Little did I know that, in 2016 we would celebrate 31 years of marriage! But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit…
Omnibus 44 gathered that day at the Everglades Hotel (demolished in 2005), for training and assessment before flying to Quito a few days later. I made two long-lasting friendships that week (this means you, Chris, and Kenny!). And, in retrospect, it was the beginning of a new career, because in my second year as a Volunteer a large international NGO came to town, and that led to a long and happy career in the NGO world. More on that in future posts!
Having studied mechanical engineering, when I signed up to volunteer I was assigned to the Instituto Ecuadoreano de Obras Sanitarias (IEOS) as a project engineer. There were several different groups of soon-to-be Peace Corps Volunteers gathering that day in Miami, forming Omnibus 44: agriculture, disability (vision-impaired), water, etc. Some in our water group were going to be “water promoters” – focused on working with communities, organising projects. Others, like me, would be “water engineers”, working as project heads, designing and overseeing project implementation. Despite having studied mechanical engineering, I was assigned as a water engineer because the technical skills required weren’t very specialised… Chris, who would spend his two years in Guaranda, was a “promotor de agua”; Kenny, a fellow engineer, would be assigned to Cayambe, north of Quito.
So after five days in Miami, we flew to Quito and stayed there for about a month, focused mainly on language training. Each of us lived during that month with an Ecuadorean family – I lived with the “Familia Larrea”, not too far from the training center.
Omnibus 44’s different groups (agriculture, disability, water, etc.) then split for two months of technical training. We moved outside Quito, and then farther afield to Riobamba, continuing (less intensive) language training. Here’s the water group, future engineers and promoters, in a photo taken at the Ecuadorean Cooperative Institute (ICE) training centre, outside of Quito. Our technical trainer, and one of our Spanish instructors (Laura) are also in the photo…
After three months of training we went to our assigned sites – for me, Azogues, capital of Cañar province.
Azogues wasn’t too isolated geographically, being fairly close to Cuenca, but (for my first year, at least) I was the only PC Volunteer assigned there; I had heard some rumours that, because the Province of Cañar was quite leftist in its politics, earlier Volunteers had a hard time. So I guess I was a bit of a guinea pig (a “cui”!)
I was very lucky to be assigned to Azogues, and to IEOS Cañar. Being the only Volunteer in the province for the first year, and the only project engineer (apart from “L”, the “Jefe Provincial“) I had nothing to do but work, which is what I did: on my very first day in the IEOS office, the “Jefe Provincial” told me that there were two communities ready and waiting for a water project to begin, materials were in the office, so he didn’t want to see me until the water systems were built! What a great opportunity – just out of graduate school, and I had responsibility for two significant water projects.
Being fairly isolated in Azogues, I wasn’t distracted by socialising with other Volunteers, unlike (for example) some of my fellow PCVs closer to Quito, who got together a lot. This helped me learn Spanish – nobody to speak English with except Jean, who telephoned the IEOS office every two weeks!
Another reason I was lucky was that, after a year, an international NGO arrived in Azogues. There was absolutely no missing the arrival of Annuska (Plan Cañar’s first Field Director) and her white Land Cruiser – Plan International opened a Field Office!
But first, I had a couple of water systems to get built that first year in Azogues. In my next post, covering my hike up Mt Field, I will also describe what it was like helping bring potable water to El Tambo and Cochancay. Stay tuned!