travelog 49

No Pain, No Gain

We had barely left the truck before our t-shirts are already soaking wet. Then, when you start to walk, the sweat drips slowly into your eyes, the clothes cling to your body, you take a big gulp of water and empty a liter bottle without any problems. Furthermore, if you still want to climb a "tafelberg" (mesa), you really have to put up with hardships. But, hey, we do a lot of crazy things to document our beloved plants...

This time it's Agave impressa, one of our favorite plants. With its white imprints and beautiful spines, we think this plant is among the most beautiful of the agaves. The plants were originally found and described southeast of Escuinapa, in the southernmost corner of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Unfortunately they grow here only on extremely inaccessible mountains which are surrounded by thick jungle. But after our relaxing tour along the Pacific coast, we feel fit enough to climb one of those mountains in the summer time, despite very hot seasonal temperatures and high humidity. Besides, after all the laziness, we want to engage again in a little bit of physical activity.

We can spot the agaves very easily with our binoculars thanks to their dead straight inflorescences. We believe to have discovered a fairly passable "path" over one side of the mountain as well. But as soon as we leave the mango plantation, we make progress only with the help of our big garden scissors. Soon the thicket is impenetrable, spiders hang in their webs and become entangled in our faces, and after one hour of struggling with the jungle we have practically emptied our thermos bottles. We're exhausted and completely finished off and we only got ahead a ridiculous 50 feet.

We want to make the next attempt at the north end of the same mountain. A farmer on his tractor shows us different huge trees that we have to pass by to get to the top of the mountain on an ancient trail. Unfortunately he's very busy and can't guide us - a very wise decision on his part! We park at a little corral with some horses and cattle and head for the first big tree. This time we have more water with us and we tuck our pants legs into our socks to protect us better from the attacks of tiny little ticks. We make decent progress on some cattle trails until we reach the first huge tree. The problem is that this tree is too far to the north of the mountain, as we see when we finally emerge from the jungle and can look around us. There are human signs here - instant lunch boxes, coke bottles, cigarette butts, even a worn out black and white magazine named "Sexomania" - but there's no trail leading up to the mountain. With a heavy heart we decide to turn around and call it quits. For today we suffered enough! We get rid of as many ticks as we can and then enjoy some ice-cold beers.

Unfortunately the owner of the cattle doesn't show up early the next morning and so again we leave on our own initiative. As is well known, the temperature should be a little cooler during dawn, but hardly do we start moving when our t-shirts are once again already soaked. At least the sun is still hiding for a little while behind the mountain and soon we reach the thicket where we can hike in the shade. This time we keep closer to the mountain and head towards another of the huge trees. We soon find overgrown cattle trails and have to fight our way through the jungle with hands and feet. We spot our tree a little further down the mountain side but Martin slips on the dry leaves. As he's falling he catches his arm on a branch which cuts him badly. Before we can continue we have to patch him up in a rough and ready way. Finally we get to the tree but only to find out that there's no trail going up to the mountain. We would have to fight our way up the dry creek bed, not to mention the possibility that we might not find a way to get on top of the "tafelberg". For the third time the best possibility is to turn around and go back to the car!

When we finally get to our car, we meet another farmer. Of course there's a trail up to the top of the mountain! And of course he would love to guide us up there! In a hurry we grab a bite to eat, change our soaked wet t-shirts, shake the most persistent ticks out of our pants, pack more fruit tee, and off we go again. It's the fourth time we try to climb this god-d... mountain! Compared to our guide we're totally over-equipped as if we're off for a real expedition. We wear sturdy hiking boots, sweat wicking and fast drying t-shirts, strong pants, and we have our hiking sticks with us. Our farmer cuts a palm frond and weaves a support for his water bottle. The soles of his sandals are made of old tires. They are fastened to his feet with thin leather strings. Of course he goes with naked feet. But the best is a little tick that attached itself on his cheek where it moves back and forth while he talks insistently to us. Up to the first electrical pole at the foot of the mountain there is actually a trail trampeled by cattle. After that our farmer hacks and whacks us a trail. He takes the direct route, the "direttissima", straight up one steep flank of the mountain. When we inquire cautiously about the promised trail, he proclaims that he's hacking it right now out of the jungle just for us! At least we have our hiking sticks and the climbing is a little bit easier. We reach the lower edge of the cliffs relatively worn out. There's actually a hidden passageway through the huge boulders but you have to know it to find it. In the past the farmers came up here to hunt deer that came to a watering-place, but the cattle made the natural waterhole dry. Therefore the deer looked for other places, the farmers didn't have anything to hunt, and the trail slowly became overgrown.

At last we get to the top just in time to hear a mountain lion hiss before he disappears in the bushes. The pungent smell reminds us of the lion and tiger cages at the zoo. Originally we thought that it would be a lot easier to get ahead up here, but that's where we were very much mistaken. Even up here the farmer has to whack powerfully to clear a small passable trail for us. At last we reach the vertical precipice of the "tafelberg". Here, we discover our Agave impressa, the plant for which we've undertaken this whole ordeal. The plants only grow near or in the vertical cliff walls, together with a big Hechtia sp. and a Bursera sp. with red trunks. From up here we have a great view on the marshes and lagoons south of Escuinapa. We can even see the Pacific in the distance. Far below us, in the shade of big mango trees, PocoLoco is waiting very patiently for our return. The descent is fairly easy, we only have to take care that we don't slide down our steep trail too fast. As a reward and a refreshment we can pick some of the small red plums from the farmer's trees. They taste extremely fresh and juicy. Of course we pay the farmer for his work and also give him a Swiss chocolate, always a very welcome present.

Back at the car, we're happy to finally have conquered this mountain on our fourth attempt. We change our t-shirts, wash ourselves, shake the ticks out of our pants, pick them from our bodies, pack the dirty clothes in a tight bag to keep the ticks in check, and then we're off to Escuinapa for a huge portion of tacos. Even days later we still find ticks attached to our bodies, desperately searching for a source of blood. But we're not willing to give anything from our precious life fluid.

June 2002

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen