There are a few positives about the COVID 19 experience. One positive, which most cannot deny, is we let the earth heal again. We saw animals out of the depths of jungles, where we had pushed them to, into the streets of cities. We heard more birds and saw more wildlife in lakes and rivers. The air smelled fresher. In Nepal, where I was when countries across the globe started to close their borders, there were stories of the locals in Kathmandu waking up to the sight of Everest. In Pokhara, the sky was clear, the air crisp and the snow-capped mountains shone in the sun’s glory.
As I travelled across the world, I noticed how countries were trying to balance the protection of their biodiversity and nature with human development. National Parks across South America helped protect the flora and fauna of the local landscapes. There were strict rules in place to preserve the ecosystem, which forbade plastic and smoking. Though most people followed the rules, many did not care. I saw many trekkers in Patagonia walk on vegetation to get a better picture, smoke along the way and treat the region as something not worth protecting. In other places, people deeply cared about nature.
When I was in Brazil, news articles of how the government was clearing the Amazonian rainforests to provide land to a mining company, dominated my travels. For days, there were protests across the country supporting the Amazon and the communities who live there. Eventually, the government stepped back down from the fight. They reversed the decision to clear the land for the mining company. Amazon, in popular culture, is known as the lungs of the world. Therefore protection of these forests is critical to our survival. However, the tension between human progress and conversation remains. In 2019, forest fires engulfed the forests, fires created to clear land for agriculture and farming. It became a political issue. It was not just about land clearing; the problem ran deeper – it was about the insatiable need to consume around the world, which put a lot of pressure on our natural resources.
Without these natural resources, we cannot survive. There is something extraordinary about being close to nature. Almost every health blog and medical practitioner emphasizes the importance of being close to nature. We rely on nature for our survival, from the oxygen we breathe to the water we drink from our rivers and lakes and the food the lands give us. Without the planet, we wouldn’t exist. Nature provides us with everything that we need for our physical sustenance. Nature is also fundamental to our mental and emotional well being.
On the foothills of Cotopaxi, Ecuador there is a hostel called Secret Garden. The hostel is set in an idyllic setting. The location is far away from Quito’s chaos, on farmlands close to the mountains near Cotopaxi. Woods and streams form the backdrop of this hostel. The peak of Cotopaxi and the surrounding peaks, at a distance from the hostel, make up the foreground. To stay here, you book a multi-day package. I chose the three-day, two-night stay. On the first day, I got to the hostel and immediately after checking in, sat on the benches set in the garden, sipped some coffee and just gazed at the mountains that lay at a distance. Later in the afternoon, a few guests from the hostel went for a short hike into the woods, crossed streams and ended in a waterfall. After dinner, I enjoyed the sunset, once again gazing at the beautiful mountain peaks basked in the glorious sunset light.
On the second day, we hiked to the base camp of Cotopaxi. I was thrilled to be close to the snow-capped mountain. I was not fit enough nor experienced enough to climb to the peak. I was happy to be at the base camp. I met many mountaineers who were either proceeding to climb the mountain or were resting at the base camp after finishing the overnight climb. There were a lot of happy faces around. On the third day, the hostel arranged a hike to the peak of a nearby mountain. It was a long hike but not a strenuous hike. After about three hours we were at the peak. The views were breathtaking.
Every single day at the Secret Garden, I felt different. I was calmer and relaxed. I was breathing slowly. It felt the weight of the world was off me. It was magical.
After three days at Secret Garden, I headed for the Quilotoa Loop trek, a three-day hike to the Quilotoa crater lake. I was fortunate to meet a fellow British traveller and a couple from Malta. The four of us decided to hike together. It was the most enjoyable hike I had done. The weather was quite mixed, with a fair bit of sunshine mixed with fog, mist and rain. The days started cold, got warm as the day progressed, before getting cold again in the evenings, with temperatures falling to below zero overnight. The hiked treated us with stunning views of farmlands, flowing rivers, peaks and valleys, and many farm animals. On the third day, after making our way through the heavy mist, we reached the top of the Quilotoa Crater Lake.
Once again, I was relaxed. Once again, I felt the weight of the world was off my back. I felt alive, truly alive. On every single hike, I felt connected to the broader ecosystem. My body and mind were completely in sync with nature. There was a subconscious feeling that this is where I belong: In Nature, as part of it.
Being this close to nature, in all its glory, was the most gratifying experience of my life. It proved to me the value of protecting our ecosystem because when nature thrives, we heal.