I have been traveling in South America since January 2nd, 2017 with my boyfriend who was crazy enough to think up this adventure. He had already driven thousands of miles through Mexico and Central America by the time I joined, so he knew most of what we were in for luckily, for me. In his off-road ready Toyota Land Cruiser, we’ve driven and camped through the Caribbean coast of Colombia, to the middle of the earth (The Equator in Ecuador) and up & down the Andes mountain range that stretches from Ecuador, Peru, into Chile and even parts of Argentina. You can imagine what a wild ride this has been!
One of our many stories outdoors starts here:
The Lost City, La Cuidad Perdida sounded far off and distant until I felt the mid-day sun burning hot on my skin as we walked up and deeper into the Sierra Nevada mountains of Santa Marta, Colombia.
Some say ignorance is bliss but I’d argue that my ignorance is what saved me from turning around after only an hour into this 4-day, 28 mile trek. I didn’t know what was in store for the trail (really, I didn’t do my research!) but I was determined to see The Lost City. The mystery was absolutely alluring and exciting that my disability seemed furthest from my mind.
As we walked, the close-to-the-equator-heat became all-encompassing; I could think of nothing else to the point of misery. I began to doubt my physical ability to keep up with this group of hikers. But let me tell you, the ExoSym has this inanimate ability to make you feel like you could do anything. My CP isn’t vanished while wearing it, but it is the closest thing. How could I not feel invincible? Yet slowly, sure enough I was reminded over and over by my body: “oh yeah, you still have cerebral palsy, you have a weak side, your muscles fatigue faster than most, you have poor balance” but I HAD to do this; I didn’t want to be left behind… about two hours later my worst fears about these limitations were coming true: I wondered aloud, or maybe it was all in my head: “why did you pick THIS hike? A 28 mile trek into a mountain of rainforest; you chose THIS as your first hike?? With this brand new device and all of its functional nuances and technical expectations of your body??”
YEP, I guess I did…
I made it as far as the first campsite at sundown, my feet dragging mindlessly behind me. I felt utterly exhausted and anxious about the days ahead. It was one of worst days of my life, physically speaking. Yet it is against my nature to quit, to give up. Our guide, Camacho could sense this and strongly suggested I ride a donkey for at least the next day due to the even rougher terrain and my body’s fatigue. I reluctantly agreed—at least this way I could continue and not leave Josh on one of our biggest adventures together.
We woke up before the sun; the air was still and our bodies, tired. We quietly ate our breakfast and made our way to the head of the trail. Today we would head much further into the rainforest and along a beautiful river. The donkey was small and old. His name was Agustin and he did not seem up for 7 hours of walking. But along we went with his owner, Jose setting a solid pace coaxing Agustin at every turn. I quickly learned how to hang on as we went up and down and around the thin trails; I was grateful for these strong four legs and the rest on my own body.
It was another warm day but we were shaded by the bamboo trees and large brush of the surrounding rainforest. I was flooded with mental and physical relief. The lush, open space invited us in and I became excited at the thought of reaching our destination with every hour that passed. I knew the next morning I would hike up to The Lost City by myself even if it took all I had. So the time had come and Camacho took me and Josh ahead of our group of 13 others so that we could take our time but I was eager to see what was in store. A half hour up and 1,200 precariously thin stone steps later, we made it to our destination. My legs were shaking but I knew my trusty ExoSym had been an integral part in getting me there. I felt as slow and clumsy as CP is on the worst of days and Josh had to hold onto all of me so I wouldn’t fall over but I was so incredibly happy to be there.
My ExoSym may not have immediately gifted me with the athleticism I have so deeply hoped for all my life but it did give me The Lost City, and much more. I can say with complete certainly that without this device, I would not have the confidence to go out in our world like I have these past few months. I feel proud to put it on every morning; to show off this new aspect of my CP to the rather uninformed public because it provides me with everything I’ve only dreamed of having! Greater stability, balance, and overall better posture and gait. I can actually stand up straight and tall, and I no longer ache in all those places CP likes to make the body ache.
I’m not sure if I will ever be 100% capable of the grand things I long to achieve physically, but at only 5 months in I know I am on my way to a better, healthier body.