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Adventure to Podocarpus National Forest near Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com (See all articles...)
Tags: Podocarpus, Vilcabamba, health news

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(NaturalNews) From my abundant vegetable garden at Hacienda San Joaquin in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I can look to the East and see multiple layers of mountains spanning the valley. Clouds hover over the peaks, drenching them with rain that pours into the Valley of Longevity where it forms a river that ultimately winds its way across our ranch and westward towards the Pacific Ocean.

I've often wondered what might be found in those hills, so when the opportunity to venture into the region presented itself, I leaped at the chance. A small group of compadres decided to tackle the adventure with the help of two local guides and three horses. We gathered our gear, slapped on our adventure hats and headed into the hills.

What happened over the subsequent 48 hours was truly unforgettable... one of the most memorable adventures I've ever experienced... anywhere. I captured the highlights of it with a photo tour I've posted here on NaturalNews: https://www.naturalnews.com/phototours/podoca...

The tour began on foot, with a 45-minute climb to the entrance gate (the "green gate"). Passing through the gate, we met Angel and Mauricio, our two guides who had already packed our gear, food and water onto three horses. Two of the horses were available for riding, so as we marched into the depths of the Podocarpus national forest, we took turns mounted on the horses versus walking on foot.

As the hills grew steeper and more treacherous, I came to discover a great new respect for our horses. They marry incredible muscle strength with an astounding sure-footedness that saved us more than once. Somehow, these horses are able to memorize and calculate the terrain directly underneath their bodies so that, when they walk, they place their rear feet in precisely the right places, well outside their vision, relying solely on their memory of the location of each rock, gulley and section of dirt. With one step completed, rather than lifting their rear feet and losing contact with the ground, they tilt them forward and gently drag their rear hooves along the ground, feeling their way to the next calculated step, all while carrying a hundred pounds of gear and another hundred-and-fifty-pound passenger mounted on their strong backs.

Their muscles ripple with each in-stride relaxation, then spring into tight formation with every careful placement. Steel-strong tendons enjoin their feet, ankles, knees and hips, thrusting upwards the full weight of horse and gear in a kind of vertically-mounted biological suspension bridge of tendons. The entire mass of muscles is powered by huge nostrils bellowing oxygen-rich air through massive lungs enriching a thumping heart that gushes blood through the animal at twenty times the volume of a human heart. The physiology of a horse scaling a cliff is mind-boggling...

Watching these horses climb up the loose rocks, deep gorges and steep inclines of the trail was, all by itself, and awesome experience. I'll never look at horses the same way again. They represent an amazing class of natural mechanical technology -- and they're powered by nothing more than grass and water!

That doesn't mean riding them is effortless or comfortable, of course. When your horse is scaling steep inclines, you're working with him by shifting your body weight, distributing your mass between saddle and stirrups while easing your horse's burden by centering your gravity as needed. Horse riding isn't passive. It's very, very active, which is one reason why it's one of the best exercises for your back and abs, by the way...

After an hour or two of a grinding, lung-heaving uphill climb, we emerged into a fern-filled ridge with breathtaking views of the valleys and mountains on both sides. A narrow dirt trail teased the ridge tops, with steep drops on both sides that threatened a fatal fall for anyone foolish enough to lose their footing. As the drier hills of Vilcabamba melted into the lush, wet forests of Podocarpus, we began to hear faint waterfalls beckoning us ever forward...

Powerful waterfalls and mysterious plants

After several hours of steep uphill hiking, we arrived at our remote camp house. Made almost entirely of mud, rocks and local tree trunks, it was the kind of camp house where small bits of the wall crumble away if you lean on them too hard. But with a stone fireplace and ample firewood, it was a temple of welcome warmth amid a rugged environment with no roads, no electricity and no running water.

We enjoyed a guacamole dinner and played cards by candlelight. Angel wanted to bet his machete against my combat knife, but I had no trouble realizing he was a much better poker player than I, so we played only for kicks. I did manage to amaze the guides with a bit of sleight-of-hand card magic, however (which is always easier to pull off by candlelight).

After the games and conversation (which was conducted entirely in Spanish, by the way), we placed our water-logged socks by the fire and watched them steam, then we drank piping hot coca tea for improved recovery from the demanding hike of the day.

Luckily, I had also brought a package of Cocoa Mojo from Enerhealth Botanicals (www.Enerfood.com), which turned out to be the hit of the evening. Made with cocoa and cordyceps (an amazing Chinese herb that's great for physical recovery), Coco Mojo combined with coca tea (which is banned in the U.S. due to ridiculous drug laws) allowed us fully recover from the hike in just one night.

But the night, it turns out, was a whole new adventure all by itself...

Pitching my tent on the horses' buffet

What a nice patch of grass, I thought. A great place to pitch our tent. So we set up our six-person Sierra Designs (www.SierraDesigns.com) tent and climbed in for a good night's rest.

The way humans recover from a hard day's hike is to sleep. But horses recover by eating grass all night long. And as I soon discovered, we had pitched our tent precisely in the middle of the nice, flat field of grass that the horses apparently considered to be their late-night buffet. The incessant sound of horse grass-munching soon emerged seemingly inches from my head. Mother Nature's weed eaters were hard at it, refueling from the day's hike by eating the grass surrounding our tent.

I was too tired to even consider getting up and moving the whole thing, so I decided to endure the horse-munching at all costs, calculating that my physical tiredness would kick in and allow me to sleep through anything. At first, it seemed to work, but before long, the horses ran out of grass around the tent and decided the really good grass was hidden underneath the tent. So they began to nudge the edges of the tent with their noses and lips, gripping and ripping the delicate blades of grass we had inadvertently decided to lay our tents on.

The experience of this, of course, is unnerving. It's a bit like being deep in the woods and having your tent tossed around by a curious bear. My dog Roxy jolted awake and began to growl at the corners of the tent where the obnoxious horse-munching sounds were emanating. In her mind, we were being assaulted by a band of ravenous horses determined to eat the tent and everyone inside...

The true mistake of choosing our tent location only became clear to me when the full biology of horse digestion kicked in. After an hour or two of grass consumption, the horses began to urinate and defecate. This, of course, was all done within a meter or two of the tent, accompanied by detailed sound effects that required no gifted imagination to visualize.

Fortunately, this odiferous phase of the horse refueling buffet caused them to move on to other pastures, and we were all finally able to catch some shut-eye, even if all our sleeping bags were now saturated with the smell of horse poo. (Which isn't really that bad, as it's mostly just fermented grass fibers...)

The newbie lesson for the day? Never pitch your tent where the horses eat...

(If you're thinking we should have just tied up the horses at a different location, think again: They need huge amounts of grass for refueling. So they have to roam freely all night long in order to eat adequate amounts of grass. You can't restrict them to one location...)

The amazing waterfall hike

As sunlight pierced through the edges of our tent the next morning, we stumbled to our feet and boiled some water for another round of coca tea. (You can never have enough coca tea at high altitude.) Later, when we packed our tent, we were amazed to find a stand of undisturbed long grass, perfectly defined by the edges of our tent as if someone had manicured the lawn while we slept. The horses, it seemed, had eaten every inch of grass they could reach.

Breakfast consisted of a huge pot full of fresh fruit (pineapple, papaya, apple) stirred in a soup of sugar-free natural yogurt. NaturalNews readers may already know I don't eat dairy products, but in the middle of nowhere, after a full day of intense uphill hiking, I will eat whatever's available. With spoon in hand, I slurped down the yogurt fruit soup and scrounged for other calorie sources. It turned out we still had two loaves of (utterly smashed) bread and a large plastic tub of peanut butter. I had also brought several packages of Jay Robb's new brown rice protein powder (www.JayRobb.com), and some Living Fuel (www.LivingFuel.com) which I mixed with water and chugged as a breakfast chaser.

After breakfast, we grabbed some light gear (compass, knife, water filter, hat, raincoat and camera) and headed into the valley in search of a nearby waterfall. The path quickly transitioned from the dry ferns of the highlands into thick, tough underbrush, bamboo and old-growth trees adorned with huge mushrooms. A "Jurassic Park" feeling swept over us as we descended into the mysterious valley.

Moist air and rich dirt saturated our clothing as we climbed and crawled along a trail of thick brush that hadn't been cleared for two years. Dark tunnels of overhanging brush led to robust trees that had fallen across the path. At one point, the only way forward was to wedge your body between two large trees that had fallen over the path, hugging the top tree to your chest as you wiggle through the narrow gap. This was no path for horses. Not even a burro could have tackled it.

As we crawled our way deeper and deeper into the valley, the soils became wetter and more slippery. The sounds of the waterfall swelled, and we saw trees covered with a thick carpet of lush green moss.

With a great sense of relief (and a final obstacle of soapy-slippery huge boulders), we set foot in an immense bowl-shaped waterfall amphitheater. A fifty-foot tall waterfall thundered directly in front of us while a sheer cliff three times that height dribbled a steady stream of crystal clear water to our left. Trees clung to the cliff walls, drenched with water and almost suffocated with moss, sponge plants and giant tangles of jungle vines that weaved their way across the face of the streaming cliff walls.

Pictures were almost impossible here, as tiny particles of water filled the air, spotting our lenses and rendering flashes useless. A friend turned on a video camera as I edged closer to the waterfall, and we attempted to film this astounding natural phenomenon. But Mother Nature would hardly allow us to approach: Each step was like walking through a wind tunnel with a fire hose aimed at your chest. Within seconds, we were drenched from head to toe in a cold, windy wall of rain blasting outward from the waterfall impact point on the polished rocks.

We somehow managed a few seconds of video (which will be posted on NaturalNews later) and a few photos, then we headed to a higher, more tame waterfall where we took some better snapshots. You can see all these photos yourself here: https://www.naturalnews.com/phototours/podoca...

With our clothes soaked and our body temperatures dropping from the chilling rain-drenched wind of the canyon, we quickly scrambled back up the dirt trail, retracing our steps and emerging back into the sunshine of our fern-population base camp. The unforgettable memory of the raging waterfall was fresh in our minds as we scooped up whatever remaining food was left and packed up the horses for the long walk home.

Hiking out of Podocarpus involves a lot of downhill travel. That makes it fast on foot, but extremely challenging on horseback. Steep drops make the horse ride a butt-busting trail of terror, which is why I eventually dismounted and just walked ahead of my horse most of the way. (You'll need a really good pair of hiking boots to handle this trail, by the way. Don't skimp on the shoes...)

A leap of faith on the return trip

The walk back was delightful, with two river crossings and wild, edible berries appearing alongside the trail. At one river crossing, I had a tough time finding a way for my dog Roxy to get across. The water was moving too fast for her to swim across, and the rocks were too far apart to jump.

Scouring the nearby banks, I spotted two medium-sized logs that were just the right size to form a makeshift bridge. So I hefted them into place, one by one, and let them fall across the river to a large boulder on the other side. One log bounced and dropped into the rushing water, leaving me with only one. Telling Roxy to stay, I tip-toed across the narrow log to the other side, then began to sit down where I could coordinate Roxy's crossing.

Before I had a chance to do anything, I glanced up and saw Roxy leaping in the air towards me -- but she wasn't going to make it! She landed at the edge of the boulder, with her front legs outstretched towards me and her rear end immersed in the swift current. I grabbed her collar and one paw and hefted her towards me, falling backwards onto my own legs across the top of the boulder. She shot out of the water, leaped to my chest and sprang onto the shore, safe from the rushing river. Mission accomplished!

The rest of the return trip was uneventful... a gorgeous path along a steep cliff, an encounter with a band of lazy cows, three or four streams descending from fresh springs, vibrant butterflies flittering along the streambeds... fairly normal stuff for the area. Going down was much easier than going up, and within a few hours, we had set foot in the Valley of Longevity once again.

To my great astonishment, Angel and Mauricio unpacked the horses, leapt to their saddles and galloped off with a level of energy that I had long since left behind on the trail. I sat there wide-eyed, deeply impressed with not just the horses, but also the level of physical fitness of our remarkable guides. They didn't look particularly muscular, but in terms of real-world fitness, they would put almost any American gym junkie to shame.

You can view the pictures from this unforgettable tour here: https://www.naturalnews.com/phototours/podoca...

If you want to take this tour yourself (or something similar), just come to Vilcabamba, Ecuador and ask for Angel the tour guide. His horses, by the way, feed on the organic, chemical-free grass from my ranch. I need a lot of grass cutting, so please come take these tours so the horses will eat more!

But remember: Don't pitch your tent where the grass is green, or you'll lay awake all night, bewildered by the sound of horses munching away around the edges of your tent (and pushing the limits of your sanity, perhaps).

It's a lesson well learned.

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About the author:Mike Adams (aka the "Health Ranger") is a best selling author (#1 best selling science book on Amazon.com) and a globally recognized scientific researcher in clean foods. He serves as the founding editor of NaturalNews.com and the lab science director of an internationally accredited (ISO 17025) analytical laboratory known as CWC Labs. There, he was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for achieving extremely high accuracy in the analysis of toxic elements in unknown water samples using ICP-MS instrumentation. Adams is also highly proficient in running liquid chromatography, ion chromatography and mass spectrometry time-of-flight analytical instrumentation.

Adams is a person of color whose ancestors include Africans and Native American Indians. He's also of Native American heritage, which he credits as inspiring his "Health Ranger" passion for protecting life and nature against the destruction caused by chemicals, heavy metals and other forms of pollution.

Adams is the founder and publisher of the open source science journal Natural Science Journal, the author of numerous peer-reviewed science papers published by the journal, and the author of the world's first book that published ICP-MS heavy metals analysis results for foods, dietary supplements, pet food, spices and fast food. The book is entitled Food Forensics and is published by BenBella Books.

In his laboratory research, Adams has made numerous food safety breakthroughs such as revealing rice protein products imported from Asia to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and tungsten. Adams was the first food science researcher to document high levels of tungsten in superfoods. He also discovered over 11 ppm lead in imported mangosteen powder, and led an industry-wide voluntary agreement to limit heavy metals in rice protein products.

In addition to his lab work, Adams is also the (non-paid) executive director of the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (CWC), an organization that redirects 100% of its donations receipts to grant programs that teach children and women how to grow their own food or vastly improve their nutrition. Through the non-profit CWC, Adams also launched Nutrition Rescue, a program that donates essential vitamins to people in need. Click here to see some of the CWC success stories.

With a background in science and software technology, Adams is the original founder of the email newsletter technology company known as Arial Software. Using his technical experience combined with his love for natural health, Adams developed and deployed the content management system currently driving NaturalNews.com. He also engineered the high-level statistical algorithms that power SCIENCE.naturalnews.com, a massive research resource featuring over 10 million scientific studies.

Adams is well known for his incredibly popular consumer activism video blowing the lid on fake blueberries used throughout the food supply. He has also exposed "strange fibers" found in Chicken McNuggets, fake academic credentials of so-called health "gurus," dangerous "detox" products imported as battery acid and sold for oral consumption, fake acai berry scams, the California raw milk raids, the vaccine research fraud revealed by industry whistleblowers and many other topics.

Adams has also helped defend the rights of home gardeners and protect the medical freedom rights of parents. Adams is widely recognized to have made a remarkable global impact on issues like GMOs, vaccines, nutrition therapies, human consciousness.

In addition to his activism, Adams is an accomplished musician who has released over a dozen popular songs covering a variety of activism topics.

Click here to read a more detailed bio on Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, at HealthRanger.com.

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