Nicole Elizabeth Barrios Adames found in the trails of Panama the greatest love, herself. Now, the girl who grew up in San Miguelito, climbs the seven highest peaks in the world with this engine.
What are your first memories of the Canal?
First, the day of the transfer. In 2006, I participated in the youth deputies at my school. They took us on a tour of the locks and that marked me.
How did you start hiking?
When I was 21 years old I was going through a difficult time. I saw an advertisement for a group that invited me to visit a waterfall and I took the plunge. That time we hiked from Chicá to Sajalices. I never stopped doing it again.
How did your path become international?
After climbing the Barú volcano, I wanted to visit the highest mountain in Costa Rica, the Chirripó.
Then I climbed the highest in Central America, the Tajumulco volcano (Guatemala). I continued with the Colombian Andes. I saved up, prepared myself by learning from the references and continued climbing. Today, I am dedicated to the 7 Summit Challenge and I have climbed two: Mount Elbruz (Russia) and Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania).
How does it feel to be a Panamanian in the world of mountaineering?
Climbing Mount Elbruz, for example, there were very few Latin Americans among the expedition members. The only thing they know about Panama is the Canal. I love talking to them about Panama and telling them that in this tiny country we have a 3,000-meter volcano.
What is your favorite mountain?
The Baru volcano. It taught me how strong I can be. It’s why I’m climbing the seven summits. Seeing that sunrise above the clouds after ten hours of walking made me dream more and more.
And your favorite trail?
The Camino Real inside the Chagres National Park. I’ve hiked in many countries and I’ve never seen such a magical place, with its emerald water. I also love the western trails of the Canal Watershed.
What do you like about them?
I love the people of Capira, El Cacao, Arenilla. I have climbed the Trinidad Hill several times. I have seen how the communities have learned to value these waterfalls and beautiful places, to take care of them and to obtain an income for their families.
A moment in your life that has changed you
When I read “La muerte sin pensar en ella”, by Rogelio Guerra, which talks about the lost town of Frijoles. That book united for me the trails with history.
How was feminist hiking born?
When I was hiking, I noticed that the guides’ wives were the ones who cooked and served the hikers. But they also knew the trail. I was living in Peru when I started a group of women to walk together and talk about what happens on the trail: menstrual hygiene, harassment cases, family economy, among others. In Panama, we have already done several routes, the last one, a hiking on black feminism.
What is the most beautiful thing about the Panamanian horizon?
Its colors. How the green blends with the blue.
Favorite Panamanian festival
The Boquete Flower and Coffee Fair. The perfect excuse to go to the Baru Volcano.
Verde agua, by Pureza Natural.
What can you tell us about your most recent climb, Kilimanjaro?
It’s the highest in Africa, at 5,800m. It is a respected mountain in Tanzania, it is alone, without a mountain range. There, everything is musical, and that makes the hard six-day climb more enjoyable.
My guide kept telling me “pole, pole”, which in Swahili means soft, soft. As I climbed, I thought of all the people who were looking out for me, cheering me on, and I discovered in my mind something greater than pain. I was shocked to learn that in 15 years there will be no snow on its summit, due to climate change.
Which peak is next?
Aconcagua, at the end of the year.
And Everest, when?
Only one Panamanian has climbed Everest: Mike Morales. Recently, the first Salvadoran and Guatemalan climbed it. It took so long for Latin American women to be there. We Panamanian women can also dream of something like that. We have to save a lot (she laughs).
What has mountaineering given you?
The mountains taught me to love myself. It’s a path of self-knowledge, of spending time with your own thoughts. You learn not to be so hard on yourself.