The Van Slyke Castle


I promised myself that I would go hiking at least twice a month, thinking it would be a quick fix while I awaited the sweet release of another trip abroad. I had only been on a few trails, so I was still very new to the hiking world.


So this was very reassuring.

The first twenty minutes of my hike were spent making as much noise as possible, kicking rocks, jangling my keys in my pocket, and whistling. I searched the patterns of the forest for any variations that might kill me.

Not a Bear

Not a bear

I thought about turning back, but I was on a mission. After twenty minutes I was used to being in a place where no one can hear me scream, and I started to appreciate my surroundings.





I eventually arrived at my destination – The Van Slyke Castle.

Beam and Chimney

Built in 1909, the Van Slyke Castle, also known as the Oakland Castle or Foxcroft, was the vacation home of Wall Street man William Porter.

One night in 1911, Porter and a bunch of friends decided to throw a party before his wife, Ruth Halliwell Porter, came back from a trip on the Lusitania. On the way back to NYC, they got into a car accident that led to Porter’s death.

Ruth ended up staying in the house the longest. She died in the home in 1940, after which the home went to a couple going through a divorce. It was later abandoned until it was destroyed in a fire in 1959. In 1976, the state bought the surrounding property to make Ramapo Mountain State Forest, making it accessible to the public.


Burnt wooden beams 


Inside the property

They even had a pool!



A pipe leads further up the mountain to a cistern, still in good condition.


I was glad I overcame my fears because it was the best trail I have been on so far. Despite some graffiti, it looked as if people hadn’t been there in a long time. It felt like I had stepped into another world.




A bad thing to happen abroad is to get sick. Unfortunately for me I had the whole shebang, stuffy nose, sore throat and all I wanted to do was sleep. Of course this was the same day I needed to climb an active volcano.

We stayed the night in a town called Latacunga, full of historic buildings and planes landing on top of your head thanks to the international airport nearby. 

We organized a trip to Cotopaxi through our hotel with a guy named Vini. He told us first we would drive in his pick up truck to his mother’s house to drop off our luggage, then we will go to Cotopaxi. 

Sketchy I know, but at this point the only thing valuable I had in my pack was an Ecuadorian poncho for my mother. 

We dropped off our bags at Vini’s childhood home, waved to his mom, then headed up Cotopaxi. 

The drive up is difficult for a new car, and sure enough, Vini’s old pick up truck broke down before we got to the trailhead. We waited at the museum at the base of the volcano, and drank coffee and tea while he called up his friend with a new truck. 

That’s when we met our new guide, Tomas. He was a sweet older man who didn’t speak a lick of English but was the best tour guide I could ask for.

He went slow with us as we ascended the steepest trail I have ever been on. There would be heavy wind one second, threatening to blow you into a canyon, and the next second it was still. It was probably the most difficult trail I’ve done, especially since I couldn’t breathe, but we made it. 

After that we headed back down and rode mountain bikes back to the base. By the end of the day I couldn’t keep my eyes open. We went back to Quito, ate dinner, then had the best sleep I’ve ever had.

Machu Picchu

We walked the empty streets of Aguas Calientes to the bus that would take us to Machu Picchu. The ride up was unnerving. With every sharp turn I thought of how the bus could fall down the mountain or crash into another bus making its way down. Of course we made it to the entrance safely.

The climb was actually a lot easier than I thought. With all the horror stories I got before my trip, I was prepared for anything. Since it was early in the day, we decided to walk up to the sun gate to watch the sun rise. It was hard to make it in time, since with each step I noticed something picturesque. 

Of course there were mountains and ruins, but also flowers and wildlife. I even saw a hummingbird for the first time. 

I had to pinch myself a few times to convince myself I was there. All your life you look at pictures in books of faraway places that you wish you can visit, that when you are actually there, you feel like you are in a fairytale.