Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cotopaxi, Ecuador


Tina and I arrived in Quito, Ecuador at midnight. We were supposed to arrive at 7pm, but we had to wait two hours in Chicago for a backup copilot because the first one had a family emergency. I had started my day at 4am, I was exhausted. Tina was revved up for vacation though. We were definitely coming from two different places. My thought when I arrived was, 'Here we go again.' I was happy to be there, but I was not bubbling over with enthusiasm.

Tina was happy to be on vacation.

After a short night's sleep, we took a long stroll across Quito to another hostel hoping to catch a $5 ride down to Cotopaxi National Park. The $5 ride wasn't there. If I had the time, I would have waited a day. With just over a week in Ecuador, we didn't have the time. We took the more expensive $40 ride to the Secret Garden Cotopaxi.

The main building of our hostel.

Hammocks at the entrance to our hostel.

Our hostel and its view.

Another mountain viewable from our hostel.

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is just north of Cotopaxi National Park. From the hammocks hanging in front of the hostel, you can see the perfect cone of the highest active volcano in the world at 5,897m/19,347ft. This hostel was fantastic. Our time there might have been the highlight of our trip. It reminded me of the Slaughterhouse on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. A single family ran it with help. There was large community area, but they had their own separate quarters as well. Outside of the main building, there was one house for dorm living, a couple private rooms, and a few tent spots. They had some ecofriendly practices in place to minimize their impact on the land. They both had great dogs who loved being showered with attention.

Pretty purple flowers in the cow pastures.

They cut the hill in half to mark the property boundary.



The end of our waterfall hike.

We arrived at the hostel after all the big tours had left for the day, so we took an unguided walk up to the waterfall just behind the hostel. On the way, we had to cut threw an area where they raise aggressive Andean fighting bulls. They said to just avoid them, but there were cow pies everywhere. I wondered just how many bulls there were and where they were hiding because we didn't see any. After the pastures, we spent most of our time walking in the stream. When we got the waterfall, we turned back around and went back to the hostel. On the way, I saw bromeliads, which I have given as gifts in pots, growing wild for the first time. They were rooted to the branches and trunks of trees.

The two red things in the tree are bromeliads.

Cotopaxi at sunrise.

Cotopaxi with the one of the two house dalmatians.

Cotopaxi at sunrise.

The view of Cotopaxi on our second morning at the hostel.

The next day, Tina and I booked a tour up to the Cotopaxi, the mountain that dominates the landscape, at least in the morning before the cloud cover sets in. The tour would take us to the hut at 4900m where people who are going to summit rest before heading up around midnight. I really wanted to summit the mountain, but I didn't think I had enough time to acclimatize. Since we had arrived, I had waffled back on forth on whether to attempt it. I had ascended 12,000 ft in one day before, but I didn't want to risk getting sick on such a short vacation. In the end, I decided three nights was not enough to acclimatize. I wanted to wait at least 4 nights, but we just didn't have time. Tina had prebooked us into an ecolodge in the cloud forest. We could have canceled the reservation, but we also wanted to see more of the country. Pros and cons. Give and take.


Another extinct volcano near Cotopaxi.

The last refuge for people attempting to summit Cotopaxi.

As we were coming down, we saw the start of a giant snowball fight.

After a quick cup of tea at the hut, we headed back down to our truck. Tina and I opted to mountain bike back down the volcano. Another guy rode down in the truck. After a fun descent, where you couldn't see a thing because of the fog, I decided I wanted to ride all the way back to the hostel. I had not been on a bike since my trip ended and was loving it. I even managed to beat the truck back because they had to slow down for the tons of pot holes in the road. These roads might have worse than Albania though the ones to the hostel never paved.

Coming down the mountain . . .

Donkey on my bike ride.

I can't remember much about that night. More fun conversation with fun travelers. Great communal meals. Lots of crosswords. A candle lit hot tub. While there wasn't anything specific that we did at the hostel, its proximity to the outdoors and low key nature was exactly what I was looking for.