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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Ecuador - Cotopaxi & Quilotoa

ECUADOR | Sunday, 20 September 2009 | Views [955]

Andes - Cotopaxi - just below the glacier

Andes - Cotopaxi - just below the glacier

Day 1:

I had checked out the biking tours in Quito and 'Biking Dutchman' was recommended (www.bikingdutchman.com). I chose the $100, 2 day tour that incorporated two places I wanted to visit - Cotopaxi National Park & Quilotoa. I arrived at the Magic Bean cafe at 7am and met the others on the trip.  The group was a small one (low season) - Phil (UK) and a dutch/french couple, Harald and Sylvie.  Our guide Alberto arrived at 7.30am, bemoaning 'Jan, that crazy dutch bastard' who had only told him he was leading the tour about an hour earlier.  we grabbed some quick breakfast before jumping into the Landcruiser for 2 hours down the Panamerican Highway.

As we grew closer, the massive form of Volcan Cotapaxi loomed down and we had great views as it was a beautiful clear blue day.  We drove into the national park ($10 entrance for foreigners), had a quick look round the museum guided by Alberto to point out where we were going and what we would be seeing.  We carried on in the 4x4 up to the first refuge, which is at 4500m altitude - there was a huge crosswind that made it difficult to stand up.  We unloaded the bikes from the top of the truck and got ourselves ready for the descent - we would be going down the path that the cars and 4x4s take up, so we would have to be careful and concentrate the whole way down.

Alberto explained the bikes (and how the brakes were the wrong way round, being bloody American bikes!) and not long after we were flying down the side of Cotapaxi - what a feeling, an 8km downhill adrenalin rush or what!  It took a lot more effort than I expected, because there is a lot of force going through your hands from the rough track, they go kind of numb after a while if you hold on too tight!!  We then road a further 38km on into the national park, going over rivers and just enjoying the stunning scenery that was completely surrounding us.  We stopped for a homemade lunch (curried pasta) and carried on biking through the hills for an hour or so before it was time to get the bikes in the truck and head down the Panamerican and towards the Quilotoa Loop.

After we passed through the town of Latacunga (pretty ordinary looking) we started making our way round the famous "Quilotoa Loop", which is a stunning road that passes through indigenous villages, round mountains, hills and streams and up towards Volcan Quilotoa.  Its believed that at one time Quilotoa could have been the biggest of all the volcanos in Ecuador (that honour is now held by the 6100m+ Volcan Chimborazo) but the last eruption (apx 1280) was so powerful that the top exploded and collapsed, meaning the glacial ice melted.  This formed what is now the jaw-droppingly stunning Quilotoa crater lake. The journey was a 55km hair raising ride with stunning views, sheer drops and a maniac driver.

We arrived at the lake about 4pm and checked in the little indenious house that we were staying at.  They had renovated the rooms at the back of the property for tourists.

We had a stove in the room for heating, because as soon as the sun went down, it was pretty bloody cold (its at about 4000m elevation here).  We got our first glimpse of the awesome sight just before sunset and the four of us just stared, slightly sumbfounded for a few minutes.  Its difficult to describe the feeling really - my senses struggled to take it all in in one go, but its just a beautiful, beautiful place.  We walked a short way round the crater top for different views (it is possible to hike all the way round in about 6 hours) and got some great shots as the sun went down and the colours and aura of the place changed minute by minute.

The chill set in, so we headed back to the house for dinner - a typical Ecuadorian almuerzo with soup to start and then rice, beans and meat. We shared the only remaining beer they had between us and had an early night.

Day 2:

I certainly needed the 4 blankets that I had been provided as it was a chilly night. We got up early at 6am for the sunrise the next day, but disappointingly it was cloudy, so the views were not great.  You cant win ´em all as they say.  Breakfast was pretty basic, but we were quite excited at the prospect of walking down into the crater and so we set off down the trail.  Its pretty sandy most of the way and we thought then coming back up wouldn´t be quite as easy!  It was great to be down the bottom at the lake edge, seeing the water bubble away (minerals etc, not heat).

Walking back up was pretty tough as I reckon its about 1-2 km and all uphill (obviously!) - so we were knackered when we finished and then had the prospect of getting straight on the bikes afterwards.  Lucikly, Alberto took pity and let us rest us for half hour or so and then we set off back down the Quilotoa Loop on our bikes.  It was mainly downhill and again, it was serene all around and I felt lucky to be experiencing it all really.  Back in the 4x4 to get to the lunch spot near the waterfall and then back on the bikes for the final couple of hours to get back to Latacunga - all downhill and really fun (tarmac roads, so we could get some good speed going on). 

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