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To the end of the world, back, and everywhere in between Some take holiday, some go on gap year and some never come back...this is for all of us, lost in travel

Ecuador – the land of volcanos and the indigenous people (Otavalo, Quito, Latacunga)

ECUADOR | Monday, 17 September 2012 | Views [1113]

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi

Crossing the border to Ecuador turned out to be quite simple, if a bit long and painful, process. After a really bumpy journey to Ipiales, we swapped for a mini van to the border, quickly got our stamps, then another van to Tula, where we finally hopped on the bus to Otavalo.  Even though the journey was supposed to last only 2.5 hours, it quickly became clear that there is no way we were going to make it. We seemed to be stopping every 15 minutes and moving at a truly snail pace.

But eventually we arrived at Otavalo. The whole journey took merely 16 hours!!! It was late and we were exhausted (we got up at 4.30am) so after a quick dinner it was time to sleep.

The next day was a shopping day, Otavalo being the most famous market town in Ecuador… Even though I was not there on the main market day, it was still pretty huge. It was also my first chance in a while to get some new clothes!! And I did love the idea!!!

Apart from the market there really is very little to do in town. The only other thing is to sit and watch the indigenous people go about their business in their beautiful handcrafted clothes. But it did give me the first glimpse of the country and the good food that was awaiting me. Unfortunately the beer turned out to be disappointing and actually even worse than Brazilian…

The next day I headed for Quito. It was also time to say good bye to Michel as after nearly a month of travelling together our schedules separated.

When I got to Quito I got my usual big city reaction of annoyance and general wishing to get out of it as soon as possible (which actually begs the question how will I settle back to London…).  So as soon as I found my hostel and dropped my bags I decided there was no time to waste and headed for the Old Town.

There is where I discovered why so many people fall in love with Quito. The Old Town has the colonial charm, filled with beautiful churches and nice squares. It is lovely to stroll around and the only thing I noticed was the lack of nice cafes to rest in… Changing my long time habit of not visiting too many churches I actually made it inside most of them, as well as what is regarded the Ecuador’s most beautiful one -  La Compana de Jesus. To be honest I didn’t really want to go into that one as the price of $3 seemed a bit steep considering that all the other churches were free, but a lovely security guard sneaked me inside and it is a truly beautiful place.

After walking around for 6 hours I made my way back to Mariscal where I found a real deal Indian restaurant and satisfied my appetite with a lovely Saag Paneer  - the very first Indian I had in 9 months!!!! Upon returning to the hostel I got a nice surprise as it turned out that the old friend from the Sao Paulo carnival was also in town so it was time to get some beers and reminisce…

The next day I felt a bit sluggish and so it was a day of organising, lunching in park and general relaxation. So I did not go to the Mitad del Mundo or up the volcano, but it’s OK, sometimes you need to be lazy!

It was a good job I got a day rest as next day I headed for Latacunga with the view to climb the Cotopaxi.

Latacunga, although not really high on tourist agenda, is actually a pretty nice place to while away a few days. I stayed there in Hostal Tiana, which is an amazing, lovely hostel that comes with great breakfast and constant supply of tea and coffee – just what you need when you are out trekking the whole day.

The first decision I needed to make upon arrival was whether or not I will attempt to summit Cotopaxi. First of all there was no one to join me, so I decided that at the least I will look for someone to climb up the South side with me (much less popular approach as you need to climb up for 4 hours to get to the glacier rather than 45 min on the North side – trust me to pick the harder route). Initially I also had no luck but then I found someone who wanted to summit and was about to book the guide and equipment when I actually looked at the weather forecast and it did not look too great. So I decided to only go up to the glacier, as up to that level the weather was much more stable.

Oh how wrong was I!!!!

The day started pretty bad with our guide not being able to find the actual entrance to the path… It turned out that no one has been up on this side for 6 months and things changed… After that small obstacle we got to the refuge and began to climb. It immediately got really windy, but bearable…

We continued for about 2 hours when it started to snow. Snow combined with strong wind is not fun as it basically freezes on your skin. After another hour the wind became extremely strong, every step was made with huge effort and so we decided to stop before the last climb before the glacier – we had about 300m left… To be fair we were all up for continuing but after going another 20m and having to catch our guide before he flew off the mountain we decided that the sanest thing is to go back. I was really disappointed as I really felt that yet another volcano has defeated me.

The only consolation (I didn’t initially believe the guide, I thought he just didn’t have the motivation to go to the end)  came from hearing that it was also bad on the North side and even with much smaller climb nobody made it to the glacier and those who set out to summit also had to return.

The next day I planned to go to see the Quilotoa Lake. I set out in the morning with a group from the hostel but since the journey took really long due to some road works, and since they were leaving the same evening and needed to get back earlier, we decided to separate as I wanted to do the full circuit and they simply didn’t have the time.

It was meant to be dead easy. There is supposed to be only one path around so after being asked if I needed a guide I figured that I can achieve following the one path around the lake on my own.

The first thing I did wrong was to go anti clockwise. Apparently you are supposed to go the other way… Oh well…

The trek is nice, the lake is this perfect green in the middle of a crater surrounded by peaks. I was the only one on the path, just me, some birds, random horse, nature and beautiful view. There is only one steep bit, the rest is quite easy to tackle. And so it continued for the first 2.5 hours. After that I got to the very flat bit where I could see only one path leading in the direction I wanted to go to, but it was going downhill… I had a good look ahead and thought that the path does go up after a while and so I decided to take it. After about 200m I realised that I am going far too low and the trail was supposed to follow the edge of the crater but since I could still see it leading in the right direction and not really wanting to turn back I figured that in the worst case scenario I can scramble back up as the mountain was not too steep.

After another 200m I heard a horse. I didn’t think anything of it as there are plenty of wild horses in Ecuador. But then I saw that it was a group of horses and the largest male was looking rather aggressive. I kept going but after a few steps I heard it again, this time when I looked back I saw it charging at me… It seemed that I entered their territory. Not really knowing how to handle a wild angry horse I decided that the best thing will be to run… And run I did!!! After another 200m I looked back and even though we seemed to be keeping the same distance between each other as soon as I stopped it began charging again, and so I started running again. Eventually I got to the rocky bit and I climbed over it, knowing that there was no way for the horse to follow. I stopped to catch my breath… even though that part was not steep I was running uphill for about 500m and felt pretty tired! But now I knew that there was no way of me turning back and trying to find the right trail. And so I continued on… Another 200m on I passed some kind of mound. As soon as I was on the other side of it I was attacked again – this time by two dogs. It was kind of a strange relief as dogs are something that I can handle, so after throwing some stones at them, they run away. I looked down (being nearly at the bottom of the crater by this stage) and finally saw some life in indigenous people working the field. Immediately I asked about the way out of here and, predictably, they pointed upwards - there was no other way but to climb 600m back… They reassured me that there were no more animals this way and off I went… When I got to the top I saw the life- saving sign pointing to Quilotoa! I was back!!! I have to say that even with my adventures I managed to do a whole thing in 4 hours (rather than the recommended 5)…

When I got to the parking lot I was tired and just wanted to get back to the safety of my hostel, so I did what seemed like the best solution at the time - I hitch hiked!!! Only after about 30 minutes in a car did I realise that maybe, just maybe, that was not the best decision for a girl on her own… Luckily stupid people tend to be protected and so I got back just fine. That night I rewarded myself with a nice burrito and beer and was ready for a more sedate destination of Banos.

Tags: cotopaxi, ecuador, latacunga, otavalo, quilotoa, quito, trekking

 

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