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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Cotapaxi National Park

ECUADOR | Friday, 26 October 2012 | Views [319]

The rain that had started last night was still drizzling away the next morning so we didn’t bother hanging around.  Tracking down a Quito bound bus was easy enough but explaining where we wanted to get off was a little challenging.  We eventually got the message across to both the bus driver and conductor so we were confident we wouldn’t miss our next port of call.  Luckily we’d been given instructions on what to look out for, where it was positioned on the Panamericana and what to look out for.  Just as well as after all the shenanigans in the bus terminal the driver went sailing past.  Walking a kilometre back along the hard shoulder of the highway wasn’t what we’d had in mind but we were soon off on a side track.

We’d booked ourselves into Papagayo  a 150 year old farmhouse that is to be found 500m off the Panamericana on the divide between The Ilinizas and Parque Nacional Cotapaxi.  We never had much pencilled in for today but reaching this treat soggy hadn’t been on the cards.  We also hadn’t planned to get up at the crack of dawn but Latacunga’s church bells had other ideas.  Granted they were very pretty sounding bells, unlike the usual clunk/clank but did they have to go off at 5.30, 5.45 & 6am?!  By 9am we were on the above mentioned bus but of course reached the farmhouse way before the usual check-in time.

Indeed it transpired that a group had just checked out and we would have to wait for our room to be ready – no problem.  We were invited to have a look around and enjoy the grounds which we duly did and were pleased to see that the rain had eased.  We tracked down the room we had booked but were a little worried to see that the attached bathroom was netty style and the repair man was using it.  Plus the room itself looked smaller than the en-suite tool shed.  Never mind, this was a treat and we were determined to enjoy it so would pass judgement on being given the key.

On returning to the reception area we were informed that the room was now ready but to our surprise we headed off in an unexpected direction.  The place was clearly not full and as a result we found we’d been upgraded.  Steve was straight onto the internet to see how much the lovely room we’d been assigned should have been - $55.  We were only paying $40 B&B and at that moment had the entire place to ourselves.  In fact we got to watch City in a Champions League game in one of the communal sitting areas without disturbing anyone.

Before that we went for wider ranging wander around the grounds to find their animals but other than their two dogs who accompanied us we didn’t any furry friends.  The chickens, geese and turkeys were all clucking and honking about but the cows and llamas were out for the day.  In fact I did eventually see the llamas when they were herded back into their night time pen by a lad on a mountain bike.  The grounds also contain a substantial farm / veggie growing area and they endeavour to produce as much of their own fresh ingredients as possible.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon simply enjoying the farmhouse as the weather wasn’t too clever and the fire in our room was lit as soon as we requested.

The farmhouse itself and been beautifully converted into a boutique hotel with lovely wooden furniture to complement the old wooden floor boards.  The dining room which leads out onto a covered patio area both looked very inviting and we made sure we fully utilised them.  The menu was varied enough without being over ambitious with sensible prices and the food proved to be tasty and well presented.  To top it all off everyone was very friendly and welcoming right down to the lady in an office in Quito who we’d never clapped eyes on.  As soon as we’d booked the hotel she contacted us to confirm the reservation and asked if we’d like to know about tours. This sparked a bit of an e-mail conversation and the Cotapaxi tour and jungle trip we’d been thinking about sounded like they were what we were after and at a good price.  It transpired that it was the interest we’d shown in spending more money that resulted in the room upgrade.  Little did they know that we’d already decided to go for them both so didn’t need the final nudge.  We weren’t going to let on and promptly paid for the day trip to Cotapaxi National Park and a   4-day jungle tour

Day 2

The day dawned brighter and clearer so following breakfast we went for a more substantial stroll.  The ever helpful staff gave us a simple map of the locality and suggested a good morning’s walk.  We set off towards a small patch of native woodland that has recently been set aside as a small reserve.  Presumably the entire area was once thus covered but now it’s almost all farmland and flower nurseries.  The walk seemed much more strenuous than it ought to have been and we couldn’t work out why we were huffing and puffing our way up a small incline.  Then it dawned on us that we’d left the mountains behind and had been floating around on the ocean for over a fortnight and our bodies were readjusting to being back at 3000m.  Even so the pleasant walk didn’t take as long as we’d expected so we had our picnic back in our room.  It was just as well we hadn’t gone for anything more ambitious as by 4pm it was hail stoning.  At least we could sit it out in a lovely room and once again had a warm fire to keep us cosy.

Early to bed as we would be up, breakfasted and checked-out early doors and ready to go on our organised day trip to Cotapaxi National Park.  We’d thoroughly enjoyed our stay and would recommend you give it a go should you be in the area.  Papagayo have a full range of rooms to suit many budgets and they are linked with Gullivers in Quito who are very helpful and informative.  Check out the farmhouse on: www.hosteria-papagayo.com.  For reliable travel and tour information at competitive rates check out: www.gulliver.com.ec



Day 3

The tour bus pulled up pretty much on time but we were disconcerted to see just how large the group was.  Most people do this trip as a day tour from Quito but we had no idea it would be so popular.  Once we’d all chosen a bike, signed a form to say we’d bring it back in one piece and it had been popped up on the roof it was time to set off.  Unfortunately it was still very cloudy but luckily it wasn’t raining.  As we neared the park the clouds appeared to be lifting slightly but we didn’t want to get our hopes up too much.  Once again we’d expected to pay an entrance fee (this time only $2) but the board said it was free.

As we bounced along the under repair track the weather started to definitely brighten and when we stopped at the first view point we could actually see all of Mount Cotapaxi.  Yes it was cold and windy but at least we could see the almost 6000m snow and glacier clad peak we’d come to look at.  The bus then climbed up and up to the car park (4500m) a short yet steep walk below Cotapaxi refugio at 4800m.  It’s amazing to think that you can get to such altitudes just by simply jumping on a bus and walking for less than an hour.  For many of the people in our group this was the first time they’d experienced anything like this.  One fella we got chatting to, who can best be described as a cockney Frank Gallagher(!), was astounded that his nicotine damaged lungs would allow him to do it and enjoy it.  It’s a great way to find out if you’re suited for life in high altitude peaks before signing up for a long, demanding and probably expensive trek.

The guides explained to us how unusual the weather had been this year as ordinarily the snow line would be above the refugio.  Not this year and it was great fun stepping on patches of untouched frozen, white water.  At the refugio we took a short break so people could assess how they were feeling and therefore whether or not they were going to go higher.  Obviously we knew we’d be going up to the glacier but the guide also needed a moment to assess the weather that fortunately had improved in our favour.  It was only another half an hour up to 5000m and the base of the permanent glacier.  I think the unseasonably snowy weather went in our favour as the dirty ice was covered in a lovely pristine layer of white snow.  Following plenty of photo time we retraced our steps back to the waiting bus.

From there we were driven down the road for a couple of kilometres and then it was time to retrieve our bikes from the roof.  It was only 10kms down to the lake with the first 8 of those being all downhill and the last couple along the grassland plateaux to the lagoon.  Most people seemed to relish this section more than the walking but I didn’t like the loose gravel and huge road repairing equipment so took it steady.  There were a couple of gung-ho nutters in our group and in my slow-paced defence I will say I got better value for money from the bike hire and got to see more of the scenery.  These same speed freaks complained that the last 2kms were hard work but I actually enjoyed pedalling along and would have loved to have carried on back to the main entrance.  The youth of today – they may look fit and full of vigour but they’ve got no stamina!

Cotapaxi National Park is another stunning part of our planet and with the clouds lifted we could see the ancient and more recent volcanoes that have shaped the area.  Cotapaxi itself is still active and a huge blow-out is long overdue with the volcanologists debating when to expect the next big one.  Over the centuries eruptions from this peak have wiped out Latacunga and parts of Quito and it’s believed that a huge area of Quito will be affected next time.  There lies another of life’s mysteries; why rebuild in the already proven danger zone?  Along with this snow-capped, mercifully quiet volcano we could see rough, jagged crater rims, lakes, paramo (grasslands) and considering how popular the park is; very few people.

The included lunch wasn’t anything special but homemade chocolate brownie cake back at Papagayo while the bikes were being returned went down a treat. The day had been quite expensive at $40 a head but it wasn’t ridiculously over-priced for a quick, easy way to get to 5000m.  To be honest getting transport to Quito was a huge bonus for us as the tour bus would drop us in the area of town we needed to be in.  Had we jumped on the service bus a taxi from the terminal to the centre would have cost at least $10.  Overall – good fun and an enjoyable day out on top of a couple of nights in a relaxing countryside retreat.


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