Travel Mumblings

May 25, 2008

Cotopaxi & Banos

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:11

Glad to leave Quito, we headed south a couple of hours to Cotopaxi National Park and stayed in a sweet hostel in the mountains. It´s an old converted farm house, and sat in pretty amazing grounds, had a pack of pretty cool dogs running around continuously, horses, mardy lamas, cute puppies, two cows and a sheep… almost a petting zoo…. except for the lamas… they were miserable and looked like they´d spit if we ever went any closer! At dinner on our first night we arranged for a guide to take us to climb Illiniza Nord. One of two strata volcanos next to each other, standing at 5126m. High. Anyhoo´s, we left at around 6am and were hiking by 7, after a bumpy ride in a beat up Landcruiser on a narrow mud track that had been punished by the wet-season. It was pretty slow going, and we could definitely feel the altitude as we neared the refugio about 3 hours into the climb. By this time, the clouds had closed in, and we´d already been snowed and hailed on. At the refuge, our guide (Sergio) made us some coca leaf tea (the same plant they make cocaine from), which is supposed to be good for countering the effects of altitude… or else, it just makes you all warm and fuzzy and ´care less´ about the effects of altitude… ha, either way, I had three cups of the concoction, then sprouted wings and flew to the top with my yellow and green friend, ´Spotty´.

Hmm… if only it was that easy… or drugs were that good. After drinking my tea (and going to the toilet), we donned our harnesses, helmets, gloves etc. and headed for the summit. There were a few sketchy moments and we were roped together for the last 600m, although our guide didn´t really explain what to do if one of us did fall. I know a little bit about the ´fall and self-arrest´business, but he didn´t mention that to us, and I´m pretty sure it takes practise with a team to get it slick… so really, as far as I could see, if one of us fell… we all fell… end of. But we didn´t so that´s ok.

may21-paul-5There was one bit that had me worried beforehand – the Paso de la Muerte, literally translated – the Pass Of Death. Now, I´m a firm believer in that things are named for a reason… and so, rightfully so in my opinion, I wasn´t over enthused about ´The Pass Of Death´. But, thankfully it came and went without incident, or talking… or looking down, and we made it to the summit in good time. We ate lunch there, took the customary summit photos and headed back down.

The next day Jayde talked me into giving this ´horse riding´malarky another go… and to be honest, this time was better. I think I was more confident which helped, and the horse did pretty much what I wanted it to do most of the day, which is good. I even cantered… and then galloped this time!… but couldn´t get my timing of coming in and out of the saddle with the horses movement quite right, hurt the ´crown jewels´, and just got him to walk after that. Didn´t need to gallop anyway. Silly idea.

We left Cotopaxi a day later and headed to Banós… a really cool little town at the foot of an active volcano – Tungarahua. The whole town was evacuated in 2006, hmmm. Driving in was weird. You could see where the lava flow had cut the main road in half. One day there, Jayde and I braved the crazy South American drivers, and hired a couple of quads and headed down the valley towards Puyo.

View over Banos
View over Banos

Banós is called ´The Gateway to the Amazon´, and it definitely felt warmer and more humid as we dropped down the valley. We found Diablo waterfall, which was pretty cool, and there was a scramble up a path/under a cave, that meant we could get behind the waterfall… I felt like I was in a shampoo advert… alas, there was no cheesy music, but we did get soaked.

That night we took a bus to the top of another hill for a viewpoint on the volcano. It was one of the coolest things I´ve seen. Every so often, it would just spew lava out into the night sky… it looked awesome… so awesome, I forgot to be scared as I fell asleep that night, listening to it´s intermittent rumblings. Over and Out

May 17, 2008

The Quilotoa Loop

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:39

Another balmy bus ride later saw us back in Quito. Our plan was to hire a 4×4 to drive the Quilotoa loop. We managed to find a 4×4 at the airport for a reasonable price. I say ´find´ we didn´t steal it or anything, we actually did hire it!

And I guess in retrospect I should use the term ´4×4´ loosely. It was a Toyota Rav4. Hmmm. Still we got a good price for the four days we wanted it, how bad could it be (?) Jayde and I met Shelia whilst we were in Otavalo who didn´t take much persuasion to join us. But with Jayde´s age, and Shelia only having one arm that worked due to a mugging in Columbia, I was nominated ´driver´.

I´m going to go on record right now and say… getting out of Quito without damaging the car and keeping my underwear clean, was hands down one of the hardest things I´ve had to do! Road markings were all but non-existent, red-lights at intersections were merely a ´suggestion to stop´, and every other driver on the road seemed to be obsessively compulsed to honk his horn every other second. After being stopped at a set of lights, if I waited more than a nano-second to pull away once the lights turned green… every Tom, Dick and Hernando would start honking.

When we eventually made it out of Quito (which for the record, must be one of the longest cities in the world), the landscape quickly turned greener and ´rollier hillier´ (what?… they´re words!). We spent the night in Latacunga before leaving early in the morning for ´The Loop´. The road to Zumbahua was mainly paved. We climbed quickly on winding roads and passed through countless indigenous farming communities. I nearly flattened a few of them, herding their sheep on blind bends!? … Not smart… tsk.

Road signs on ´The Loop´, we began to realise were all but non-existent, so we were stopping often to ask for directions, often for us to be left starring agog at the road/track/path that we´d just been sent down. On the map we had the road connecting the villages was labelled as a ´main road´, but seriously, after driving it, I´m certain parts of it wouldn´t even pass as a bridleway back home!

Regardless, after more than a few wrong turns, dodging round the odd landslide here and there, oh and there were a few parts where half the road had fallen away into an abyss, we eventually made it to Chugchillan. 14km took us nearly 3 hours, and I made it out of first gear twice! Oh, and by the by, we ripped our exhaust in half in the process. Oops.

may17-paul-77We thought it wasn´t worth worrying about the exhaust until we needed to leave again, and spent two days hiking around Chugchillan – the nicest being the walk to Canyon Rio Toachi. The morning we planned to leave I patched up the exhaust the best I could with duct tape and a bungee cord. It sounded less like a rally car for about 5 minutes until the duct tape melted off. Hmmm. The road back didn´t seem quite as sketchy as two days previous, but there were a few moments when Jayde and Shelia definitely had white knuckles and their eyes closed!

In Quilotoa we stayed at a cool hostel run by the indigenous people, which cost us $10 for dinner, bed, and breakfast… bargain! The main reason we went to Quilotoa was to see the crater lake. A volcano, dormant since 1800´s filled with water. Amazing. No really. We spent a day hiking around the rim, which was way, way harder than we expected. It was brilliantly sunny when we set off, but by an hour in, the clouds had dropped and it began to rain… the only way we had of knowing that we were heading the right way, were by glimpses of the lake about 1500ft below.

may17-paul-99The path was much more difficult than we were led to believe. There was loads of scrambling, and long stretches of crumbly path, no more than half a metre wide with that big 1500ft drop either side… some of the time, we said we were glad it was foggy, then we couldn´t see the drop! We met a few dogs on the way round too! Dogs out here are bloomin´ psycho! They´re soooo territorial, and start barking and growling before you´re anywhere near their ´turf´. Jayde and I have started taking our trekking poles out and picking up rocks whenever we near homesteads and hear dogs… I´ve never known anything like it. As vicious as they seem, there´s only been a couple of times when I´ve actually thought one´s been ready to attack us. Then lobbing a rock at it´s head and jumping and screaming like a caveman has fortunately been enough to dissuade it! Good times though, the crater rim hike was a cool thing to do, and it was a good workout for sure.

We left Quilotoa for Quito in the morning, only stopping at Zumbahua on the way to see their indigenous Saturday market. Hmmm. It was unique to say the least. They were slaughtering sheep on the street, and gutting them there and then. The street dogs were eating the entrails as they fell to the floor, and people were sat eating their chicken broth soup for breakfast just a couple of stalls away. Friendly place though, and there was more fresh fruit and veg than you could shake a stick at! Ha… and on the drive back, we were following a bus, with 4 sheep on the roof! They were tied on though… so that´s ok!?

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