Ecuador- getting high

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Saturday, September 10, 2011

We entered Ecuador and headed for the beatiful Market town of Otavalo,
surrounded by 3 famous peaks: Imbaburo(4,630metres),
Cotacachi(4,995mtrs) and Fuya Fuya (4,263 metres
surrounded by volcanic lakes). Otavalo is well know for it's market too
which is pretty big in the week and then on Saturday indigenous
Otavallenos come into town and setup more stalls than you can imagine!
They pour off the main square into the sidestreets selling all sorts of things but
mainly really nice textiles, leather goods, jewellery etc. We brought a
few things including some alpaca sweatshirts to keep us warm on our
planned hiking.

We then heading up into the mountains as we had heard of a really nice
guest farm we could stay at, and with some high altitude hiking in mind. The farm was at 3,000 meters high, so just perfect for aclimatisation. We set our sights
on Fuya Fuya as it seemed the most realistic, and lowest at just under
4,300 metres but still extremely high in comparison the anything in the UK/US. We had a great hike up, although above 4,000 metres it was very tough-check out the photos.

After Otavalo we were in a hiking mood so heading of to Riobamba, which
is the climbing capital of Ecuador. It is surround by mountains, but one
dwarfs all others, Chimborazo at just over 20,000 feet (6,300 metres)
and is interestingly the highest point from the centre of the earth due
to the earths tilt. After spending some time in the village we headed
up to a small farming community at 3,800metres to acclimatise some more
before seeing how far we could make it! We set out early, hitching to
the entrance to the park and then as we were walking uo towards the
refuge at 4,800 a big red pick up truck came racing around the corner
which saved us walking any further (we sat in the pick up part!). After
dropping us at the first of 2 climbers refuges we then walked (well
stumbled really!) up to the high hut at 5,000 metres.
This was as far as you can go due to the glaciers but we weren't
kidding ourselves- we were finished anyway! We did meet a 'proper' (a
german with his guide) climber at the hut preparing to summit, ice axes,
crampons, helmets etc...

We then headed down pretty quickly, 3 hitches later we were back and very glad to be in the thick oxygen of 2,800 metres!
Disaster struck though, we both picked up terrible stomach bugs and had
an awful few days but have recovered and made it to Peru!  (Alex lost a stone!)

On the way south, we stopped in the small town of Alausi to ride the famous train down El Nariz del Diablo - the devils nose.  The train starts in the town and then travels multiple switchbacks to descend an entire steep mountain face and then all the way back up! See pictures, quite an experience! Our pictures and story might be published seperately online, will include a link in a later post if it happens!

After our high flying adventures, we set off to some lower altitudes (and a beach...) and passed through the city of Cuenca, which surprised us after staying in some rather indigenous areas as a city reminiscent of the US/UK. We did some shopping and went to the cinema!  Very relaxing.  Pushing onward we passed through Loja where we boarded a bus bound for the Peruvian border. The crossing was deserted, probably due to being in the remote mountains, but the immigration agent had the TV tuned to Man Untd vs Bolton (5-0 at the time) so some football conversation ensued followed by the easiest border crossing I (Alex now) have ever had (and for the record the guy has heard of Spurs and made a fine comment about us being the best attacking and entertaining team in the league...)

Ecuador was beautiful, easy to travel in, and provided some of the most entertaining conversations we have had with locals and travelers alike (Spanish getting good!). Note about busses - in both Colombia and Ecuador, even the most direct busses stop to pick people up about every 20 minutes. Thus a 6 hour bus journey may easily become a 10 hour stop and go experience with people standing in the aisles and practically sitting in your lap! Looking MUCH  better in Peru.  First impressions of Peru present it as more developed in general, more tourists, and a strange affinity for trash on the side of the road in the desert. OH! and a huge unexpected desert!

Bye for now! Keep the emails coming.
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