Central Highlands and Volcano Watching (Close up)

Trip Start Mar 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 04, 2008

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Where I stayed
Secret Garden - Cotopaxi

Flag of Ecuador  , Cotopaxi,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

  After our return from the jungle, we decided to head south to the central highlands of Ecuador to do a spot of volcano watching. We took a truck from Quito to the Secret Garden Hostal near Pedregal, a tiny town near a huge volcano called Cotopaxi which dominated the landscape. In fact, at 5,897 meters Cotopaxi is one of the worlds highest active volcanoes, and adorns one of the bottled water brands they source nearby. The hostal had amazing views of the volcano and the surrounding mountains and it was a great spot to relax and take in the fresh air. We were amazed that close to the equator the landscape looked so similar to New Zealand - only we were at 3,500 meters. We went for a walk to the nearby stream and  could have sworn that we were wandering up a creek on the West coast somewhere with all moss and ferns everywhere. Even the paddocks looked similar with tussock on the fringes, but the Spanish bulls and llamas reminded us we weren´t in NZ. 
The next few days were a bit of a contrast for us: Serena wasn´t feeling well and spent most of the time in bed or reading inside, while a summit attempt on Cotopaxi became the focus for Neville. After an enjoyable trip up to the glacier above the climbers shelter on Cotopaxi on the Wednesday (5,000m), Neville spent Thursday on another walk up a nearby hill to help with acclimatising to the altitude. Meanwhile, Serena was feeling up to a trip to the local market in Sasaquilli a couple of hours away to take in the atmosphere and buy some ducks and chickens for the Hostal. Not surprisingly, there is now a duck named Serena resident at the hostal.
On Friday Neville left for the climbers shelter on Cotopaxi at 4,800m and he was glad he brought his parka with him as the 1 hour hike up to the shelter was a wet affair. Our group of two Swiss, one Englishman, Nev and 3 Ecuadorian guides was thoroughly soaked by the time we got there and we spent the rest of the day getting our gear dry, and learning the ropes as it were (and crampons and ice axe).
After an early dinner and a few hours sleep we were up at midnight to have breakfast and head off. The next few hours were a constant slog and a bit of a blur. From the Glacier we were in crampons and roped together the whole way. When we stopped each hour to briefly get our breath, we could see the stars which was a good sign. It was damn cold so we kept our breaks to 5 minutes before heading off again. A couple of hours later, Bridget the Swiss ski instructor wasn´t feeling well. Nev had a bit of a headache and the odd wave of nausea from the lack of oxygen but was feeling ok to keep going. So we reformed our groups and continued on up the mountain.
A couple of hours later as we approached sunrise we started to make out more of the amazing ice formations around us and realised we weren't too far away from the top. But we still had the steepest section to get up near the summit and this was a real slog. We had to rest every 5 minutes on the final section, and needed to use hands and feet at one stage, but our guide kept encouraging us that we were almost there. And soon we were there just on 7am and it was all worth it. There was a layer of cloud lower down the mountain, but we had brilliant sunshine and not a breath of wind on top. The view was fantastic: we could see all the tops of the mountains for hundreds of kilometers around us, including the volcano near Banos which was smoking away. The crater itself was steaming nicely and made for some great photos.
After half an hour admiring the view it was time to head down. The ice formations on the upper parts of the mountain were amazing and it was easy to get distracted from the job at hand which was making sure we didn't end up slipping and heading down the snow into a crevasse. After an hour or so we were getting tired and the snow was getting softer making it harder to stay upright. In fact we ended up ditching our crampons near the glacier and sliding down while we were still roped up as this was the most effective way down. Another 20 minutes back on the scree and we were at the shelter and enjoying a well earned cup of tea. After a slow trek down to the car park and bumpy drive we were back at the hostal. It was only 1pm but it felt like 5pm.
Any thoughts of a rest went out the window as we decided to have a quick shower, lunch and repack before getting a lift to the highway to catch a bus to Banos. Nev had visions of a comfortable bus to sleep on but our first bus had standing room only for the first hour and we were the ones standing. Just what the legs wanted! But the second leg was seated and there was a chance to have a snooze before we arrived. Needless to say Nev slept well that night after being up for about 20 hours.
The next few days we relaxed in Banos, making the most of the hot pools and massages on offer. But it wasn´t all packing up, as we went for a walk to check out the hills around the town and hired mountain bikes to see all the waterfalls down the river. Banos was a nice spot to take it easy and treat ourselves. We kept running into the guys we stayed with at Cotopaxi, and even randomly saw Em and Gav from Wellington walking down the street as we were having dinner. So we had a great catch up with them over dinner and heard all about their travels through Bolivia and Peru.
But it was soon time to head back to the coast for our next adventure: the Galapagos Islands.
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mandy007 on

Top of the World
Good on you Nev for making it to the summit! Woohoo! All of those walks up Mt Kaukau paid off huh?!! ; )
Mandy x

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