All downhill from here

Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, April 13, 2012

We're collected from the hostel by Fernando at 8am in a Chrysler jeep sporting two mountain bikes on it's back.  The mission today is to conquer Chimborazo, a dormant volcano that has not erupted for 10,000 years.  It's due one then.  We're not going to attempt to climb it, as at 20,564 ft we'd be asking for trouble.  It is of course possible, but you need mountaineering experience, a knowledgeable guide and climbing gear.  None of which I have.  I find it difficult getting up the stairs.

It's a bright start to the day and you can clearly see the imposing grandeur of the volcano.  The clouds are gathering though, and they appear to want to hug the peak.  It's one of those sights you really need a bright clear day to fully appreciate it, and get National Geographic worthy photographs.  I'm getting my usual cranky self when I see the weather changing to poor camera conditions.  Perhaps as we get closer the dream shot will present itself.  It is absolutely stunning.

And totally freezing.  The temperature drops dramatically as we climb to the base camp.  The windows are down and we're breathing steadily to get used to the altitude.  I don't want to be keeling over and vomiting while doing 40mph downhill.  Fernando drops us at the refuge which sits at 1500 ft.  The air is tight and breathing sharp, and as is my usual want, I've come totally unprepared.  Trying to take photographs with my fingers falling off isn't pleasant.  It's a damn good job Fernando is used to stupid gringos and has packed gloves and snoods.  Now I look like a pro.  All the gear, no idea.

Fernando as also packed cocaine tea.  Now I have to get myself some of this.  Apparently it's very good for you for these heights, but not nearly as exciting as it might sound.  I'm not buzzing round freaking out the local school children paying a visit to their neighbour, but it does seem to wake me up with a little boost.  Just what I need for caining it down steep, icy slopes on a machine I've only just become comfortable with again.  Paddy and I have taken to humming the BBC program '999' theme tune whenever we're entering the realms of stupidity.  "I didn't realise I couldn't climb Everest without a coat."  NINE NINE NINE!  I guess you need to be there.

So the intrepid adventurers set off at crazy speeds back down the volcano, and into the local town of San Jose, totally doomed if there is an eruption.  It's 40k of downhill exhilaration, seeing landscape I've never imagined, the kind you only see while watching Attenborough's Planet Earth on the tellybox.  Literally breathtaking at these heights and speeds, and one of the best things I've ever done.  Paddy wants to take up the sport when he gets home, and I would too if I wasn't so afraid of falling off and breaking my face.  I've seen the mangled injuries of friends who put their lives on the line in a vertical decent.  Admittedly my fingers are covering the break leavers a little more readily than my companion, who disappears round the corners and switchbacks in front of me.  I'll claim I was stopping to take photographs later.

The adrenaline is rushing as we eventually pull into the town square.  Grinning like coke tea heads, we both acknowledge that was a pretty damn cool thing to do.  One off the bucket list, and certainly more life affirming than getting pissed up in bars for seven weeks.  We make a promise to keep this sort of thing up, new experiences at every turn, adventure and exhilaration.  Danger and risk.  I'm going back to the hostel to lie down.

An afternoon of faffing is required, and I manage to catch up with my writings and plan the next few days.  We're going to travel South and visit the "Devils Nose" railway, then take the bus to Cuenca, which promises charming architecture and a good night out.  Riobamba is coming to life though, and as we wander it's streets in search of another steak house, we're aware of it's student town status.  It's tempting to hit up the nightlife here, as we're the only gringo's we've come across for the duration of our stay.  Most people seem to pass through rather than bed down for a night or two.  In the end I'm very happy we did, created another wonderful memory, and took photo's of Lamas.  The hour draws near where I get to ride one.

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