Sunshine, Snow and Everything Inbetween
23.09.2006 23 °C
Friday 22 - Sunday 24 September
Back on dry land in Quito after four nights at sea in the Galapagos Islands, sleep - undisturbed by the 'motion of the ocean' - came easily. Through necessity, Friday was devoted to the mundanity of five days' laundry as well as postcard writing, blog updating and so on. Later, we found a pub called The Turtle's Head(!) run by an affable Scotsman who brews his own UK-style beers. Perfect.
Saturday 23 September
Chores completed and conscious that tomorrow would mark the end of our days in South America, we wanted to leave with another small adventure under our belts rather than spend the weekend wandering around shopping centres. How to follow Galapagos? Another quick search of the tour agencies turned up a one-day trek on Cotopaxi, an active volcano, and the second highest in Ecuador.
With instructions to turn up at the tour agency's office at 08:00 on Sunday morning, we paid up and began looking forward to another good walk.
Sunday 24 September
Warm sunshine greeted us on Sunday morning - perfect for a hike up a volcano. We arrived early at the tour office and waited. And waited. An hour passed and we were about to give up and make some irate phone calls when the owner of the tour agency appeared and apologised profusely; our intended guide had been involved in a car accident! Luckily he was unhurt, but we needed an alternative guide at short notice. Rescue arrived in the genial form of Carlos; a guide so in love with his job that he was happy to give up his day off to take two Gringos up Cotopaxi. With an hour already lost we jumped into Carlos' four-by-four and set off on the two-hour journey to the national park.
Cotopaxi's beautiful setting
Climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi was well beyond the scope of our one-day hike; instead we would drive to the highest car-park then take an ascending path to a large wooden refuge roughly 16000 feet above sea level.
Overconfident having conquered the likes of Ben Lomond and Choquequirao we set off at a pace, buoyed by the fact that families with small children appeared to be making the same climb. Big mistake; walking uphill on soft volcanic ash at high altitude soon takes it out on your lungs and legs! Slowly but surely though, the bright yellow refuge crept closer and closer
and with a final push we made it.
During the climb the sun had become less and less visible and the skies had begun to darken, the pleasantly warm temperature giving way to an autumnal chill.
Once inside the warm refuge, Carlos produced an impromptu but impressive packed lunch thrown together at short notice by his wife that morning, and we relaxed and chatted whilst observing 'proper' climbers prepare for their ascent to the volcano's summit.
Cotopaxi is home to one of the few existing equatorial glaciers, and after lunch we picked our way along a rocky path to take a look.
As we admired the beauty of the contrasting blue and grey hues of this immense ice formation, the skies suddenly opened releasing a torrent of hail! Luckily we'd come prepared and quickly donned raincoats...
Time to head back down again. Unsurprisingly, the return down to the car-park was significantly quicker than the upward climb. Before leaving Cotopaxi, we just had time to visit a peaceful lagoon to visit the local birdlife,
and a tiny museum packed with information on the volcano as well as some rather sinister, and slightly threadbare, stuffed exhibits of native birds and animals.
We'd done it; after a shaky start, we'd managed to partially climb a volcano in the company of a fantastically knowledgeable and friendly guide, visit another glacier, and experience summer sun and winter chill in the space of a few highly enjoyable hours.
We'd reached the end of our journey across another great continent, our last day spent -literally- on a high.