Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. 

Day three of the Salkantay trek and with a slight hangover from the celebrations of the night before 7 am was an early start.

As with every evening Saul our guide would talk us through what we could expect from the next day. Day three was Saul’s favourite – walking through the jungle along the river, stopping at some fruit farms to try fruit and avocados.

Sadly after the consistent downpour over night we were told that the river path would be too dangerous to attempt due to avalanches. So we would have to take the road instead. Boring 

Our moods dampened by the news of our less than impressive route and the rain, we walked along much slower than previous days. As we turned the corner and see the avalanche over the other side which had wiped the path, we were all great full for our guide and his sense of safety. 

To access the fruit farm on the other side we had to climb down the side of the valley to a bridge made of what looked like straw and bamboo. I’m yet to cross a bridge in South America and be convinced its completely safe. This was no different. 

So one by one we gingerly walk across and up the other side to the farm, where we try the local grown produce of passion fruit and meet a playful puppy that had a knack for undoing shoe laces. 

After thirty minutes we were ready to continue our 16km walk to lunch. This time we carried on the same side and followed the path deeper into the jungle, thankful for the drizzle and the clouds that kept the suns heat at bay. 

The path meandered along the rivers edge, and at times dived deeper into the jungle, crossing waterfalls and rocks that glistened like gold and silver. Apparently a chemical reaction with the rock and water. 

Dotted along the route are little wooden shacks and places to rest where you can eat gigantic avocados in bread and drink fresh coffee for 5sol/ £1:50.

After five hours and 16 km of walking, we made it to the rondeavouz with our minibus to take us to lunch. Thats if this junk of metal would actually make it there. It had more holes and patch up jobs, than Trumps first year in office. But just like so many Americans we had to put our faith in this old rust bucket and it’s driver. 

Thankfully it got us to lunch and to our campsite for the evening in Santa Teresa. The best bit about the afternoon on day three, is spending a few hours in the thermal springs and a shower for the first time in three days. 

The Termales de Cocalmayo are positioned right next to the river Urubamba and consists of 4 large pools, the largest at the bottom being the coldest. The smallest at the top had water so hot, it was like stepping into a newly run bath. Two and half hours of absolute bliss. 

The only issue were the mosquitos waiting to bite you alive once you stepped out of the water for more than thirty seconds. 

That evening was pitched as the party night, where we would dance around a fire and drink lots and lots of booze. Pisco, rum and wine in no particular order. 

One would fall off a wall injuring his leg and another would fall face down, narrowly missing the smouldering ash of the fire. 

Hangovers a plenty the next day, it was time for zip lining – a first for me and I was super excited providing I could keep down my breakfast. 3km of lines high above the canopy of trees and an aggressively flowing river. 

The second zip was the best. The first to go, I was positioned upside down, looking up at the bright blue sky while the river and trees wizzed passed my head. On the third you get to try out your superman skills. If only I had my cape with me.

The fun was shortly over and it was time to join the remainder of the group and drive to Hydroelectric for lunch. Lunch was in a restaurant that clearly just caters for the the majority of the treks that go to Machu Picchu, the restaurant was rammed. 

Some of the other gringos had been bitten alive by mosquitoes and sand flies, with legs that looked like bright pink sponges. They were that bad, you could be mistaken for thinking they had chickenpox. 

Plenty of strong mosquito spray with deet is certainly required on these treks or just cover up your legs. Luckily they don’t like me or bite me, so I felt a bit smug walking around in my shorts.

The only issue I had was having to rely on a good amount of Imodium for the last three days. It would seem any food would need to go in and come straight back out again. Trying not to be to graphic here, but you get the gist. 

The next two hours and 8km of walking is along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, where we spend our final night of the trek. The tracks follow the river and wind around the base of Machu Picchu mountain, and every so often you here the horn of the train. 

Thinking it would be a good idea to walk through the bridge instead of along the footpath. We hear the distant horn of the train and had to leg it across the 300m bridge. Pretty scary as we wouldn’t have survived the 50m drop to the river. 

Arriving in Aguas Calientes we were all pretty shattered. Tonight we get to stay in a hostel and eat in a restaurant. We pray for pizza, but sadly it just more of the same, we just get to choose what meat. 

Wake up is at 4:15am as we have to be at the front gates of National Park for 5am when it opens. Still pitch black we walk the thirty minutes and join the queue that has already formed. 

I somehow lost my entry ticket, which we were given the night before. So I had to run back with the guide to print a new one. Thankfully I realised in time. What a plonker.

The gates open, and we cross the bridge and make our way to the start of the 3000 steps and make the climb to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu. After four days and 60km of walking this was bloody tough. Thank god we still had the morning fresh air to keep us cool. 

Doing it in the heat of the day would be pure hell.

After Forty five minutes, which seemed like hours I reached the top. Some of the group couldn’t face the steps so they paid extra for the bus. I say take the steps as its part of the whole magical experience. 

With the group reunited it was finally time to see what we had all been waiting for and the whole reason we walked 64km over five days. The magnificent wonder that is Machu Picchu. 

Climbing more steps we reach the first viewing platform which gives you a full view of the Machu Picchu mountain and the remains of the Inca city. Which I learnt still to this day no one knows the name of.

The next two hours are spent walking around with Saul while he tells us the fascinating history, and what each building once was and how important this city was and how it was never finished. 

There is the option to walk up to the sun gate, the original entrance and only access to the city for all visitors and goods. If after five days of trekking you still have the energy, you can walk up to the top of Machu Picchu mountain for $80 or the less gruelling Huayna Picchu opposite. 

I managed the thirty minutes walk up to the sun gate and was surprised how high it was. The city looked tiny from up here. We seemed to be higher than Machu Picchu mountain itself. 

After four hours of exploring, sadly it was time to leave this incredible sanctuary and make the two hour walk back along the tracks to Hydroelectric, have some lunch and meet the bus. For what I can only describe as the most torturous seven hour bus journey back to Cusco. 

If I had known how cramped and uncomfortable it was going to be I would have paid the extra $65 and got the train for four hours and the bus for two more. The cost varies depending on the time of the train. 

Back in Cusco and back with Keno and Esteban we recount our experience over a curry and plan to book Rainbow mountain for two days time. I certainly needed the two days to recover before I hike to 5000m.

It also gave us the opportunity to have a good night out in Cusco, with some of the guys from my Salkantay Trek. And of course practice my salsa technique… 

The Rainbow Mountain is a good two to three hour bus ride away and involves getting up at 3:30am. Loaded onto the minibus full of local Peruvian’s we make our way to the first stop at Checacupe for breakfast. 

From there it’s another forty minutes winding drive up to Quesiuno at 4326m. It’s then that I realise coming on a Sunday was a bad idea, there are hundreds of busses and good 1000 or so of people being heard up like sheep. 

Those that couldn’t manage the walk up could make use of the many horses available. Now I was getting use to this sort of height, I had no problem. The same couldn’t be said for Keno and Esteban who needed to take their time. Now I see why they opted for the Jungle “kids” Tour. 

At the top we were told we could only have 30 minutes before we would have to make our way down. They really need to limit the amount of daily tours, to make the experience more enjoyable. 

Sadly it had snowed that morning and the sky was grey with clouds, so the effect of the Rainbow wasn’t as impressive as I have seen on some Instagram pictures. 

Back down again first to the bus I managed to get few winks of sleep before everyone else arrived. One woman needed oxygen and wasn’t well, while another one had an argument with me about seating. I wasn’t in the mood for this today.

Something you learn quickly about South Americans is how precious they are about the seat on the bus. Best way is play dumb and pretend you don’t understand and don’t speak Spanish. No way was I moving this time. 

 

Baños, Cuenca and the South of Ecuador

Back being a solo traveller having said good bye to Laura I head to Banôs. We said we would meet up further down the route.

Thanks to a couple of blogs I learned there are two options to get to Baños from Latacunga. Either a taxi to the main highway and flag down the Baños bus from Quito or take one of the many buses to Ambato. Then take a short taxi to the North bus terminal and get a bus from there to Baños.

I chose the latter and got lucky, as I got to Ambato and said Baños, I was put on a bus to Coca from the same station that went via Baños. The bus left in 5 minutes so I had to hot foot it to the terminal. Total journey was 7 hours costing less than $10

Arriving into Baños at 9pm, I decided to make the 15 minute walk on foot with my bags. What I didn’t account for was it all being up hill. I was booked into hostel ‘La Casa del Molino Blanco’, I think only because of the breakfast that was included. It certainly wasn’t for the atmosphere or Friendly staff.

I should have asked Holly, Dan , Lana and Ana where they had booked, as they too were all in Baños for a few days. Like so many of us doing the same route through South America.

Baños is a well visited town on the gringo travel circuit due to its adventure sports, hot thermal spring baths and the active volcano ‘Tungurahua‘. Oh and of course ‘La Casa del Árbol’ for that Instagram picture.

I booked a bike for $6 for the next day, to cycle the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ to check out seven waterfalls along the route, which I was told would be down hill all the way.

This indeed turned out to be mostly true, but some of the route is along the main highway. So if your are a nervous cyclist this might not be for you.

It was great to be on a bike, as appose to on my feet. Although the slight up hill really takes it out of you at 1850m above sea level. The first 5 waterfalls weren’t that spectacular, but the valley and the river was.

I stopped a few times too look at the many zip lines that were strung along the banks of the river. Looks so much fun, but it would have to wait for another day.

Cycling into Rio Verde I come across two guys that I recognised from my bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. Maybe because they had their tops off it made them stand out. So of course I had to stop.

Sadly one of them had a flat tyre and their bike hire company hadn’t given them a repair kit or a spare tube. I thought about offering mine – but what if it happens to me.!!!

Rio Verde was less than 500m, they would surely find a shop there to help them.

I carry on and come to the fast flowing river ‘Rio Verde’ and stop to take a picture. Two guys then asked me to take a few pictures of them. Hang on a second… I get a sense that these too are more than just friends. Gay-dar alert.

It turns out over lunch in fact Victoriano and Sebastián are a couple, and they live in Buenos Aries and were kind enough to invite me to lunch at a lovely place called Miramelindo. We then spent the rest of the afternoon together at the waterfall.

The highlight of this tour is the impressive ‘Pilon de Diablo’ or ‘Devils Cauldron’ waterfall. Walking down the steps to the base of the waterfall, the intensity and sheer power of the water hits you. You see the water cascading over the rock face and feel the full force of Mother Nature, while getting soaked by the spray.

Also high above you can walk along the wooden suspension bridges and see the fierce flowing Rio Verde disappear into a small hole in the rock and descend into the spectacular waterfall.

After a night of drinking cocktails and shots with Victoriano and Sebastián, all I could manage the next day was the short $1 bus ride up the hill to ‘La Casa del Arbol’. Entry $1.50

Surprise Surprise I bump into Holly and Dan, all little underwhelmed by what we see, we make sure we get the important shot for Instagram and play on the swings like kids. It turns out we are on the same bus to Cuenca that evening.

Sadly Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween like we do, so no excuse to dress up. Instead they celebrate ‘Day of the dead’ on the 1st November. Celebrating those that have passed, by gathering at the local cemetery, offering respect and flowers while listening to live classical music which could be heard across the whole of the town.

A nice and more positive way of remembering those that have passed.

Ten pm had arrived and it was time to get the bus to Cuenca. This would turn out to be possibly the worse 9 hrs of my life. So far..

No leg room, windows that didn’t close and that rattled with every bump – something you learn quickly in South America is that their roads suck – and a seat that barely reclined. I got no sleep what so ever.

To make it worse, the bus was overbooked so there were locals standing in the isle and they still let more on. No wonder gringos get robbed on busses in Ecuador. It’s a massive problem so always keep your bags on your lap or around feet.

Arriving into Cuenca at 4:30 am, I had to wait at the bus station for my hotel reception to open at 6:30. Yes a hotel and my own room, hurrah .. Mainly because Cuenca was fully booked due to the weekend of festivities. The red satin duvet told me this room is not meant for one.

Cuenca turned out to be my favourite city in Ecuador, with its beautiful colonial buildings and magnificent ‘Cathedral of Immaculate Conception’ or ‘New Cathedral’.

I was lucky to be in Cuenca for the weekend, as from 1st – 4th of November the city comes alive to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead’ and also celebrates its independence from Spain on the 3rd November.

The city was full of Ecuadorians from all over the country, here to experience the fantastic music, food, art and antiques festival that was sprawled along the banks of the ‘River Tomebamba’ and taking up every square and green space available.

The food festival had food from all over South America with at least 200 different tents offering a delicious delight.

The other highlight of Cuenca was, it was the first city I had visited where I could run along the banks of the River Yanucay. It was perfect for running 5km and nice way to start the day. On weekdays in the morning you can find a local Japanese resident that does Tai Chi where many other residents join in.

Conscious that I had been traveling 8 weeks now and only managed two countries, I booked a bus to Vilcabamba.

After much recommendation I booked into the ‘Hostería Izhcayluma‘ where I would meet Dan and Holly again. Thankfully Hosteria Izhcayluma ran their own bus service from Cuenca to the hostel which was $15 and takes 5 hours, two less than the public bus.

Izhcayluma was magical and exactly what I needed, a place to relax and to do free yoga each morning and an extra session in the afternoon for $5. The dorm was lovely, sleeping 6 and only $9 a night. Three beds downstairs and three more on a mezzanine above. It had real log cabin feel to it and the stone shower was enormous and a real luxury compared to most hostels.

Definitely one of my favourite hostels of the trip so far.

Taking advantage of the yoga in the morning, it was a ten minute walk past the pool to the most beautiful Shala I have practiced my downward dog. A view of the valley and mountains that surrounded us and just the sound of nature to relax you.

After a few days of relaxation and trekking the time had come for me to make plans to leave Ecuador. After two fantastic weeks it was time make my way to Peru.

From Vilcabamba it was a 45 minute $1.50 bus to Loja, and then a eight hour $10 night bus to Piura in Peru. The bus company I used was Amazonias and it was pretty good for Ecuadorean standards.

Getting off at passport control and walking across into Peru, was really simple. The whole process took 45 minutes at 4am.

From Piura it was my final 5 hour bus to my first stop in Peru – Mancora .

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be spending a few days by the sea, have sand between my toes and hot sunny weather .

Quilotoa Loop

While travelling I have found blogs a very useful tool to guide you through each country and the Quilotoa Loop popped up as an experience not to be missed and having now completed it myself, I would say it was my favourite trek and activity in Ecuador.

After a good nights sleep and more falafels for breakfast we pack our small rucksacks with enough clothing and supplies to last four days, but not too much to weigh us down while hiking. This was posing to be quite difficult, as the weather can change at any moment on the loop, from hot sun, to rain, to freezing cold.

We load onto the bus at the bus main bus station and head to our first stop Sigchos, a little village 2 hours from Latacunga, and in the middle of high hills covered by little farms. It’s best to get the earliest bus possible which leaves at 7am, if not the 9am as there are only few buses that run to Sigchos. The earlier you start the better chance you have of avoiding the afternoon rain.

The bus zig zags around the green hills, up one and down the next for what seemed like forever.  Dose up on the ‘calms’ before if suffer with travel sickness. 

There was no chance of being alone on our first day trekking, the bus was full of gringos and their back packs. With just the screen shot of directions from a blog for us to use to navigate, and the other gringos to follow I felt more assured that we wouldn’t get lost. How wrong could I be…

Off we set, like sheep following the gringos in front that seemed to know their way. Quickly we learn that its best not to rely on others and check the directions regularly, as one missed turn can mean crossing a river without a bridge and wet boots.

The first days hike to Isinlivi is estimated to take between four and five hours, depending on your fitness and capability of following directions and is meant to be the easiest of the four days.

One of the highlights of the loop is meeting other travellers that you get to know over the course of the four days. Today would be the day that I meet one of my favourite travelling couples, Lana from Bosnia and Ana from Mexico.

Ana having recently injured her foot, meant that Lana had to carry by herself this massive rucksack – it looked like it was packed to last a month not four weeks. The first part of the trek was a gentle meander down the valley to the river, crossing the bridge and through the village. Really quite pretty and so far relatively easy.

Well the easy part ended after taking the turn after the school, as it was all up hill by a good 200m to the top of the other side of the valley. Following the path that was also used by cow and mules, muddy in parts and steep in others, but really pretty. Stopping to catch my breath and looking across the valley the view was amazing and so different to any other so far, with patchwork or farms.

We make it to the top after about two hours of walking just as the rain is about to start. On our way up we see some of the others from the group, who have taken a wrong turn, and start a long climb up a much steeper and tougher route.

Arriving at our destination Isinlivi after just over three hours of walking, we are happy to find a happy welcome at the Llullu Lama hostel, a beautiful styled hostel that reminded me of staying in a ski chalet in the Alps. Maybe that’s because its run by an Ecuadorean-Dutch couple, the European influence definitely coming through.

The real positive to Llullu Lama, wasn’t just the roaring log fire keeping everyone warm, but the jacuzzi, steam and sauna. Sadly the only the jacuzzi was working on my visit. But after a long trek, there was nothing better than talking to a group of strangers half naked while drinking beer.

After good evening meal and delicious breakfast we were ready for day two of trekking. The sun was out again, and I had stripped down to just shorts and a vest, meaning I had to carry everything else. A group of eight of us left the hostel at the same time, all with the same instructions.

We were all told to not follow the second instruction due to a landslide a few week previous, but to take a different route. Well, we may as well have not had the instructions as they made not sense from beyond that point. Instead of going down the valley to the river, we managed to go up, up and up and cross the valley at a different point.

This making the route much harder, but far more beautiful than if we had just followed the river. Luckily a local lady told us to look out for the winding path down. Which we did and we found the river and some other lost trekkers. Although we had gone a much longer way, we all enjoyed it. 

Well except for Thomas the French guy. Who hated the fact that we were talking in English and not Spanish, or French. We all laughed when he took a wrong turn and was then chased by a dog and shouted at by the owner.

We always knew the last part of the trek to Chigchilan would always be the toughest, what we haven’t planned for was the extra effort we had to put in earlier due to getting lost. The last part indeed was steep and long. But there was determination not to let Thomas reach the top before us. Even with his walking poles to aid him.

Arriving at the Cloud Forest hostel, the mist started to cover the village and the temperature drop drastically. Now we understood why we needed our warm clothes. The only warm room was the main common room, that was full of about 40 people and smoke from the log burner. Tonight would be an early night for sure.

Well not before a few beers with our fellow trekkers, discussing how we all managed to take different route to get here.
Day three and the day we would make it to the top of the extinct volcano Quilotoa and see what all the fuss is about. Having beaten the average time for the previous two days, we decided to take it easier today and walk with Lana, Ana, Joe and Faye.

This time we were not going to get lost. Mainly because it was so well signposted along the way we didn’t need our instructions. Along this route as before we had lots of local children, offering to show us directions for caramel or sweets and aks for their foto to be taken.

The cutest were brother and sister, Dennis and Viviana and their cousin Lesley. Not one of the children we met had what I would call a typical Spanish name, there were all western names. 

After about 2 hours walking across the most beautiful landscape, that looked like a patchwork quilt under a perfect blue expanse of blue sky, with the sun shinning strong. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Stopping for some food, the other fellow trekker’s Holly and Dan caught us up and joined the group. So far most of the trek has mainly been flat or down hill, zig zagging along the valleys edge. This is where the fun begins, as we descend higher towards 3700m and the volcano crater rim.

Nearing the top of the sand track, I look back to see if I can see the others in the distance, but alas I cannot. Dan, Holly and myself had quickened are pace, and we could hear the sound of the dogs the others were disturbing as they descend upwards slowly. 

Reaching the top and seeing the expanse of green water that shimmered in the days sun was incredible. My first crater lagoon experience, and what a spectacular journey to get here. Pretty exhausted from the 4 hour trek, I rest and just take in the view.

Just then a cute little four year old comes up from no where, with the cutest smile saying “foto, foto” and sits next to me and starts pressing my selfie stick remote. “Otro, otro” meaning another. Even little kids out here on the top of a volcano know how to work an iphone.

Laura joins me with the others and we just rest and appreciate what we see before us. Also to rest, before the final one and half hour trek along the rim to the village of Quilotoa where we will spend the evening.

There are two options you can take around crater to reach the town. One that takes 5 hours and reaches the highest point at 3900m and the shorter 3 hour route. We opted for the shorter one as the weather was turning and we made it in one hour thirty minutes .

The alpaca hostel was our base for the evening, which turned out to be a great find. We got a room with two doubles beds for the price of a dorm. The log fire lit, we kept warm fully clothed under the three blankets, it was so cold. A night of playing cards around the log fire with our fellow trekkers Lana and Ana was the perfect end to a perfect three days.

Yes it was a meant to be four days, but we decided to not trek the final day to Zumbahua. Mainly because we were exhausted and most of it was along a road.

The following day it was back to Latacunga and goodbye to Laura as she heads to work on a farm for a month in the North of Ecuador and I continue South to Banôs

Exploring my Limits at 5000 metres 

Leaving Quito and Ronja behind Laura and I head to the nearest bus stop, to get the local bus to the most southern bus terminal 11km away. That’s how big Quito is… it sprawls on forever .

However as we soon realise the E2 bus we needed wasn’t as frequent as all the others, and we forget that travelling at 5pm on a weekday means rush hour in most cities. And when you are loaded with your backpacks – rush hour is not the time to be traveling on public transport.

Over the years I have moaned myself at tourists using the London underground at rush hour, thinking “why do it now, why not wait”. Well having being shunted about by the locals , the bus finally arrives, but it is full to the rafters.

They sure know how to pack them in. No chance of us barging in for the ride. We have no choice but to take a taxi, which again because of the rush hour traffic, took an hour to go 11km and cost $10. We both left Quito moaning how taxi drivers try and rip you off. Make sure they put the metre on when you get in, it is always cheaper.

The bus to Latacunga was completely empty, it was just us and the disco lights above our heads. Only costing $6, we thought amazing no one to bother us. But alas we were out of luck. We should have known, no bus ever travels far empty. Like all busses it stoped every time someone stuck out their hand and until it was full.

We opted to stay at Hotel Central due to a recommendation about the friendly staff. What I wasn’t excepting was the seventies decour and bright blue bathroom suite, the place looked like the set of ‘Faulty Towers’.

The owner, the lovely old Arabic lady that emigrated to Eacuador 50 years before, however more than mad up for it. Treating us to a wholesome breakfast that included falafels before our big day and even made homemade hummus for our evening snack, at the request of Laura.

Travellling to the entrance of Cotopaxi national park was simple enough, by taking the bus for Quito from the main bus terminal in Latacunga and ask to be dropped off outside Cotopaxi Park. It was only $2 and takes 30 minutes.

Once we arrived there were a couple of white 4*4 trucks waiting out side the entrance. Here we negotiated $20 each for our guide to take us in to the park and up to the 5000m point of the Volcano, via the lagoon at 3800 and the climbers refuge at 4800m.

As you drive along the road the forest is dense with trees and shrub, but further into the park the pine trees start to thin out and there in front of you is the magnificent sight of the snowed topped volcano Cotopaxi. The size is impressive, as it expands for what seems like miles. The lagoon at the base was much smaller and less spectacular than I was expecting.

Excited about our climb we quickly leave after ten minutes and make the drive higher to the base of the volcanoes cone. From here it will be by foot all the way to the climbers refuge. The climb was slow, and zig zagged up the side of the volcano, the earth and rock turning from black and grey, to a red colour from the last eruption.

After thirty minutes the crunch of our feet on the red soil, changed to the crunch of snow ever increasing as we climbed further upwards towards 4800m. The air was getting thinner and my breathing faster. I had to stop and take a few big long breathes to control my breathing. The cloud started to clear slightly and you could see the white top of the volcano glisten in the days sun.

On reaching the climbers refuge after an hour of climbing, we stopped for a food break and to recharge our bodies for the final 200 metre climb to the glacier. We met a traveller from San Francisco that was attempting the summit at 6900m the following day, and would be spending the night at the refuge. This requires some pre training at similar heights and knowing how to climb across glaciers. Although only 1.5km to the summit, it takes 6 hours to climb.

This is something we were not prepared for, but walking to the edge of the glacier – we were ready. 200m again doesn’t seem that much, but when your this high it can hurt and is really slow. After another thirty minutes of climbing we made it, I checked my phone and it said 5011m. Whoop Whoop.

The sense of achievement when we arrived was incredible, Laura and I hugged each other as we were so happy we had done it. Our guide sadly had had enough and wanted to head back down quick sharp.

However not until we got the perfect shot… which was proving difficult due to the cloud cover being so thick. But alas the cloud started to part and the glacier started to shine brightly under the suns rays piercing through the days clouds.

The decent down was much quicker and more direct, but still had its effect with my heart racing quicker and feeling a little dizzy once in the back of the 4*4. Running the last few metres turned out not to be such a good idea. We headed down in the car, back though the Park, and our guide stops the truck. I turn to see the Cotopaxi in all its glory, the cloud having parted and leaving it naked for all to see.

It was back to Latacunga for some rotisserie chicken and potatoes, as this seemed to be the only cuisine in town, well other than ice cream and more hairdressers than tanning shops on an Essex high street. What I wasn’t expecting was the chicken feet in my chicken soup, but it was rather yummy once I removed them.

To be honest Latacunga isn’t known for it beauty, its probably one of the ugliest cities I have ever visited, but it had a great feel about it and sense of community. Every third resident was dressed in the local dress for the area, which included a fedora hat for both the men and woman. The women wearing such wonderfully colourful combinations of greens, purples, pinks and black.

Latacunga is also the best place to leave your heavy bags and do the 3 three or four day Quilotoa Loop a few hours away. Tune is for this and more tales of Ecuador.

Hello Ecuador…

Quito and Climbing Volcanos 🌋

I finally left Colombia and made the twenty two hour journey from Cali to Quito. Crossing the border was simple enough, just remember to get your exit stamp from the Colombian side and walk across the bridge to Ecuador and queue for the entry stamp. This can take some time depending on the time of day, I queued for an hour at lunch time.

Arriving in Tulcan you immediately see and feel how much more poorer this border town is, compared to Colombia. All the buildings are run down and there are a lot more street vendors. The seven hour bus to Quito was only $6, however the buses are much like the buildings here. They have seen better days and they are constantly stopping to pick up and drop off locals or food sellers during the journey.

On the road I am instantly taken in by the staggering scenery, the bright blue sky, against the grey rocky mountains that scale many 1000 of metres above you. Passing through Otavalo I see my first snow capped Volcano, ‘Volcán Imbabura’ towering over the town and the water from the lake bekow glistening in the evenings sun. Not much protection for the people of Otavalo if she was to ever blow her top, maybe it’s an extinct Volcano…

Arriving in Quito, it’s late and we haven’t booked a hostel, so I use my rough guide in iBooks for a recommendation . Bluehouse Hostel seems good enough, and after a $8 taxi ride we make it to a large house that would have once been owned by a rich family in the one of only two areas its safe to stay, centre-north.

Laura , Ronja – our new German traveller friend – and myself luckedout with a private room with an ensuite and balcony for the price of a dorm. Which we had for our entire four day stay. Bluehouse was a great place with a really chilled vibe, and mostly friendly staff. 

I say “mostly”, because the miserable dwarf like woman, that just shouted was not nice. We nicknamed her ‘Orc’ . Breakfast of , fruit, porridge, toast and coffee is included in the $10 price and you even get a towel.

Not having wifi for 24 hours meant I hadn’t had a chance to see what the local guides were like in Ecuador. To my surprise, they were more attractive than I had imagined. 

After getting the usual increase in messages, primarily because of being one of only a handful of gringos that seemingly use the same local guide app.

After sifting through, I reply to Danilo, a Brazilian who lives in San Fransisco but is on vacation for one day in Quito. Sounds mad right, 12 hour flight for just a day!!!

Anyway we agree to meet and see the city together, taking in the many colonial buildings and stunning Church’s and Cathedrals, like La Compañía de Jesús. We even stumble across a mass taking place inside the extravagantly gold decorated La Compañía. Interesting to see so many young families in the congregation, very different to the blue rinse brigade back home.

After what was probably my most expensive lunch on the trip so far at $20, we decide to try out one of the 6 best locations to see the whole of the city. 

  1. El Panecillo, Old Town
  2. La Basílica, Old Town
  3. Parque Itchimbía, Old Town
  4. Guápulo, centre-north
  5. Parque Metropolitano, Northeast
  6. El Teleférico, Volcán Pichincha

 The Basílica del Voto Nacional was the closest and it is hard to miss when exploring the City.

As Quito is the second highest seat of Government after La Paz at 2850m, it’s best to take your time when walking about. Poor Danilo was having a tough time walking up the hill to the Basílica.

Paying the $1.50 for entry, I was pleasantly surprised at how high you could climb to get the best view of the city. I imagined just taking the stairs to the first level, and that would be it. Oh no you walk across narrow wooden planks that cover the eaves of the inside roof, and up a few ladders to the top of one of the main turrets. It Reminded me of Tom Hanks being chased in the film ‘Angels and Demons’.

From the top, you can see and take in the expanse of the city that just goes on for as far as the eye can see, or until a steep mountain or Volcano gets in the way. Which I soon come to realise, there are a lot of in Ecuador. I bid Danilo farewell, and give him some tips for his trip to london in December. ‘Sink the Pink’ being a must.

The old town of Quito is small enough to do in one day, as most of the points of interest are there. However there are plenty of day trips to take advantage of to the surroundings areas, which can be booked at most hostels. 

The closest Volcano to Quito, is Volcán Pichincha. Still an active Volcano last showering Quito with ash back in 1999, it has two summits and two posible climbs. Ruca being the easier and Guagua being the harder, but both reaching 4700m at its summit. Ruca can be accessed easily by the Teleférico, which takes you to 3947m/12,950ft – this would be my highest altitude yet.

After a twenty minute ride up on the Teleférico, the city gets smaller and further away, the cloud got thicker and the air thinner. To think I still had to climb another 700m was daunting, but the excitement of trying to achieve it drove my determination and I had Laura to keep me company who was equally as excited.

The advice is not to attempt the summit after 11am, otherwise you will be coming down in the dark as the suggested round trip time is 5-7 hours, depending on your fitness. Thankfully both of us are in pretty good shape and the climb was quite gradual, climbing ever higher with the clouds parting and forming around you all the time.

As we got higher, our pace got slower and the vegetation disappeared to just grey rock, it felt like we were walking across ‘Mordor’ with Frodo and Sam. This is when I learn that Laura and I are massive Lord of the Rings fans. As we get higher, the terrain is more difficult, with steeper climbing. One wrong foot and it’s goodby from me.

The cloud gets thicker and the temperature drops as we get to the top. No sooner had we made it, but we had to come straight back down due to a hale storm with hale stones the size of marbles falling from the black sky, and the rumble of thunder getting ever closer. We were not prepared to see out a storm 4700m high, where anything could happen.

A bit disappointed we couldn’t enjoy our achievement a little bit longer, we make the climb down on the advice of some pro climbing Germans. We managed to reach the summit in just over three hours and made the decent in under two hours. As a first time climber, I would definitely recommend Pichincha to get you ready for some of the higher peaks.

Still quite giddy from our achievement, that evening we hatch a plan to climb Cotopaxi the highest active Volcano in the world and take the four day Quilotoa Loop.

Stay tuned to see if I make the 5000m climb