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Volcan Cotopaxi Climb 5,897m August 19, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Ecuador, Environment, mountaineering, Nature, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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Our plan all along was to fit in a couple of climbs in Ecuador before we left. With so little time we decided that maybe this time we would hire the help of a guide with transport and logistics worked out. Our first target would be Cotopaxi at 5,897m

Cotopaxi after the mists had cleared from just above the refugio, 4,800m

However, the weather has been appalling in Ecuador recently. Indeed from our climbing experience in the high Andes of Peru and Ecuador the weather has not been the predictable dry season usually encountered.

We therefore had to be lucky to summit. The additional complication being that as we have spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos we have lost some of the acclimatisation of our last few months at altitude.

Jason trying on Moggeleys glacier glasses                                            Our Hostel courtesy of Moggely

So we headed off on the 14th August 2007 to a Hostel owned by Moggely the climbing agent. We thought this might help as it is located at 3,500m. The Hostel is near the Cotopaxi National Park and is basically in the middle of no where! Unfortunately the weather was not good and the hostel was freezing! To top it they did not have enough wood for the wood burners! Oh hum.

The next day we left at about 11am with technical equipment up to the National Park and really for the first time in Ecuador (other than the Galapagos) we were truly impressed with the scenery here. A volcanic landscape quite beautiful and with a remoteness not felt elsewhere. With less human interference.

In the 4 X 4 we drove up to a high plateau where we could leave the vehicle leaving a 40 minute climb to the refugio at 4,800m.

The refugio is basic and large, fit for about 60 people and 2 self catering kitchens.

Chez, relaxing at 4,800m at the refugio on Cotopaxi      The view across from the refugio      Jason pointing the way!

After lunch we explored around the refugio and at last the clouds lifted revealing the hulk of Cotopaxi and its Glaciers. Truly beautiful. The sun was out and finally maybe our luck would be in. With bad weather over the last few days, we needed a clear cold night for a safe ascent.

After dinner and with the skies still clear we went to bed ready for a midnight dash for the summit.

. . . . . . . Midnight came and with it the snow. Snow had been falling for some time. A quick something to eat and we headed out in the snow for the glacier.

It was snowing and frankly not too cold, the exact conditions we did not want. We put on our crampons and roped up for the steep glacier ascent. 35 degrees or so as we climbed. The snow continued to fall and the wind began to pick up.

Jason, Cheryl and Marco our guide on the descent from Cotopaxi, in the snow

At 5,300m the snow was several inches thick and we had to dig a pit to test for avalanche. After much discussion between our guide and another we decided to continue. The slope now steepens to around 38 degrees, maybe 40 degrees in sections. Perfect avalanche country, and to top it we are on the lee side of the mountain allowing snow to build up.

We ploughed through the snow constantly slipping back as the snow beneath our feet collapsed.

At around 5,525m the snow was falling heavily and we were ploughing through up to 50cm of fresh snow. More testing of the snow conditions lead to only one conclusion. . . . .we had to go down.

Most disappointing after our failed attempts in the Cordillera Blanca but basically the weather Gods are not on our side at the moment.

Snow conditions could not be much worse and the avalanche danger was acute.

So as we were at the head of the pack so to speak we were advising other groups to turn back as we descended.

Not even a sun rise to behold as the cloud was too thick and on arrival at the refugio it was a Christmas card view.

The refugio following the fall of snow 6,30am, after descent, 4,800m

Oh well, after a rest and a drink it was down to the 4 X 4 and a long drive back to Quito.

It took us a day to recover from the exertions at altitude.

The weather is still bad and our plans for Chimborazo have evaporated with frustration. So with only a few days until we go home we will spend mainly in Quito.

It feels like a slight anti climax after all that we have done, but its not a bad place to “hang out”, and planning our return to good old blighty!

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The Quilotoa Loop August 14, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, Environment, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
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From Cuenca we went to Latacunga, a small town which is the jumping off point for the “adventurous” journey around the Quilotoa Loop through indigenous villages and remote countryside.

Indigenous painting in a unique style to the area, the subject matter speaks for itself!     Masks from the village of Tigua     Jason sporting one of the masks, a much needed improvement!!

We headed out the next day to catch the early bus. We decided to take the local transport regardless of how unreliable it is to see the “real” Ecuador! As usual the bus left late than expected no doubt on South American time!

Our first stop was at Tigua. A small settlement on the highland road. Here there is an art gallery with local Indigenous art work and masks. It was quite beautiful.

The Laguna at Quilotoa, within the volcanic crater

We then thumbed down the next bus to Quilotoa 3,800m where the famous Laguna is situated. This is an old Volcanoe filled with water. We arrived at Quilotoa and walked to the view point which was quite spectacular. The weather, as usual in our time in Ecuador was poor. Windy, grey skies and very cold! Just like England hey! The local people were selling their wares here, much artesane products.

The impressive thing about this journey is that most of the people you encounter are of Indigenous origin. On the buses, in the villages and most impressively in the businesses you encounter. Whether arts and crafts, transport companies, or local eateries and hostels. We definitely got a feeling that the local population was benefiting from the tourism and wealth in the areas. It seems that the local population are not the poor Indigenous people of say Bolivia.

From the Laguna we caught the next bus to the remote settlement of Chugchilan at 3,200m. Only a population of a few hundred here and until a few years ago there were no places for people to stay. Now there are 3 places. 2 locally owned very cheap Hostels and very friendly. (8$ each for a private room including breakfast and dinner!).

Also there is a famous Eco Lodge called the Black Sheep Inn.

The Black sheep inn A Sunset view from the Black Sheep Inn So. . . which one is the Black Sheep!

The first night we stayed at the Hostal Cloud Forest which was very nice. We bumped into a Dutch family who spent our Galapagos cruise with here! I resurrected my footballing career (in goal) and playing the local Ecuadorians managed to win 4-0 keeping a clean sheet! No small feet at altitude!! I have since retired again.

The following day we stayed at the Black Sheep Inn. Not cheap here but very interesting. They are trying to become self sufficient and utilize many Eco friendly ways of building and irrigation methods. The buildings are all built of Adobe, with compost toilets. They fully integrate with the local community helping the village in various ways. Run by 2 Americans Michelle and Andres who moved here in 1995 following there own backpacking trip. It is an interesting story and a beautiful place to stay.

Playing football at 3,ooom The village of Chugchilan YES. . . this is a sheep on the roof of the bus! Our bus around the Quilotoa loop on our final day!

We chilled out here for a day before moving on the next bus to Sigchos and then onto Latacunga. For us this was the most beautiful part of the journey. And we didn t see another Gringo on this side of the Loop.

For us the Quilotoa Loop was nice and staying at the Black Sheep Inn was very interesting. However it is not the “Indigenous”, “remote”, or “challenging” journey many write about. But you have to see it and experience it to judge I guess.

Ingapirca : An Inca Settlement August 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, Environment, South America, Travel.
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Ingapirca Inca Site

From Cuenca we caught the local bus to the settlement of Ingapirca where the best remains of Inca Architecture remain. It was an interesting site. A rushed 2 hour visit before the local bus returned to Cuenca!

As usual the settlement is built at a high elevation at 3,230 metres with a good view of the surrounding area.

Ingapirca means “Wall of the Inca” and consists of various buildings ans a site shaped to symbolise the moon and sun so important to the Inca.

Jason at Ingapirca     Inca Walls     Cheryl playing on the Inca walls

There are not many Inca sites in Ecuador as the Inca´s only conquered the area late in the their reign and just before the Spanish came and decimated the region.

Cuenca : And the True Panama Hat August 9, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, South America, Travel.
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After our adventures in the Galapagos we were ready to head out traveling once more, this time south to the City of Cuenca, Ecuador´s 3rd largest City.

Trying on the Panama Hats!

It is known for its wonderful Colonial Architecture and a place where many of the “Panama Hats” are finished and sold. Yes Panama hats. They are not made in Panama but in Ecuador! They were made world famous by the people building the Panama Canal at the turn of the last Century when the hats were imported on mass and have been associated with Panama ever since. They should be known as the Ecuadorian Hat or maybe a Montecristo.

Ecuadorian hats     Panama Hats     Panama Hats

Anyway, an overnight 10 hour bus journey lead us to Cuenca where we stayed in a wonderful Hostel called Monarca. The city is quite laid back and pretty in parts, we quite liked it. And it was interesting to see the Panama Hats being finished.

The museum Pumapungo is interesting and has wonderful artifacts of different tribes of Ecuador and to the rear of the property has the ruins of the once amazing Inca City here.

The Cathedral in Cuenca     Plaza in Cuenca     Colonial architecture in Cuenca

We found the best pub/restaurant in Ecuador at El Eucalyptus. Great food and atmosphere where the locals dance the night away to their lovable Salsa. Needless to say me and Chez sat this one out!!

From here we took a day trip to Ingapirca the best Inca Site in Ecuador.

Galapagos and a beach side paradise August 5, 2007

Posted by Jason in Animals, Bird Watching, Cruise, culture, Darwin, Ecuador, Environment, Galapagos, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
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28th of July to the 5th of August

After disembarking from the Galapagos Cruise we immediately caught the “ferry” to the eastern side of the island of Isabela. The largest of the Galapagos Islands with a small settlement and the fishing capital. The Island covers around 58% of the overall landmass of the Galapagos Islands and has several active volcanoes.

Cheryl walking along the neach with our beach side retreat in the distance

The “ferry” is in fact a small motor boat that carries around 14 people over the seas between Santa Cruise and Isabela over around 2 1/2 hours. Due to the season, the seas were extremely rough! The boat lurching out of the water at regular intervals before smashing down onto the water again! I was glad I had not eaten lunch yet! To make matter worse there was a woman on the boat who was copiously drunk singing and falling over at every opportunity, screaming with all her might for the whole journey! Eventually she asked to go to the toilet. The driver of the boat slowed and moved away our baggage from a small compartment at the front of the boat where a small (and I mean SMALL!) toilet was situated. Once inside the compartment they closed and locked the door and proceeded towards Isabella! This whole heartedly approved of by all passengers!Half an hour later she was let out looking a little worse for wear.

Eventually we came into port, well a small wooden pier. However, the “captain” of the boat came in too quickly and the boat hit the rocks! Immediately it started taking water on board and there was a scramble to get off the boat and to get our bags! To our disbelief this boat was still in operation 4 days later on our return!!

Our home for 4 days would be a beach house, on the beach itself with the view of the Pacific Ocean and a balcony from which to admire the view!

Jason surveying the enormous volcanic crater from horseback   The view towards the north of the Island from the crater rim      Flamingoes

We spent the next 4 days chilling out. We did horse riding to the Sierra Negra Volcanoe. Through the mists of the Island to the crater rim where the mists dissipated and the view of the second largest crater in the world came into view. We walked around across lava flows to smoking fumaroles and could see a wonderful view across the island to the north toward the other volcanoes and the bleak volcanic landscape.

Chez and Jason on horseback on Isabela Island

Cheryl loved the horse riding, this being one of the few occasions when our guides would allow the horses to trot or Gallop!! I on the other hand found it most painful!!

We took the board walk on the island to see Flamingos, Tortoises, Lava Lizards and of course the Darwin Finches. We also went to a small island off the coast of Isabela where we saw hundreds of Marine Iguanas, some sea Turtles and amazingly White Tipped Reef Sharks swimming within 2 meters of us in a shallow pool off the coast of the island. It was just wonderful.

The rest of the time was spent doing. . . . well. . . . not alot!!

The town(well small village!) of Puerto Villamil is quite nice but incredibly sleepy. Laid back in the most extreme way! Even most of the hostals or hotels do not have signs up saying they are, and siesta appears to happen at any time of the day, or in some cases all day!!

We spent a few hour wiling away our time in Beto´s Bar on the beach drinking cocktails. We were told this was the best bar on the island. We later found out it is basically the only bar on the island!

The second largest volcanic crater in the world An Iguana Crossing!!

After the 4 days we took another tortuous journey on the “ferry” back to Santa Cruise where we visited the darwin Centre again and generally relaxed in town and on the near by beach of Tortuga bay.

In some of the Hotel Bars on the water front you can drink on the decking sharing it with Herons, Sea Lions and Pelicans! The Sea lions can get a little upset if you steel their spot in the sun!!

The local fish market is a wonder to see. The boats come in bringing their catch and they are gutted and sold or prepared for clients there and then. Of course this is not only a place for tourists to have a look. Basically all the Sea Birds and Sea Lions in the area know about the easy pickings! Blue Herons, Lava herons, Sea Lions, Pelicans and Frigate Birds all arrive for a feeding from the scraps! Most amusing to see.

After 7 days more of the Galapagos we were ready to catch the flight back to Quito. Surely a journey and experience we will not have again. A beautiful place!