Firstly, it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post, so this particular one is a fortnight behind in its writing. As some of you may know, my time in Quito wasn’t the best after I was bitten by a dog on our first day out. Having spent two days in bed with my leg elevated to help the start of the healing process, I finally got to have a day out before leaving.
Andy and I visited in Mitad del Mundo, or “middle of the world”, which is a monument with surround grounds that is situation on the equator. Well, it is supposed to be, and rather impressively is only 150 metres off the equator, which for a monument presumably situated with the use of an old fashioned compass, and perhaps the sun and the stars, is pretty impressive. The name Mitad del Mundo derives from the fact that if it was just called “the equator”, it would actually be “ecuador” in Spanish, which is of course also the name of the country. This now seems somewhat obvious in retrospect, but I never realised before that the name of the country literally means equator.
Cotopaxi National Park
From Quito, Andy and I went our separate ways for a short while as I wanted to stay at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi National Park which had been recommended to me and looked like a good place to do some hiking. On the first day, we were driven from Quito in a people-carrier, which isn’t the way to do hard, bumpy dirt tracks, up into the National Park.
In the afternoon, we had a short walk to a waterfall where some people were crazy enough to jump into the water, which is freezing as it came from the mountain. Thankfully, I used the excuse that I wasn’t supposed to get my dog bite wet, save for cleaning it in the shower.
The next day we hiked up the local mountain, Pasachoa, which required a spritely ascent up from 3,500m to 4,200m, which after only a day of acclimatisation was quite an effort. The hike included going through a small patch of cloud forest which I haven’t been into before. The name of course is similar to a “rain forest”, with the difference being that the cloud forest principally gets its water from the condensation in the clouds.
By this point I’d given serious consideration to trying to hike and climb a glacial peak, and had in mind what practice I’d need hiking at altitude. So, the next hike was up Ruminahui, whose peak is just short of 4,800m. The going wasn’t quite as hard as the previous day for the most part, but we eventually got to the point where you had to scramble up through rock and sandy soil, making our way into the cloud. At the top, we were right in the clouds and nothing could be seen beyond a few metres.
I had a day of rest after Ruminahui and continued to think over the idea of the glacial hike. Two things really entered my mind: the first was that this was going to be damn expensive and totally blow the budget for the month; the second was a question of whether I was really ready to do the hike given that I hadn’t had much time to acclimatise to altitude. Despite already having arranged the next, higher hike, I eventually decided to save the glacier for a time when I would be better prepared. It turns out that I made the right decision.
The next mountain hike was up Iliniza Norte, which reaches its peak at around 5,100m. The going was really tough, and I got to the point that I was taking tiny steps and breathing heavily. When the guide told us that we were only 15 minutes away from the refugio, I thought I’d never make it any further. As it turns out, I had completely the wrong height for the refuge in my head and the reason the going was so tough was because we’d ascended 800m in two hours. So, I was quite impressed with myself, although that wasn’t to last long.
After a coffee at the refugio, which wasn’t the sort of thing I’d imagined in that it was a cold brick box, rather than a warm and welcoming cabin with a fire, we started to make our way from 4,700m onwards. Not long into this, we began the scramble in heavy cloud that was full of ice crystals and strong wind. Every time I moved my body, I was buffeted by the wind, and in not so long a time, I said I couldn’t face continuing as it was too damn scary! Thankfully my hiking companion, Justus, agreed to return to the refugio and head back down the mountain. It seems the hike over 5,000m was destined not to be this time.
The Secret Garden
I stayed at a hacienda in the Cotopaxi National Park called The Secret Garden. It was a really great place to stay, and I was particularly pleased that there was always a vegetarian option. The volunteers arranged all the activities for me, including the hikes with external guides.
There is also a Secret Garden in Quito, although I didn’t stay there, but helpfully this is the point that you can pick up a ride each day up to the national park.