Monday, January 21, 2013

Cotopaxi with a View

Cotopaxi National Park's namesake is a glorious, snow covered 5897 m tall volcano that last erupted 120 years ago. There are 3 volcanoes in the area. According to local legend, the 3 volcanoes are the spirits of a mother, father and baby. First the little baby volcano starts whimpering (aka the baby volcano erupts) then the bigger mother volcano gets all upset and starts crying (aka she erupts) and finally, the massive father volcano, fed up with all the carrying-on, explodes in anger (aka the biggest eruption). The baby has started crying, the mother is losing it, and now, for the last 120 years, locals have been awaiting the father's angry explosion....

Other than the impending doom of Father Volcano's eruption, Cotopaxi National Park is breathtaking. We are staying a few kilometres outside the park in a fantastic hostel (at 3500m) that has wonderful views of Cotopaxi along with lots of other imposing volcanoes/mountains around the 5000m mark. If the mountains/volcanoes are temporarily cloud covered, there are always endless green pastures, foothills, llama and cows to entertain. We are staying in a tent. Its a great setup with a tent at the end of a little boardwalk, on a big platform and covered by a corregated roof. Our tent has a big mattress, duvet and lots of extra blankets. No electricity though- good thing U Dan gave us mag-lights for Christmas! We are tucked back into the bushes in a private little alcove with our very own perfect view of Cotopaxi. We can literally lay in our tent and look out at one of the most majestic panoramas I've ever seen. Actually, right now, I am sitting in our tent, typing this and J is serenading me with the communal guitar from the bench on our little patio. 'I don't like you... but I love you..' he's singing. Seriously. In reality, he's practicing because all the girls in the hostel are in love with him (surprise, surprise) and they want another night of live music by the fireplace tonight after dinner. Last night J and a new Swedish friend named Mollin sang 'Hallelujah' in a very moving duet.

Our tent includes 3 delicious meals a day, pet llamas, three household puppies, mountain bikes and a guided hike to a nearby waterfalls. There are hammocks hanging out front, a wood burning fireplace that's lit every evening over appetizers and a hostel guitar for nightly sing-alongs. Its the kind of place where candlelight is preferred over electricity and there is a sign over the only flush toilet, encouraging you to use the outside toilet, that reads "Be a trooper and use the composting pooper" and "If you need #2, Use the Room with the View." (the composting toilet has a fantastic view of the volcano). The composting toilet itself is painted with "Composting Toilet- contribute to the fertility of our garden.' Naturally we love it here and have already extended our stay another night.

Yesterday we went on a tour into the actual National Park. The closer we got to the volcano, the more impressive it was. To start our guide stopped at a massive boulder that was probably 5 meters tall. He challenged anyone to try to climb to the top on their own "to acclimatize". When no one succeeded in scaling up the steep rock face he tied a rope around our waists and between 2 guides on the bottom and a strapping young Englishman on the top of the rock, each of us shimmy to the top. Well everyone shimmied except for me and Jonathan really. I was literally dragged up the rock. The two guides were at the bottom, each holding one of my feet and the rest of our group was already at the top, pulling the end of the rope that was tied around my waist. I tried to find a foothold to push myself up with, but me being incredibly uncoordinated every feeble attempt I made failed and, quite embarrassingly, with Jonathan laughing from the ground, my team successfully dragged me up the rock face and onto the flat top. Jonathan was last. He took hold of the rope and literally walked vertically up the rock. What a show off. Anyways, the pictures are great and no one is any the wiser as to how we all managed to get on top the boulder. Well, except everyone who has read this blog, I guess.

Next stop was an alpine flora lesson. We learned about various high altitude flowers, a long white fern called "rabbits ears" that are as soft and silky as rabbits ears, I imagine, and most importantly miniature flowers that are used to make important decisions. 'So, lets say you have 2 girlfriends,' our guide explains, 'and you need to pick which one you have to dump. You pick two of these little flowers, name one after each girlfriend, and hold them up to your face. Both flowers will start closing up almost immediately. Whichever flower closes first, that's the girl you like better!' Easy Peasy. Decision made. Apparently this is how our driver Carlos ended up with his wife! Not really, probably.

We made it to the parking lot of Refugio Jose Rivas (4800m), a rustic mountain hut and highest accommodation in the park. Its mostly used for 'locos' (my opinion) who want to make the midnight ascent up to peak of Cotopaxi. From the parking lot, there is a 200m climb to the actual refugio, which, because of the extreme altitude, takes about an hour to walk up (don't worry, I didn't believe it either until I was actually there). We ascended super slow, and it felt like a huge accomplishment to make it through the clouds and to the top. We were rewarded by intermittently spectacular views and complete white-outs, courtesy of the thick mountain clouds. We stopped for a warm drink and then climbed even higher to the glacier. Unlike most glaciers in the world, the Cotopaxi glacier is actually getting larger, and has been since the lava completely melted it 120 years ago. Its been growing back. Our guide grabbed a piece of plastic from somewhere and encouraged some good ole fashioned glacier tobogganing. Unfortunately the 1500m in elevation we had gained in the previous few hours really started to impact Jonathan and myself and the early signs of altitude sickness started to set in. We both had headaches and knew we needed to start descending back down to the parking lot. By the time we got back down the volcano (last, as usual, but certainly not least) I had a full on pounding headache by the time our jeep was bouncing back over the uneven road and I was pretty sure I was going to toss my cookies every time our Nascar driver, Carlos, tumbled into a pothole (every 5 feet). Poor J was wedged in the middle of the back seat of the jeep between my myself and Martina, both of us whom were pretty much passed out and drooling all over him (J: Actually K was the only drooling). Thankfully Carlos had to make a pit-stop at his mother's house (or something) and I took advantage of the opportunity to fling open the jeep door and rid my stomach of everything I'd consumed in the previous day. All to the audience of two stray dogs (who seemed pretty happy about the snack), a family of locals, (who were appalled), an American and a German I had known for less than 24 hours (who seemed genuinely concerned, and were polite enough to hide their disgust) and J, who always the good husband, rubbed my back through the window and procured a water bottle on my behalf. I felt bad for all parties who had the misfortune of witnessing the event, particularly my shoes.
Thankfully a couple hours nap (conveniently during the daily afternoon rain showers, so I didn't have to miss anything fun) sorted out all our altitude issues. When we woke up in our tent the skies were clearing and we had the most wonderfully clear view of the volcano. The late afternoon sun bathed the rolling green hills gold and turned the white snowy Cotopaxi almost luminescent. I propped myself up on the pillows and watched as the passing clouds constantly changed the scene through my open tent door for an entire hour. For an entire hour I lay there and thought about absolutely nothing and stared at a snowy volcano. Man, I miss this travelling lifestyle. Its only day four and I'm already in love with this continent.
In other exciting news, there was apparently an earthquake last night. At least it explains the 'raccoon' J was convinced was jumping around on our tent platform in the middle of the night.
We've already met some awesome people too! Martina is our newest German friend. She was actually on the flight with us from Atlanta-Quito and we shared a taxi to the hostel our first night. We are probably going to travel with Martina and another great German/Zorbian girl, Bozi (pronounced "Bo-Gee") for the next few days. We met Abbey, a super fun kiwi who was volunteering in Peru for the last little while and is studying to be a doctor. We met a couple really interesting Americans who work in Ecuador,  and J befriended a nice Argentinian couple, even attempting to speak some Spanish with them. Its really hard to believe so much has
happened in the last four days.

Where we stayed: Secret Garden Cotopaxi- $70 night for a private tent with a view, all food and good times.

1 comment:

The Little Tweet Heart Co. said...

oh wow! those mountains.....geez....your making this baby kick in excitement of one day getting on a plane again....tisk tisk....moon