It is now two calendar months since the mad rush of a Monday when we left our home in Croydon. In some ways it seems much longer. We have seen so much in this time it is hard to remember it all - just as well we are keeping diaries!
|Clouds streaming off Cotopaxi|
Today we were met by Alex who took us to Cotopaxi. I thought he looked familiar and it turned out that he was the drummer in the band at the hotel yesterday. I reckon he is in his mid to late twenties. He works for a tour company by day and at night plays his music. It cannot leave him much time to spend with his wife and their baby.
About ten minutes up the PanAm Alex was focusing on overtaking a bus. Just as he did, he did a sharp swing to the right, cutting up the bus, onto the dirt track leading up to Cotopaxi. At 5,9897m it is lower than Chimborazo but it is still active, albeit not very. It is surrounded by a national park of high pampas landscapes, vast open spaces with hardy grasses. It is very windy but despite this people are camping.
We had a short wait to get into the park - they had run out of entrance tickets and had gone for more supplies. In that short time a queue of trucks, cars and buses had developed. Some people have come equipped to mountain bike back down but most look as if they are just tackling the 300m walk from the car park to the Refugio, which is at 4,800m. We stopped along the way to take some pictures and Alex pointed out the Refugio. It is a yellow building perched about two thirds of the way up. A steep slope leads down to the left to the car park, only visible because of the sunlight reflecting off the windows of the cars already there.
I do not think I have ever walked on an active volcano before. Before we reached the car park I knew it was going to be a tough walk. At the car park it looked even more daunting - short, but fairly steep uphill and at high altitude. There was also a really strong wind blowing from left to right with gusts powerful enough to make me unsteady on my pins. The air was thin and I found it difficult to get my breath, not helped by the wind whipping around my face.
Stef, being the expert project manager that he is, goaded and tempted me to keep going by setting different milestones - lets just get to that rock or that flat bit and see how we feel. This worked until my stubborn-ness kicked in, I got angry and determined to make it to the refugio. It took us an hour and a half to get up. The ground was volcanic sand and pebble and it was like walking up a huge sand dune. It felt that for every two steps upwards I took I slid back down one step. My calf muscles felt like they were going to cramp up from the lack of oxygen but thankfully the headaches I have had before at high altitude stayed away.
It was definitely worth the effort. The views from the refugio both up the volcano and out across the valley were superb. Some local people had gone a little further onto one of the glaciers and were coming back down with lumps of ice. One girl was sucking it to drink water - I suspect she will not feel too well tonight!
|What do you know, it's just another picture perfect volcano|
There was a steady stream of people up and down both locals, its school holidays now for two months, and foreign visitors. As expected, foreigners pay five times as much to get into the park. Even though there are a lot of people it is not crowded. In fact I think it actually helped people to get to the refugio. I was not the only one struggling. Going up I saw people and thought I could not give in unless they did. But also the people coming down gave encouragement to keep going, something we did too on our way down.
The sandy ground worked in our favour coming down. It cushioned the impact on the knees and made for a steep but easy descent. It was also quick, taking just half an hour. At a two and a half hour (including a much needed drink at the refugio) round trip it was short, especially compared to the walks we have done in Scotland. In terms of effort, I would rank it along with getting to the top of Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran.
After lunch, we headed to Laguna Limpiopungo and had a very pleasant forty five minute walk around its edge. It was good to be on the flat and to have the opportunity to stretch out and walk at a good pace. No need for re-oxygenating stops here. AT the back of the laguna we were for the first time today sheltered from the wind. Ironically though, a low hill in front of us totally obliterated the views of Cotopaxi. The laguna had a few birds and there were a couple of cows and horses grazing its edges, more evidenced by what they left behind that their actual presence!
Back at the hotel we both felt very dusty and sticky and had a long, hot rejuvenating shower. I snuggled up in bed, despite the warm sunshine its cold in the shade and in our room, and read my book for a few hours. We then decamped back in front of the wood fire for a while before heading off to dinner.