Cotopaxi National Park, EcuadorApril 12, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C
Mountains, mountains and more mountains, with a side of cosy accommodation, home-cooked food and many cute dogs to sort the animal fix for the next little while. Highs and lows, literally and figuratively.
The Secret Garden Hostel in Quito has a sister hostel in the Cotopaxi National Park, a couple of hours drive south. The four of us were ready to escape the city life and get amongst some nature and trekking, so this seemed like a pretty good option. This was probably the clearest day we’d had so far, so it was a beautiful drive through countryside, with amazing views over to the surrounding mountains and finally a glimpse of Cotopaxi - a stunning cone shaped volcano, commanding the skyline at 5897m with its snow-covered peak. Lush green fields line the stone and gravelled roads that led us up to our home for the next couple nights.
And it really did feel like a home, instantly. Secret Garden Cotopaxi is a lone settlement almost in the middle of nowhere, with incredible views looking out over to the Cotopaxi volcano and some of the other surrounding volcanoes. The main house itself has a large lounge with an open fire and big couches, an open plan kitchen and big dining tables for us to all eat together. There’s hammocks inside in a conservatory, plus a huge hammock outside for 10 people to enjoy the views. Everyone eats like kings and queens together for three meals a day. Oh and there’s endless banana bread, tea and coffee. There’s also five dogs; two sausage dogs called Mash and Daisy, Milo the Dalmatian, Yodi the weird street dog mix, and little Luna who looks sort of like a beagle. There’s no WiFi either, so it really is an escape. Such a dream. One can easily see why so many guests end up coming back to volunteer here. I would definitely be tempted!
Given the surroundings of this place, there’s many activities on offer so the six of us who had arrived together from Quito, headed straight off with one of the volunteers for a 2 hour hike to some waterfalls in gumboots. It definitely felt nice to be amongst nature and exercising again, especially as this has been somewhat limited since I left New Zealand a month ago.
Unfortunately this hike was punctuated with me dropping my DSLR camera in the water. My bad luck with cameras continues! Fortunately my quick reaction time meant that limited water got into it, but I was left with a smashed UV filter on the end of the lens. Kicking myself for not having bought a new lens cap before I left the UK, but at least the filter saved the lens itself from smashing too. One of the guys I’ve been travelling with Mark, is a professional photographer so he quickly helped me take apart the camera and take out the battery and SD card just in case water was in there. I think the lens may have a tiny bit of water in it, even after leaving it in rice for a couple of days but thankfully it doesn’t seem to be affecting the images at this stage.
5pm rolled around which is designated “snack time” (you can see why this is my kind of place) and also the time where you have to decide what activity you want to do the following day. We did have a free hike included with our package of coming to stay here but in the end the two boys and I decided to fork out a little extra to do a different hike to the top of the Rumiñahui volcano. Bronte decided to save her money for other things, have a chill day instead and do the included hike with us the following day.
The evening passed with good food, conversation and card games with other guests before an early night to prep for the next days hiking. Unfortunately my sleeping is still pretty haphazard, a mix of the altitude (3400m) and jet lag I think. Never a good combo!
We tucked into a hearty breakfast to fuel for the day before our guide Flavio picked the six of us up from the hostel in a retro Land Rover with no suspension or power steering, perfect for the conditions ahead. An hour drive over some unpaved roads which were in incredibly poor condition got us to the beginning of the hike, not feeling fabulous but already with some stunning views of Volcán Cotopaxi.
Rumiñahui stands at 4690m which is the highest I’ve hiked to date. In fact the hike started at 3800m which is almost the highest I’d been previously in Guatemala. I was definitely a little nervous because there’s no way of knowing how your body will react to such altitudes, everyone is different.
The 5-6 hour hike started like most volcano climbs, rather flat and mainly just walking through shrubbery. Already I had a headache but it seemed to pass as we started to ascend. The views throughout the hike were incredible. We were lucky to have such a clear day so we could see for miles. At one point we managed to count seven different mountains surrounding us. Such a ridiculous sight. The last hour of our ascent became quite difficult and tiring at times, walking on essentially soft volcanic sand/ash and then basically rock climbing on all fours for the last section.
Even though it had clouded over slightly by the time we reached the summit, the 360 degree views were still insane. Nothing a camera will ever be able to capture though! It was surprisingly warm up there, even though we were exposed and at 4690m. Not like any other volcano summit I’ve been to, that’s for sure! A wee packed lunch at the top, a few photos and it was time to descend again. It was actually much easier to come down than we expected, and running down on the volcanic sand section was lots of fun. Many a tumble but it’s a soft landing so not too much of an issue!
It was an epic day with some great company, not to mention the fact that over the whole day we didn’t see anyone else. Ecuador has definitely not been hit with the tourism boom just yet, which is always refreshing.
Unfortunately I seemed to get a late bout of altitude sickness as we got back in the car. Anything between 3000-5000m is considered high altitude and therefore this is when you can start feeling side effects, so I guess it’s not really surprising. My head felt like it was going to explode from the pressure and the pain, and vomiting was also a very real possibility. Not ideal with an hour bumpy car ride back to the hostel when I already get headaches from that anyway! To say it was a relief to get back to our accommodation is definitely an understatement, but a wee lie down, a shower and lots of liquids and I thankfully came right again a couple of hours later, even though we were still at 3400m.
Subsequently I ended up skipping the following days hike, partly because I didn’t think it would live up to the previous day, to avoid the risk of altitude sickness again and also just to generally have some time to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
A couple of days off the grid at Cotopaxi was a real treat. Originally I was planning to do this or the Quilotoa loop (a three day hike), but in the end the four of us decided we wanted to do both. So from here it’s a brief one night stop in Latacunga to leave our big bags behind before we venture into the Andes for the next few days!Read more