Sunday, February 15, 2009


How about this for a view when you wake up in the morning?

This is Cotopaxi, a 5897 metre high volcano located a couple of hours drive from Quito in what is known as the Avenida de los Volcanes. To get there you need to head for the town of Machachi on the Panamerican highway and then leave the main road behind to get to the Cotopaxi National Park. Because of the weather conditions described below, it's not really a good option as a day trip unless you leave Quito very early. There are several hotels in the area and you stay in some very impressive and pleasant surroundings. Apart from the volcano itself it's a perfect area for mountain biking or horse riding.

You can climb all the way to the summit of the (currently inactive) volcano, if you feel you need to. Generally what people do is go up to the refuge below the peak and do the rest of the ascent during the night so that they get to the peak for first light.

This is because the mountain is usually clear in the morning, and then covered by the clouds later in the day. It means losing a night's sleep and it's not cheap to do - we were quoted prices of close to $200 per person. Because the upper part of the volcano is snow covered, the ascent has to be done with a guide and proper equipment including crampons, ropes and helmets.

We opted instead for plan B, which consisted of walking up from the car park down beneath the refuge to the foot of the glacier covering the higher parts of the mountain. At $25 dollars a head it was a lot cheaper and still takes you up to a height of around 5000 metres. The views from around the refuge are superb.

We stayed at the sister hostel of our accommodation in Quito, but the Secret Garden Cotopaxi has little in common with its noisy equivalent in the capital. Nestling into the foot of the hills a few miles away from the volcano itself this is an incredibly peaceful place.

At 3500 metres don't expect it to be warm all the time, although the daytime temperature is not too bad and can even feel hot when the sun is out. Bring plenty of warm clothing for the nights and obviously for being on the volcano. You probably should have something for the rain too, the weather can change quickly around here.

We were there at New Year which meant that we got to participate in the popular Ecuadorian tradition of burning your neighbour! They don't explain it this way of course, the intention behind burning an effigy at this time of year is supposedly to symbolically rid yourself of anything that you prefer to put behind you as you begin another year. That's the theory, but the effigy being burnt here still represented one of the neighbours.

Talking to a taxi driver down in Machachi the next day we found out that her effigy had also been a neighbour. I'm surprised the custom has never taken off in Madrid, where loathing your neighbours seems to be such an entrenched part of the culture. The nearby villages also organise fiestas around New Year, and Ecuador is a bull fighting country. You can't have a bull fight without a band, and what looks suspiciously to me like an effigy of someone’s neighbour!

Here the locals test themselves against the local beef.


Graham said...

ce photos. Mountain biking at that altitude sounds tiring though.

Graeme said...

It's like walking at altitude, you choose a route and a pace that suits you.