Monday, March 21
We awoke early and noticed that no rain was hitting the roof, and that there was what looked like blue sky through the crack in the curtain. Sure enough, to the west there was blue sky and the Illinizas volcanoes. Looking east from the lounge area, Cotopaxi was almost clear, but had the usual grey sky rather than blue sky as a backdrop. And looking south from the bathroom window there was a large volcano with its head in the clouds, probably Chimborazo.
We went out to take photographs, in case the clouds descended, and then had breakfast at 8 am. Breakfast was very good and included the cinnamon-infused drink we had had last night. We then went and got our gear, paid the bill, and met the guide for our Cotopaxi trip, Edison from Equateur Voyages, who had just arrived from Quito. We filled out the paperwork for the park and then all climbed into his 4×4. The route to Cotopaxi National Park continued past our hostel, through the tiny community of Santa Rita, past the giant gravel pit which was supplying much of the material for the widening of the Pan-American, and up to the park gate.
We paid our $2 entrance fees (we had expected to pay $10, but apparently that only applies in the summer season) and headed up the park road again. This road was fenced on both sides for quite a distance; Edison said this was because some years ago some careless campers had started an accidental forest fire which burned over a very large area. Now both sides of the road are regrown with pines which look like Ponderosa pines and with natural forest undergrowth.
Flower of the Andes (Chuquiraga)
At the little park museum, Edison gave us a good tour and explanation of the park and its animals. While there we saw a white-tailed deer walk through the area behind the building. Our next stop was Laguna Limpiopungo, a large shallow lake at the edge of an open plain at the base of Volcan Rumiñahui. There were a lot of Andean Gulls here, and Andean Coots (which looked bigger than the coots we have at home). There were also Andean Lapwings with downy young. We walked the whole way around the lake, looking at the native plants, birds, and one bunny rabbit. There are supposed to be hummingbirds in the area, but we didn’t see any. At the end of the circuit there was a boardwalk crossing a narrow spot in the lake, followed by stepping stones. But even those didn’t reach to the far side, as the water level was higher than usual. However we just took off our shoes and socks and waded across the ankle-deep water, which didn’t even feel very cold considering it was glacier run-off water.
Laguna Limpiopungo – 3830 metres above sea level – Protect it
Back at the truck we continued along the park road, first going up slightly and then quite steeply until we reached the parking area for the trail up to the hut. The parking area had fresh snow from last night’s rain, so our walk would be over a combination of volcanic ash and snow. The map shows the trail switchbacking up the 300 metres of elevation to the Jose Rivas hut, but in reality everyone just walks straight up the hill. The first part of the climb wasn’t too bad, but we started to get tired about halfway up. We were above 4,500 metres of elevation, higher than we had ever been before, and we had had essentially no exercise for the last three weeks, so that wasn’t really surprising. And we saw other hikers collapsed on the ground, so we felt good that we weren’t doing that.
Ready to start climbing
However after 45 minutes we made it to the hut, where we ate the lunch which Edison had brought along. The hut is quite large and can sleep up to forty people in the loft area. There were a few other people in the hut, one other group looking decidedly tired. We finished our lunch and then took some photos before heading down. Unfortunately we were still inside the cloud, so we had no views to look at. It didn’t take very long to walk down to the truck, after which we headed back to Quito.
We made it!
Arriving at the L’Auberge Inn, we paid Edison and said our thank-yous and good-byes. We still had a bit of time, so we decided to quickly walk over to the La Compañia Cathedral, which is listed as one of UNESCO’s top 100 buildings in the world. We made it before it closed, 15 minutes before it closed in fact, and were absolutely amazed at the interior of the cathedral. The whole place was intricately carved with religious iconography and then gilded. It was also flood-lit, which enhanced the brilliance of the gold.
After leaving we made a quick stop at the tourist information shop, and then headed back to the inn to have dinner at the Swiss Bistro, which was associated with the hostel. The food was very tasty but as usual the portions were very large. Before heading upstairs we paid the room bill, because we would be leaving very early tomorrow for the airport and our flight home. Our room was up three flights of stairs and around a couple of corners, under a sloping roof which made the ceiling not much more than one metre high at the far end of the room. Sort of a garret, in fact, but it was only for one night. We packed our bags as much as possible, set the alarm for 3:40 am, and went to bed.