On the Road to Cotopaxi

Sunday, March 20

We couldn’t leave Baños without going to the baths for which it was named, so at 7 am we got up and headed over there. The Termas de la Virgen was only one block away from our hostel, and it only cost two dollars to use the pools. For this you could use any of the three main pools, the cold pool, the warm pool, and the hot “therapeutic” pool.

We handed in the box containing our towels and things to the lady at the kiosk, had our shower, then went over to the warm pool. (Cold pool? No way!) We wound our way through the mass of people sitting near the steps and sank into the warm water. The temperature of this pool was perfect, so we wallowed in it for a while. Then we went over to the hot pool, which didn’t seem so hot any more, and sat in that for just a couple of minutes. Perhaps the therapy worked, but we couldn’t tell.

Baths at Baños

Now it was time for breakfast, so we packed up our bags and went down to the hostel’s restaurant. They had a breakfast option called “Tungurahua” which consisted of a large domed pancake (shaped like a volcano), a bowl of fruit, granola, yogurt, and a choice of fruit juice. All of the food here had been excellent and this was no exception. After we were done we paid our bill, took our bags, and walked over to the bus station.

Clean water for washing

The people at the first office told us the 10 am bus to Quito was leaving in ten minutes and we should buy our ticket quickly. The little office was quite chaotic, and then they said the bus would be at 11 am because the 10 am bus was full. But fortunately we hadn’t paid yet, so we got out of there and signed up for another company’s bus which was leaving at 10:20 am.

We paid the fare ($2.50 each to “Cotopaxi”) and got on the bus when it pulled into the departure bay. The bus was only half full until it started to pull out, at which time all kinds of people came out of nowhere and crowded on as the bus rolled towards the street. The poor guy who was trying to sell chewing gum to the passengers just gave up and walked off. Once it got out of the town, the bus ground its way in low gear up the hill we had bombed down the day before yesterday, until it reached Ambato and the Pan-American highway.

Houses near Ambato

The instructions we had were to get off at the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park, which is at the 44 km marker on the highway. For a long way we had kilometre markers, but after Latacunga there was a long section of road improvements where the markers were absent. Even though we were looking for the park entrance sign we never saw it, and as a result we missed the spot where we should have got off. When we finally asked the conductor he said something like “It’s back there” – which we already knew – and told us to get off at the next stop, cross the road, and flag down a bus to take us back.

We successfully crossed the highway and then tried to flag down a bus. There was no shortage of buses, but about seven buses passed us up before one stopped and picked us up. We showed our sketch map to the conductor, who after some discussion with other passengers figured out where we should get off. We paid our fare for this bus (50 cents each) and about 10 kilometres later the bus stopped and off we got. Now the park entrance signs were obvious, but because they are placed facing the traffic coming from Quito, we couldn’t see them coming from the south. Well, anyway, it wasn’t really a problem. We were at the right place and we had all day.

Volcan Cotopaxi

Once again we crossed the highway and walked about 200 metres down the side road, towards tonight’s destination, a small hostel named Huagra Corral. This place is a family residence with a few rooms to let, and it also provides meals. Beautifully decorated with local items, the place is very cosy. Our room had a double bed and a loft with two mattresses on the floor. (The loft also had pigeons at the window.) We settled in and then went to the upstairs lounge, where we had a great view of Volcan Cotopaxi. It was in cloud, of course, but soon it cleared a bit and we convinced ourselves that we could actually see the summit. However before long the clouds closed in again and the view was gone.

Our hostel

Our room

The bathroom down the hall

We had a small meal of tea and papas fritas, then went out for a walk. Initially we walked farther along the dirt road towards the park, but when we saw barking dogs charge out at a motorcyclist towards us, we turned back and headed along another road. This road ended up at the train tracks which run parallel to the highway. We walked alongside the tracks in the direction of our hostel, passing a lady with a llama and a cow. We were just discussing the tourist train which runs between Quito and Lasso, when as if on cue the tourist train appeared. It was actually more like a bus on railway tracks, but it was on the tracks so it must be a train.

Lupines being delivered to market

Llama

Tourist train

So far we had no rain, but the clouds were starting to get menacing and we heard thunder over towards Latacunga. This wasn’t surprising as the weather forecast strongly implied rain for the late afternoon, but anyway we headed back and relaxed in the lounge until dinner-time. After a while the rain began, so we were glad to be inside. Downstairs was warmer, as they had lit the fire and there was a propane heater on.

At 6:30 pm we ordered dinner, but before this we were served a delicious hot cinnamon drink which was greatly enjoyed by all. Our dinners were simple food but nicely prepared and very tasty. Before going up to our room we had some more of the cinnamon drink. It was still rather early to go to bed, so we sat and did some puzzles. Our room was a bit chilly but the bed had warm blankets and a thick comforter, so we would be warm. It was still raining, but we hoped for better weather tomorrow.

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