We could have taken a day trip from Quito to see Cotopaxi but we decided to have a stop there. As we are heading south anyway it made sense to book a couple of nights nearby. Annoyingly, the day we left Quito the weather was the best it had been since we arrived in Ecuador.
We book a little hostel just on the edge of the national park. It has rave reviews and looks very pretty.
We jump off the bus opposite the entrance to the national park. The guy from the hostel messaged and said it should cost about $3 in a cab from there. Luckily there’s a cab already sat on a side road near where we have just got off the bus. We tell him where we want to go and he says ‘$5’, nah mate! We turn and start walking towards the national park. He shouts after us ‘$3’, we jump in. He takes us down some dodgy looking dirt track. I get my phone out to check the route. This is the road the hostel is on. I’m a little concerned again about where we have booked to stay!
Turns out my worries were unnecessary. The place is gorgeous.
We wander in and it seems like no one is around. There’s a bit of paper on the desk with our booking details on it. I start to fill it in while we are waiting. It’s a little while and we still don’t see anyone. Then there’s a little bang from a corridor behind us. Dave wanders down shouting ‘hola’. A very friendly looking lady appears. Now the hostel listing said the owner speaks English. This lady does not speak English. Ok, listening ears on and tuned to Spanish. Dave tells her we have a reservation and we point to the paper on the desk. She welcomes us and then asks if we would like room 4 or room 5. This takes us a little while to get! I ask her if there is a difference between the rooms and she says yes. Dave asks if we can see the rooms and she takes us for a look. We go to room 4 first, it’s bigger than some of the rooms we have stayed in and it’s spotless. It looks like it’s not long been decorated. This will do nicely. The we head over to room 5. Room 5 is a bit special.
It’s separate from the main building and I think it looks like a mini windmill. Inside is a little smaller than room 4 but again spotlessly clean. Obviously we chose room 5! The lady gives us the key and we drop our bags in.
It feels a bit chillier here than Quito but it is cloudy, once the sun breaks though it’ll warm up. We climb up the ‘windmill’ to have a look at the views. We should be able to see Cotopaxi from here.
It’s too cloudy, we can’t see much in that direction. We’ll have another look tomorrow.
The lady comments on how cold it is and we agree. (Unfortunately either due our bad Spanish or the fact it was never mentioned, we don’t know what the lovely ladies name is). We head in to the main hostel and she very kindly lights a fire for us. It’s so lovely here, really peaceful.
The lady makes me a coffee and brings out some crisps for us. She is very chatty and we are almost keeping up with her. She asks us some questions about our families, our lives at home and tells us about hers. We get very confused at one point because we think she might have told us she eats pets. We put this down to our poor Spanish and agree it’s unlikely this lovely, little lady eats pets. We spend a good hour, probably more, talking with her and playing Jenga. She doesn’t play, she just cheers me on.
A little later when we’re back at the ‘windmill’ a man knocks on the door. He’s a young guy and he speaks perfect English. He introduces himself as Saul, he’s the owner. He asks if we would like to have dinner at the hostel tonight. There is not much close by so we decide we will. I was not looking forward to rice, sautéed veg and some sort of beans, heavily featuring peppers. The standard vegetarian dish of South America. I was pleasantly surprised however, Saul and his girlfriend had cooked up a rather yummy stir-fry. It did heavily feature peppers but I happily ate around them. Feeling nicely full we head to bed. Big day tomorrow, we’ve booked a guide and we’re heading up the volcano.
We wake up and have breakfast at the hostel. We’ve put all our warm layers on today as it’s likely to be cold as we get towards the top. It is a snow capped volcano after all. It’s quite cloudy again today, most days seem to start out like this but often get better.
Our guide (we didn’t manage to get his name either!) picks us up and we head over to the national park. Our guide doesn’t speak any English, we’re getting a lot of practice with our Spanish listening skills at the moment. As we drive into the park we wind through conifer lined roads. It’s ever so pretty, it reminds me of a Scandinavian mountain road.
Our guide tells us the conifers are an introduced species and are not native to the area. We didn’t manage to catch why they were introduced. As we drive along he shows us various flora, fauna and points of interest. The sides of the road show the different layers of lava left from previous eruptions. The most recent being August 2015 until January 2016.
Our first stop is a ‘botanical garden’. He tells us to have a look around it and meet him round the corner back at the road in 45 minutes. We start a slow mooch around the gardens. They are quite pretty and very peaceful. On our right-hand side there is a big valley, again left by previous eruptions.
We wander through and see some flowers, a lot of grass and a few birds.
We must have taken too long because before we round the corner, our guide is there waving us on. We jump back in the car and get back on the road.
We drive further into the park and our next stop is a lake. The lake is formed by the snow melting from the top of the volcano. It is not very deep only about 5cm he tells us.
We walk a route around the lake, it takes about an hour. It’s got a bit warmer and the clouds have started to clear a little. We can almost see the volcano, almost. We shed a few layers and enjoy the comfortable warmth.
Back in the car and we’re heading to the beginning of the hike. There are groups of wild ponies running around. It’s quite a sight. A sight which I’m sure would be even more spectacular with a snow capped volcano in the background!
As we drive towards the volcano it starts to cloud over again. We are treated to small glimpses of the snow capped peak as we approach. Very small glimpses!
As we get closer it starts to drizzle, then a little further on, it starts to properly rain. By the time we reach the start point it’s pouring. Our guide starts layering up his waterproofs on top of lots of layers of warm clothes. I’m pleased we’ve got our layers on and we’ve remembered our rain macs. We follow suit and layer up. As soon as we get out of the car, I’m glad we did. It’s cold and it’s wet. It’s the sort of wet that slaps you hard in the face. The kind that soaks you in minutes.
We start to walk up the winding path. It’s a mix of black sand and small rocks. It’s quite hard to walk on. Your feet sink fairly deep into it and then it moves underfoot as you try to walk. It’s like walking on a really steep beach, with a strong side wind and rain lashing you in the face. We reach a split in the path and our guide asks us if we’d like to take the longer, easier route or the shorter, harder route. Obviously I want to take the easier path! It’s hard work walking on this. We make a start on the easier route and it weaves, winds and snakes its way up the volcano. Every time we head left the rain is hitting us square and hard in the face. When we head right it’s hitting our backs, right is much more bearable.
By about the third weave, we are drenched, well our legs are. The macs are just about holding up to the weather but the pessimist in me is not convinced they’ll cope the whole journey. By the fourth weave, it’s started to sleat. By the fifth weave, it’s started to hail. By the sixth weave my nose is running, my face is stinging and my hands are numb. By the seventh weave my trousers are so wet, they have started to drip into my waterproof shoes. By the eighth weave the mac gives up. (This feels pretty accurate but in all honesty my head was down, almost the whole time because you just couldn’t see. Whatever precipitation was happening, was happening directly into your eyes!)
We’ve been concentrating so much on how appalling the weather is, we’ve not noticed how high we are or how many people we’ve overtaken. We (me!) have overtaken people, uphill! We’re nearly at base camp 4864 metres (15,953 ft) above sea level.
It’s not been the most enjoyable of hikes and it’s not been anywhere near the hardest either. I think if the weather had been better it would have been a total breeze. The whole section before weather happened, all in our faces, was thoroughly enjoyable. We head in to the dry and grab a hot chocolate to warm us up. I head off to the loo which is back outside. Oh fun, now it’s snowing! The ladies toilet is locked and it’s freezing so I get back to the warm.
We get chatting with a Romanian guy from Transylvania. He’s a proper climber and is going to climb up to the crater. He started trying to head up yesterday but got hit by pretty bad altitude sickness, so spent a night at base camp to acclimatise. Surprisingly we both feel fine, not even a niggling head ache.
We finish up our hot chocolates and go to try the loo again. Still locked. I head into the men’s and Dave keeps a lookout for me. Men’s toilets are so disgusting!
We pop our wet jackets back on and start to head back down, the black sandy path.
It’s cold, we’re wet and the views are meh!
It’s starts to clear a little as we get lower but it’s still very cloudy. I bet this place is pretty special on a clear day, you’d be able to see for miles. I guess we’ll never know though!
We get back to the car and are relieved to be in the dry. It’s not snowing now, it’s just absolutely hammering down. Our guide drives us back to the hostel, we get our wet clothes off and have a shower to try and warm up. We decide the best thing for it is to sit by the fire and play some cards. The rest of the afternoon is whiled away this way.
We have another delicious meal at the hostel, one of my favourites from the whole trip so far! It’s pretty simple some fried, cheesy, mash potato cakes with a fried egg and some salad. Simple, satisfying, comfort food, just what the day calls for.
The next day we consider going horse riding but decide to give it a miss this time. It’s cloudy again but at least it’s not raining. A lazy day is in order and we have some life admin to take care of, so the day is spent lounging and making some onward plans.
So we visited the world’s second largest active volcano and could hardly see it. We climbed the world’s second largest active volcano and still couldn’t see it!
Here’s what we could have won…