A Travellerspoint blog

I Heart Baños... not the bathroom but the town :)

The Perfect Place to do Absolutely Nothing

After Danny and I got our asses kicked by Cotopaxi, we hauled ass out of Latacunga and made our way to Baños, a small touristy town located 2 hrs south of Latacunga. It is mostly known for its thermal baths and massages. It is also the place to be if you're into adventure sports. Here, there are endless tour operators selling packages for river rafting, cave diving, zip lining, and others. But seeing as how we were both completely exhausted after Cotopaxi, we spent 5 glorious days in Baños doing absolutely nothing (well, except for writing this blog).

The lazy days consisted of breakfasts on rooftop terrances, thermal baths, and deep tissue massages - ah the life! :)

DSC01824.jpg
The town square

DSC01799.jpg
Main street

DSC01787.jpg
Handmade taffy

DSC01775.jpg
Cafe where we wrote our blog

DSC01780.jpg
Pad Thai! Not as good as Thailand but it'll do for now :P

DSC01916.jpg
Relaxing on the rooftop patio of our hostel

Danny and I did end up doing one semi-active activity - we did a relatively quick 1-hour hike up to the Bellavista to get a view of the entire town of Baños. We were also delighted to be able to catch a glimpse of Volcan Tungurahua, an active volcano with major eruptions as recent as 2011. Eruptions in 2006 covered the town in ashfall and caused a temporary evacuation.

DSC01868.jpg
View from the top

DSC01888.jpg
View of Volcan Tungurahua

The hostel we were staying at had an awesome kitchen and dining area, where we cooked several of our dinners (we were both dying for some home cooked meals). It was during our cooking sessions that we met some of the nicest people. Thanks to Franzi and Robert for the amazing breakfast and awesome company! :)

DSC01914.jpg

Posted by TravellingFries 11:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Climbing Cotopaxi a.k.a Broke-my-back Mountain

When Christine and I first decided to travel to Ecuador, one of my must-see destinations was Cotopaxi (5897m / 19347ft). I was always intrigued by Cotopaxi because it's the 3rd highest active volcano in the world, and the mountain is basically a perfectly symmetrical formation. On a clear day you can see Cotopaxi rising above the Andean highlands in the distance from Quito. Since summitting Cotopaxi requires mountaineering gear and neither of us had any previous experience hiking in snow and ice, we only had plans to hike up to the glacier line (5000m / 16400ft).

After settling in Latacunga (about an hour and a half south of Quito) for a couple days and Christine had enough time to recover from summitting Volcan Rucu Pichincha, we decided on Sunday (11/11/12) to walk around town and check out the going rates for a 1-day tour to Cotopaxi. After speaking to a couple of tour agencies, we were told the hike to the summit was an "easy climb" and that all we needed to do was "walk very slowly." When we asked if any previous mountaineering experience was needed, they simply said "no". Because we were already in Ecuador (I mean when are we gonna come back to Ecuador again anyway?) and the climb was supposedly easy, we made a spontaneous but naive decision to do the 2-day summit tour.

The next morning we got our equipment and gear, and soon after headed to Cotopaxi with 2 other climbers (Bruno and Celine) and our 2 tour guides. After grabbing a quick lunch, we drove over to the parking lot. At this point we gathered our belongings and then hiked up to the refugio (4810m / 15780ft), where we spent the night before starting our trek at 12am. We ate dinner at 6pm and then tried to get a few hours of sleep before our 11pm wake-up call.

DSC01681.jpg

Alarm goes off, and I didn't get one minute of sleep, probably because of that nervous excitement I get sometimes. I got the same feeling the night before hiking Half Dome the first time many years ago. Or the night before I first hiked Mount Whitney a few years ago. All the expedition teams at the refugio got dressed ASAP before heading downstairs for breakfast. After eating some toast and yogurt, we made sure we were all packed and didn't forget anything.

Crampons....check
Ice axe...check
Headlamp...check
Energy bars...check
Water...check

At 12am sharp tour guide Johnny got Christine and me, and off we went. Bruno, Celine, and the other guide (I think his name is Jose, seriously) started a little before us. The hike up to the glacier line was pretty simple - a constant 45 degree incline, up a winding dirt path. The first hour went by smoothly. All tour groups marched up the dirt path in single file formation. This hike can't be too bad. I mean, all we need to do is to hike slowly and go at our own pace, right?

We arrived at the glacier line around 2am. At this point, Christine decided to head back to the refugio after feeling the effects of the altitude. Celine, who had started trekking on the glacier already, also decided to retreat to the refugio. Guide Johnny accompanied them back down the mountain, while Guide Jose led Bruno and me up the glacier.

DSC01743.jpg

I strapped on my crampons, and then the 3 of us got roped together - Jose, me, then Bruno. Come to think about it, I was strategically placed in 2nd position because Jose probably thought I would be the weakest link. Well, he couldn't be more right about that.

After cruising to the glacier line, within 10 minutes of hiking on the glacier, I began to get really tired. You know that kind of tired you get when you sprint uphill, stop, and then proceed to breathe really hard while you hunch over??? Yeah, that was me. Deep breath in, deep breath out. After a water break, I felt all good again. Wrong. Another 10 steps or so go by and I'm hunched over again, trying to catch my breath. Is hiking on snow and ice that much harder than on dirt? It must be that, as well as the damn altitude. At this moment I was at the highest altitude I had ever been. The summit of Half Dome measures in at 2693m (8835ft), Whitney at 4421m (14504ft), while the highest point on the classic, 4-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu was only 4205m (13796ft).

It's completely dark outside. The only thing I saw was my exhaled breath. Deep breath in, deep breath out, and more water. This pattern continued for awhile. I looked up at the sky and began to wonder how I got persuaded to do this in the first place. The $40 one-day tour would have been good enough. But now I'm $170 in the hole for the summit tour. Including Christine's share, that's $340! I can't possibly quit now.

On I went. Every 10 or so steps, I embarrassingly requested yet another break in my limited Spanish: "uno momento, per favore." Deep breath in, deep breath out, etc. My 10 pound backpack now felt like 30 pounds of dead weight. The 45 degree incline soon enough became 60+ degree inclines. Gasping for air and unable to maintain balance, I found out it was sometimes easier to crawl up those unforgiving inclines on all fours. When necessary, I would spike my ice axe into the snow to gain leverage. It was around this time when I realized I made another mistake. When I reached to get another swig of water , I discovered the water in the Camelbak tube was now completely frozen. Yeah, my dumb ass left the tube exposed in the frigid air, and when I needed water the most, I had nothing but a 2 liter block of ice. Bruno eventually offered me a bit of his Gatorade. Gatorade never tasted this good in my entire life.

The trail we're on now was only a foot, maybe foot and a half, wide. One misstep and a climber could easily find him/herself sliding down the mountainside, potentially dragging the next climber down and into a crevasse. Oh, did I just say crevasse??? Yeah, not once did any tour coordinator mention that. Christine and I got scammed before (damn those taxi drivers) but never this bad. We were completely misled.

Left foot. Right foot. Ice axe jab. On and on I went, dragging my beatened body up the mountain. Why didn't I just quit? Well, the money was one thing. The other reason? This whole time Bruno was just blazing up the mountain. If I could make a comparison, he was a sports car racing up a mountain in a one lane road but forced to stop because the car in front was dying. I, on the other hand, was a beat up truck in serious need of an oil change. If I had decided to throw in the towel, our guide would be forced to accompany both of us back down and therefore deprive Bruno of his chance to summit. I didn't want to be that guy. It just wouldn't be fair.

As this journey seemingly took forever, Bruno asked the guide how far we were from the summit. Jose indicated about 20 minutes. I looked up and miraculously saw the final incline to the top. As we approached the summit, I saw a guy taking pictures. That was the last bit of motivation I needed. I trudged to the top and without even taking a glance at the view, I collapsed on my back. Beatened and exhausted, I finally reached the summit.

DSC01728.jpgDSC01715.jpglarge_DSC01727.jpg

I originally planned on taking tons of pictures but I didn't care for that anymore. We ended up being the 2nd group to summit, taking around 5 and a half hours. Considering we were the last group to step foot on the glacier, I'm not sure how we passed several other groups. I guess I was too busy getting my ass kicked by Cotopaxi. If not for me, Bruno would easily have been the first to summit.

I had just finished the most physically and mentally demanding task in my life, and all I could think of was lying on the beach and doing nothing. Originally, I wanted to do a hike on Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador (6267m / 20561ft). Ugh, yeah, my plans couldn't have changed faster. Baños, thermal baths, and massages....here I come.

DSC01748.jpg

Posted by TravellingFries 22:33 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Summiting Rucu Pichincha!

...twice!

One of the main attractions in Quito is the Teleferico - the cable car that goes up Volcan Pichincha. It starts at a base of 2,950m/9,680 ft and reaches a height of 4,100m/13,451ft in 8-10 mins (Ecuadorian time, which was more like 20 mins real time). From here, you can get an entire view of Quito (on a clear day anyways). Most people usually grab a hot chocolate, take some pictures, enjoy the view and take the cable car back down. We (or rather Danny's idea again) on the other hand, thought it would be fun to hike to the summit. The hike was supposed to be a relatively easy 3 hr hike to the summit and 2 hrs back...that is if you don't get lost...

DSC01345.jpg
Base of the Teleferico

large_DSC01375.jpg
View of Quito from the top of the Teleferico

DSC01376.jpg
Destination - summit of Volcan Rucu Pichincha

My Version:
The hike started out relatively straight forward. The path was easy to follow with a gentle incline, and since we've been in Quito for a while now, the altitude didn't seem to be an issue. However, around the last hour mark, the clouds were coming in thick, and fast!

Me: "Um, should we keep going? It's getting pretty cloudy..."
Danny: "Oh ya, it's fine. No worries!"
Me: "Ummmm....are you sure we'll be able to find our way back?"
Danny: "Ya, no problem! Lets keep going."

270_DSC01401.jpg
Contemplating the journey ahead

DSC01422.jpg
Note the clouds rolling in

270_DSC01438.jpg90_DSC01439.jpg
Of course, wasting energy taking jumping shots

90_DSC01447.jpg
...and the journey continues

270_DSC01458.jpg
...and continues

...and so we trekked on. At this point, we were practically hiking through the clouds, and could not see more than 10-15 feet in front of us. We finally reached the final sign indicating that the summit was not far. Here we bumped into a group of Australians that were coming back down from the summit and told us it was SOOO worth it and that it was only another 10 mins or so. We took this as a positive sign and proceeded to climb up the last but most technically difficult bit to the summit. After some scrambling/climbing, we finally reached the top. The summit of Volcan Rucu Pichincha!! A whopping 4,696m in elevation, the highest we've ever been. We took several photos (of the sign only because there was so much cloud cover that we couldn't see the city below), and rested for a while before starting the trek back down.

270_DSC01476.jpg
The summit of Volcan Rucu Pichincha!

We decided to try taking a new path down, thinking this path seemed a little more used so it would be easier than the climb up (HUGE mistake!). As we trekked/slid/climbed down for an hour, the path, which seemed so obvious before, suddenly disappeared and we found ourselves at the edge of a cliff. Which way now?!? Panic strikes. Oh shit, we are lost. At this point, I was literally exhausted and completely freaked out. We were lost on a freaking volcano in Ecuador! The three of us (Danny, me and Mircea, another hiker we bumped into on the way up) weighed our options and decided to retrace our steps, go back up the mountain to the summit, and try again. Yes I was exhausted and yes I was freaked out, but at this point, what really can I do but suck it up and keep going? I sure as hell wasn't planning on spending the night on the mountain! Slowly we climbed back up the mountain and reached the summit (again). This time, we retraced our original path and started our descent for the second time. After what seemed like hours, we finally found The Sign!

DSC01502.jpg
The Sign!

From this point on, the path down was more obvious. We slowly made our way down, making sure to keep to the path. Around 6pm, we finally arrived back at the cable cars. What was supposingly an easy 5 hr hike took us 8 hrs! But I wasn't complaining, I was just glad to be back on flat ground. All in all, I had an awesome time (ok, maybe except for the 2 hrs where I thought we would die on the mountain haha) - this was definitely an experience I will remember for a long looooong time.

DSC01510.jpg 270_DSC01511.jpg
Descent down

Many many thanks to Mircea for his help in getting off the mountain!! :)

Danny's Version:
Awesome hike, can't wait to hike Cotopaxi!

DSC01538.jpg
View of Quito from the cable car going down, taken by Danny (who was obviously the only one still in the mood for pictures lol)

Posted by TravellingFries 22:43 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

La Mitad del Mundo: the Middle of the World

On and around the equator

Immediately after our trip to Otavalo, Christine and I went to the Mitad del Mundo: the Middle of the World. This is the place where French Explorer Charles-Marie de La Condamine calculated and determined the equatorial line to be. In 1936 a monument was erected to commemorate this spot. The original monument was then replaced with the current monument in 1982. However, with the help of GPS technology the equatorial line is actually 240 meters north of the Mitad del Mundo monument.

270_DSC00983.jpg
Always meeting in the middle

270_DSC01008.jpg
Where the northern and southern hemispheres meet

DSC01029.jpgDSC01030.jpgDSC01031.jpgDSC01051.jpgDSC01053.jpgDSC01063.jpgDSC01078.jpg
Killing time inside the museum while it rained outside

DSC01121.jpg
Giant beetle trying to escape the 9 to 5

270_DSC01140.jpg
Penis fish typically found in the Amazon river. It is not advised to pee while in the water as you might get an unpleasant surprise

DSC01160.jpg
Balancing an egg on a nail aligned on the equator

DSC01154.jpg
On the real equator line!

Posted by TravellingFries 23:23 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

The Stunning Cuicocha Lake

Hiking the crater lake

As part of the side trip to Otavalo from Quito, Danny and I visited Cuicocha Lake (which was less than an hour from Otavalo). We were told to take a bus towards Cotacachi Village, get off at Quiroga and then take a taxi to the Lake. Apparently in Ecuador, a taxi does not necessarily mean inside a car. In this particular case, it meant riding in the back of an open truck. Danny was having the time of his life, while I was trying hard to keep my breakfast down :s

DSC00761.jpg DSC00755.jpg
Danny: "Isn't this awesome?!?"
Me *nervous smile*: "Um yea...so awesome"

The crater lake is 3km wide and 148 meters deep, located at the foot of Cotocachi Volcano. In the middle of the lake are 2 forested islands: Yerovi and Teodoro Wolf. The water is highly alkaline and contains very little life.

Once at the Lake, there is the option of hiking around/parts of the crater or simply staying at the bottom and renting a boat out to the islands. Of course, we (and by we, I mean Danny) thought it would be fun to hike the entire crater. After negotiating a time with the taxi/truck driver to pick us up, we started the hike. The entire hike was only about 20 kms but took us 5 hrs (because let's face it, I'm not the speediest hiker). I started out strong, but 10 mins into the hike, I was already exhausted haha.

DSC00865.jpg
Going strong....

DSC00822.jpg
...10 mins later haha

However, I sucked it up, and trekked on. The view at the top of the crater was definitely worth the effort in getting there - the views were amazing!

DSC00856.jpg
Us and the mountains nearby

DSC00876.jpg
Us and the lake

DSC00862.jpg
Clouds sitting on volcano

large_DSC00911.jpg
Panoramic view

Seeing as how it was almost time to meet our taxi/truck driver, we picked up the pace (well, I picked up the pace, Danny just went on as per normal) so we would not miss our ride back. As we were half running/half speed walking back to the meeting point, a bus full of Germans were kind enough to stop and offer us a ride back. We got dropped off with 2 mins to spare! Unfortunately, our taxi/truck driver did not share our view in keeping promises and never showed up (and to think we declined a free ride back into town just to keep our word). Luckily, we were able to grab another taxi and headed back into town.

Posted by TravellingFries 13:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 23) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »