We’ve been doing a lot more hiking in Ecuador. There’s a lot of natural beauty here, as there was in Colombia. But in Colombia, it took more effort to reach those places. Ecuador is smaller and more compact.
Along the Avenue of Volcanoes, the most visited one is Cotopaxi in Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, snowcapped and symmetrically-topped. The most popular day-hike is from the parking lot of the climbers’ refuge to the refuge itself.) It takes an hour to hike up those 100 or so meters, which sounds silly, but it’s at almost 4500 metres above sea level. Then you can hike up another 45 minutes to the snowline/glacier. (The climbers’ refuge is for actual mountain climbers who plan to reach the top of Cotopaxi, and usually start in the wee hours of the morning. There was a parked motorcycle at the refuge. I don’t know how, . . . or why)
In reality, sometimes it’s better to see a mountain’s beauty from afar, than to actually be climbing on it. We spent two nights at a albergue/auberge (“what’s an albergue?” Joe asked) called Hacienda los Mortiños near Cotopaxi. (Mortiños is blueberry.) It wasn’t really a hacienda in that it was only 2 years old, as opposed to some place where Simon Bolivar might have spent the night, but it was the nicest place we’ve stayed at on our trip so far.
It’s essentially a very large house with about 8 rooms, and a gigantic dining room/lounge with wrap-around windows looking out to Cotopaxi and the expanse of the surrounding hills. It feels like the end of the world: peaceful and serene, windy and slightly desolate, there’s nothing else around, and it’s an hour’s scenic drive from the nearest major town.
How nice was it?
1) It had bath mats to land on when you got out of the shower (because some of us don’t like to step on the cold bare tile floor with wet feet; I’m not naming names.) 95% of the places we’ve been staying at don’t have bath mats.
2) It had a hair dryer in the bathroom. 98% of the places we’ve been staying at don’t have hair dryers.
3) And each night after dinner, they filled up hot water bottles, slipped a terry cozy over each, and handed them out to each guest, wishing us good night. Because it was that cold, there’s no central heating, and no woodstoves in the bedrooms.
Joe had never encountered hot water bottles before. “What is this?” (I’d seen them before, but never had the need to use one.) And then, “They smell rubbery,” which is true.
I fantasized that someone in my circle of family/friends will get engaged, decide they want a small wedding with the view of a volcano in Ecuador, decide to get married at this hacienda . . . and invite us to the wedding.) No really, it’s beautifully done inside; I’m sure no one chooses a wedding location simply based on the availability of hair dryers and hot water bottles.*
I spent the afternoon of the first day just hanging out in the lounge staring out the window, since it there were a lot of clouds over Cotopaxi, as if the mountain were playing peek-a-boo. Poor Joe was staring at the laptop the entire time, editing photos. In the foreground, there are a few paddocks with llamas, alpacas and horses. Each time it seemed as if the clouds would clear, I would poke Joe “Look up!”; put on two layers of clothing (because it was very windy, and cold), and run out to the paddock to try and take a clear shot photo of Cotopaxi’s peak.
Somehow the area is also conducive to seeing full arcs of rainbows, from end to end, which I don’t think I’ve seen elsewhere. Even if this was not the area that was the fabled source of gold for the Incan empire – oh wait, that only applies to the Irish.
It turned out to be a good thing that we went did the climber’s refuge hike the second day, because it turned out to be clearer and sunnier than the first day, but then colder and windier.
I never realized how challenging/disagreeable it is to hike in strong winds, until now, because I’ve never hiked anywhere in such windy conditions before.
But then having stared longingly at Cotopaxi all day the previous day, the anticipation made me pretty happy when I finally got to hike up there, even if it was just for a short day hike. If you find yourself on an Avenue of Volcanoes, it stands to reason that you should hike on at least one of them. Then the rest of the volcanoes you can simply admire from the bus window!
*Wedding planners take note: There’s no wifi at the hacienda (this is the 1% of the places we’ve stayed at without wifi, but considering you come to get away from it all and enjoy natural beauty, that’s not a minus.) Also they don’t take credit card. We were slightly embarrassed, because we didn’t have enough cash for our bill, having underestimated the cost. The nearest ATM was an hour away. Another guest was in the same predicament. Fortunately when they gave us a ride back to town, they stopped by at the bank so we could withdraw some cash to pay the balance!