SEVERE BLOG WARNING! Before you start reading the main content, go to the bathroom, get yourself something to drink (complimentary to the weather you are experiencing) and perhaps make up a bowl of popcorn or other preferred snack.
It was a banner weekend last week...Ron and I went on our first multiday excursion. Now you might think that we were temporarily insane (the thought did cross my mind) because we opted for a three day mountain biking tour of three "active" volcanoes. (FYI-active is a relative term, these things haven't fired up for a few hundred years.)
I had my reservations, most of my bike riding has been "civilized", meaning paved or groomed paths and roads. Sure I'd negotiated traffic, but I've never pointed myself down the slope of a mountain and thought "Hey, let's see how fast I can get down!". Okay, that wasn't really the point of the trip, but I could fee the lure of a certain sense of competitiveness, but I digress. We were invited on this little odyssey by some friends and our little group grew to 19 brave souls.
|Our bus ride buddies, but not the whole group.|
|First view of Chimburazo (the 3rd volcano)|
|Very old church combined style of Inca and Spanish|
|Main Plaza in Latacunga|
|Sunset in Latacunga|
|One of the many churches at night|
The parking lot is the highest point you can drive to on the volcano. It's at 4,600 meters or 15,091 feet. We were blessed with astoundingly good weather. It's unusual to be able to see the top of Cotopaxi, but as you can see, there it is in all its glory.
|The whole gang - finally in one shot|
|Lava flow field at the foot of Cotopaxi.|
|Traditional thatched hut nestled in the foothills.|
The weird thing was that the plume never really seemed to be moving. I always expected something like a loud BOOM and a rush of ash and cloud, but not so, at least from where we were. We completed an awesome paved road run, loaded ourselves onto the bus and headed for Quilotoa, a town on the edge of a likewise named volcano and crater lake.
|Hoodoos or arroyos carved by water over time|
|Sunset in Quilotoa the speck just above the middle is the moon.|
We stayed in a "hostal" just a short walk away from the lip of the crater on Quilotoa. The volcano isn't quite as high up as Cotopaxi, but is an impressive 3,914 meters (12,841 feet). The lake surface is another 300 or so meters down.
|Sunrise over the crater|
|The trail (lower right) is the easy part.|
We ate a fairly early breakfast (7 am) and headed down the steep trail on foot. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to hike down to the lake.
|The lake is green because of minerals|
|Looking up to the lip of the crater|
The wind was completely absent in the crater and, as you can see it was another beautiful day. The hike up takes considerably longer (1.5 to 2 hours) so we opted to hire a mule to get back up to the top.
|Ron didn't ask what his mules name was.|
|I'm sitting on Enrique - slightly gassy, a bit lazy, but he got the job done.|
|Our friend Carl, on Ismael, a mule unto himself.|
We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch and then grabbed the bus to take us to our next down hill stretch. (There was just enough time for some of our happy band of cyclists to grab a nap.) Our next leg was a 20km stretch of road that was mostly gravel. We were back on the washboards and switchbacks. This was the hardest stretch for me and my braking hand was so weak I had to take a break and ride in one of the Jeeps for a few kilometers. As always the views were stunning.
|Our end of day destination is in the back ground.|
We stopped a ways outside the town of Urbina, loaded up the bikes and drove to Riobamba, a town with little to recommend, but it did provide a fairly decent nights sleep. We got a bit of a later start, having breakfast at 7:30.
|Yes, we're the yellow hat club, a gift from one of our fellow cyclists.|
It took almost an hour and a half to drive to the first refuge station on Mount Chimburazo and we took a few photo ops along the way.
|I know, it looks fake, but it isn't - I swear!|
|Is it just me, or does he look a bit stoned?|
|The noble Alpaca - dignified in his fluffiness.|
|Above the clouds again!|
|Strapped in and ready to ride - Teddy had the time of his life!|
For the first time, I found that the ride ended much faster than I thought it would. (At least the first leg, as we headed down the mountain, once again enjoying switchbacks, washboards and loose rocks.) There's nothing like having a seat weary butt going rapidly over a deeply rutted road...and I mean that, you get a certain amount of pride from withstanding the jarring and it becomes almost pleasurable. I spent half the time doing the classic "ahhhhhhhh", just to hear my voice warble.
At the base of the hill we loaded up the bikes and headed to a quieter road, off the main highway. This was the longest leg of our trip, but happily (at least for me) it was a paved road. The trip started almost at the mouth of the Ambato river and would follow it all the way down to the town named after it. (Or vice versa.)
|Start of the Ambato River|
|Rolling hills of Central Ecuador|
|Stopping to see if the road is clear ahead due to construction.|
|Heart of the valley|
The final leg curled through the mountains, alongside the river and we could see the river slowly widen as we made our descent. The views were absolutely stunning - I know - I've overused that word, but how else can I describe it? At one point, we thought our trip might be cut short, as they are doing waterway improvements, but happily the road was opened and we got to enjoy the full ride.
When we arrived in Ambato, it was a jubilant and yet, strangely sad, moment. Our trip was over, we had made friends with our group and bonded with our guides and it was all coming to an end.
|Cesar, one of our intrepid Jeep drivers|
|Hiding his face is Angel, our bus driver|
|Patricio, our other Jeep driver|
The weather finally turned on the day we were returning to Cuenca, but we were blessed with mainly sunshine for the majority of our journey. On our way home, we stopped in a quaint little town called Alousi (Allow-sie) for lunch and this are the final pictures I'm going to inflict on you.
|Train that runs over the "Devil's Nose" or Nariz del Diablo|
|More incredible country side, just outside Alousi|
Thank you to all of our group, you made the trip extra special! That's it kids, thanks for sticking it through to the end. Hope to have more adventures from the centre of the earth soon!