(Warning: there may be an over-reference to altitude levels at times)
There they were, the Andes, stretching before us with volcanoes rising on both side. Some snow-capped, others actively spewing smoke, yet all magnificent or so we were told. It was rainy season once again and the fog had descended to the point we could barely see the road. However, the cool temperatures and availability of the mountains have made hiking a popular activity in Ecuador. So there was plenty of time for these magnificent buggers to show themselves to us.
First attempt: Volcano Cayambe, the highest peak on the equator and the only place with permanent snow cover along the equator line. To clarify, the attempt was never to reach the peak but the glacier itself, as the remainder of the climb would require some serious equipment or so I would like to imagine. Seniora Astrid did most of the hiking, but we came along for the ride.
The scenery was wild, dominated by large, thick grasses, high altitude cows and lichens, also clouds which would eventually deem our hike over. However, we would not be defeated so easily. We descended to 3400 meters (down from 4200m) and found a cow patch where we bundled in for the night with our new blankets.
The morning was cloudless and sunny. This was the day. We jumped back in the car and prepared for our ascent. We made it to 4600m in about an hour of hiking (actual hiking and ok it was only from 4200m). Once again the clouds or fog that kept us from seeing and climbing these wondrous mountains descended down to make for an eerie feel. With no one around except for the thin air that knocked my breath out with every step and the incoming blanket of whiteness that heightened my level of claustrophobia, the non sighting of the glacier came to a quick end.
Back at the car we consoled ourselves with a breakfast of champions which was originally planned after a rewarding sighting of the snow capped volcano. Still, it was delicious and it sure made the pretty cows stare at us in envy.
Luckily or unluckily Cotopaxi (another volcano we dreamed of seeing) was apparently closed. Months ago, it’s activity levels increased to call for a state of Emergency in the area and therefore there was no climbing to be done. But not far off there was another. This one with the attraction being the crater filled lake. First attempt at seeing the crater was once again disrupted with clouds (no surprises there). However, we spent the night by the crater (3800m) and made numerous trips to finally see it reveal itself.
We decided if there was ever a hike worth doing it was the one around the rim of this crater. I woke up early, with what felt like my skull squeezing out my brain. A five hour hike would not be on the agenda today. So with what felt like dejavu, we jumped in the van and descended to 2900 meters where my brain would slowly recover to it’s normal position.
We settled into the back of Llullu Lama hostel that was to be our home for a few days as we scheemed our return to the creator to complete the hike. Luckily for us this tiny town was surrounded by lots of hills that would be used to whip us in shape in the two days.
By the second day we were making our own trails as we bushwacked up hills only to end up at the very same spot we went the day before. So in two days we hiked the exact same hill. By the end Brett needed a spa day to relieve his toe pain. Then proceeded to eat 4 pieces of cake after dinner. I wondered whether Ella and I should be worried about Brett’s hunger cravings following the upcoming five hour hike.
I did not get to find out, as our plans changed, as fast as the weather on these mountains it seemed. We found ourselves in Banos rather than hiking the rim. Once again we were too late for the erupting volcano that a few days ago was spilling red, molten lava down its sides. But we settled in across from the volcano to wait until the fog cleared to see at least one of these mysterious creatures.
While I blogged away and Brett cooked up some home made tomatoe sauce to last us a week, the volcano probably showed itself numerous times, but we were busy.