Ecuador 2004 – part 3. We enter high altitude Cotopaxi Park through the back way driving between several alternative tracks, and are flagged down by anxious wardens who make us purchase tickets. We stop to walk round a glacial lagoon, Limpiopungo donning waterproof coats, trousers and hats, and catch a fantastic view of a young predator: a caracara which fearlessly poses for us for several minutes.
The lake surrounds are flat, the land sparse and stony with the occasional big boulder flung out at the last eruption. We pass some wild horses, then leave the Park via the main gate and stop at an ornate Hacienda for lunch. An attractive place, the driveway flanked by 100 year-old gum trees with enormous trunks, some perilously leaning against others. A crowded patio with a noisy pipe and drum band entertains us as we dine, looking onto a garden courtyard. To one side a chapel exudes an aura of peace and quiet.
Down the mountain side we drive, through sleazy civilisation. Houses with flat roofs, some tin; many in varying stages of erection. Plastic and bottles and rubbish everywhere. The “mastizos” are an attractive people (Inca-Spanish mix).
Into Saquisili and another half hour walk with Diego guiding us through three different markets. The produce is much the same as in Kenya, but the markets more varied as herbs, spices, vegetables, fruit, meat and clothes are all offered. Filthy floors, people everywhere, even though a brief cloudburst causes many buyers to leave early. A couple of our party happily snap pictures of the market scenes, but I watch the faces of those photographed and am glad I have only taken one picture of Diego’s friend, the spice lady, with her permission.
Another lengthy bus ride southwards and a visit to Diego’s family home – an impressive new abode in an upper middle-class area – to collect 90 pairs of gumboots; more of that anon. A diversion to Potate because Banos is off limits to Brits in case Mt. Tungurahua erupts. We arrive at sunset at our lodge in the depths of a valley surrounded by maize and pile out of the bus to view the volcano, vapour rising into a high pink cloud. What a sight. Accommodation is fantastic. Zara and I have a bedroom each in our cottage! Corn-on-the-cob and cheese, then pork chops for supper.
I am up early to spot more birds, and then we head for the tourist town of Banos in the shadow of Mt. Tungurahua, stopping for a picnic. Diego shows us a sugar cane market stall and we sample the drink. I buy guava cheese which enhances my lunch. We drive steadily downhill to a lookout point and ride a cable car swung across a river and for a fun dollar. Then a more serious walk into the canyon to view Pailon del Diablo waterfall from a swing bridge in the spray. A refreshing drink, Tabaco, at a café where I buy a painting of an orchid done by Diego’s girlfriend. The trudge back up to the bus makes me puff and sweat.
Down and down past the cloud forest and into the rain forest, stopping to spot birds; in Puya I buy balsa wood trinkets. The road is rough and stony but we make good speed and arrive at Misahualii (800ft above sea level) before dark. Lovely humid weather, and it feels just like home as I look out at the bougainvillea. We’re here in the jungle for three nights, thank goodness.
PS Has anyone spotted an anomaly in these Ecuador blogs? Comment if you have!