Visiting the Quilotoa crater from Black Sheep Inn was an easy 45 minute jeep ride. Once at Quilotoa the views were spectacular. We had been thinking we would walk to a neighbouring town Guayama, but decided on the day to take a good look round the crater instead. We walked part way round the ridge and then did the descent. It was pretty steep but the views were amazing.
I hadn’t really thought about the drive from Quito to Black Sheep Inn, just that it was going to take about three to four hours. So the fabulous scenery on the trip to the Central Highlands was a bonus. Complete with Ecuadorian music and then disco hits of the 70s as the soundtrack. Good driving music in anyone’s language, obviously. And our driver was a local which was handy – it was a pretty windy road as we got closer to Chugchilán, and in a couple of places landslides had rendered the road one lane. After stunning mountain views the last 30 minutes of the trip was slow as visibility was minimal due to the afternoon cloud rolling in.
Our first introduction to Ecuador’s most famous artist was quite fitting for this post-postmodern world – great t-shirts. Although we didn’t realise until later, the fabulous images were the work of Oswaldo Guayasamin. In Quito you can visit Capilla del Hombre, which is Guayasamin’s home / studio, and a chapel he designed to pay hommage to humankind. This is a wonderful location to visit, not only to view his art but also see his art collection (pre-Columbian, colonial and the work of international artists like Picasso, Goya and Chagal) and his house, with great views across the city.
I was interested to read a blog article about some research from the US Foreign Service Institute, which suggests that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in a ‘Group 1’ language – like Spanish. Still got a long way to go but most days it’s fun trying.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Quito has many, many interesting sounding museums and art galleries. One that had been recommended in the guide book, and personally, was the Museo de Arte Colonial in Centro Histórico. If you’re interested in religious art and religious influences on colonial history, you will like this museo, especially the upstairs rooms. I was especially impressed by the escritorios (writing desks) on display, so detailed and beautiful. The building, another old but renovated colonial house, is a lovely setting. Downstairs there was an interesting exhibition about the art school that used to be based there ( I think – no English translations were available). And on the day we visited there was no charge.
Waking up to a spectacularly clear day, we decided it was the day for a ride up the mountain in the Teleferico (cable car). We had glimpses of Cotopaxi on the way up, at around 10 am, and a clear view of the mountains to the north. At the top it was relatively tourist free, very tranquillo and beautiful. Three hours are recommended for a walk to the very top – so we aimed instead for a gentle amble on some of the trails closer to the Teleferico. Having been in Quito for a while now we didn’t find the altitude too limiting, although few people around us were puffing as they walked about. For extreme cases there is a handy oxygen bar in the main building next to the Teleferico arrival point.
We took the opportunity to go on an excursion to an archeological site within the city of Quito, Rumipamba. The site is still being excavated and part of the park was closed due to ongoing work. As with many such sites, you can’t actually see the richness of the finds. The interpretive centre helps identify the importance of the area for the non-expert (ie me). We are talking finds from 1500 BC. There are some reconstructed huts that give the flavour of the kinds of dwellings found here centuries ago. But I wonder – why did the population keep on returning when volcanic eruptions kept destroying their villages?
The place has wonderful views of Quito, today very tranquillo: and we saw a few hummingbirds as well – one with a spectacularly long tail. (M says it was a black tailed trainbearer).
Quito has a lot of museums. We recently picked up a map that identified 72 different locations – that’s a whole lot of culture. We’ve been to a couple so far but one of my favourites is the one we visited most recently – The Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Located in a renovated colonial house, it has an amazing collection of art collated in themes, with information boards in Spanish and English. Entry includes an audio tour – not all items have audio information but enough to be useful. Fascinating and beautiful. I also discovered they also have an amazing website with detailed information about their collection. (Check out the Google Project on their website). And it’s in the same street as some piñata shops, which are pretty cool. I never realised there was such a thing as a piñata shop.
On Saturday we journeyed to Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador and a great day trip from Quito. Our minibus took about 90 minutes to get to the park entrance, where you can stop for ten minutes to help you acclimatise to the altitude. And where you can buy some extra layers if you haven’t worn enough clothes. It was 12 degrees in the car park but we’d seen the forecast the day before predicting minus 4 degrees at the summit, so we were prepared. We picked up our local guide as we entered the park. Our first stop was the visitor’s centre a little further along the entrance road, which had some information about the volcano, a garden with local flora and a great look out spot.
Plenty of mountains and volcanoes to see on the way
We passed through some interesting terrain on the way to our next stop, a starting point for the track to Refugio San José Ribas, the first level of climbing Cotopaxi. The volcano was shrouded in cloud, although we did get glimpses of the snow higher up the peak. Walking from the car park it took us around 45 minutes to reach the Refugio, at 4,864 metres above sea level. The volcanic terrain is bleak but fascinating. Our party included a seismologist in the midst of a PhD. Great, it must be safe… no, her research was showing that Ecuador is overdue for activity, and she was a bit nervous. Ummm… There are a number of tracks from the Refugio car park, one which heads directly and steeply up. Luckily our guide took us on the longer, winding track, which meant it was easier to stop to catch your breath and take a photo or two when the cloud cleared. By the time we reached the Refugio, it was starting to snow.
We used the fast track on the return leg – which took about 10 to 15 minutes.