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.
Our first morning at the Inn was bright and clear – fantastic. We went for an amazing walk to the top of the ridge behind the Inn. Past the llamas, and a donkey, up some narrow goat tracks to reach the top. The outing was a bit more exciting than expected though. We had been warned that you need to take a ‘dog stick’ to scare off any over-excited farm dogs that like barking at passing traffic. Unfortunately on top of the ridge we had a rather aggressive one, who turned out to be the leader of a pack of four – which had us waving our sticks and walking away in a determined manner – and kind of spoiled the ‘nice walk in the country’ ambience. But plenty of relaxing in lovely surroundings in the afternoon so it was easy to get back to a more ‘tranquilo’ state.
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.
A post from Not Your Average American alerted M to a different part of Centro Histórico for us to explore. San Marco is near the old centre but has a very different feel as there are still many people living in the area, and businesses are very low key. Many of the houses in Junin Street had tiles with photos of previous inhabitants and some words about their lives. Predictably, M found un bar de cerveza artesenal, Sirka, for us to visit while we were exploring. Sirka is a great location to visit for beers, food (we only tried the hommus, but that was good) and quirky artwork.
La Mitad del Mundo is part historic locale, part geographical must go, part kitchy tourist trap. You definitely have to visit if you are in Quito. It is well documented by various killjoys that the site is not quite actually the true equator, which is 240m north of the yellow line – but who cares! Although, I was a bit sad to discover that the whole thing of water moving in opposite directions depending on what side of the equator you’re on is (for small scale operations) bollocks. Since our guide book was published, it seems that there are a number of additional venues besides the Equatorial monument, museum, and pseudo (souvenir shop) village to explore. One of these additions, in the building labelled ‘Francia’, is a museum explaining the history of the scientific expeditions which led to the identification of the equator and proof of the theory that the world bulges in the middle, and not at the poles.
If you’re there at lunchtime I recommend selecting one of the cafes that looks towards the monument, and enjoy watching people’s photo setups incorporating the equatorial line.
On Sunday mornings in Quito, a long stretch of road is closed to cars, and cyclists get to rule. Last Sunday we headed out in search of bikes to join in. However, we had forgotten there was a big fun run on, ending at Parque Carolina, so the usual Sunday bike trail was not available. We decided to walk on to Carolina to see what was happening anyway, and discovered that Ave Amazonas was closed and cyclists were out in force, along with roller bladers and a few walkers. We hired some rattlers ($3 p/h) after leaving a passport as insurance. The price turned out to be a bit high as M’s bike blew a tire (as well as getting a tube puncture) about 40 minutes into our ride. A nearby bike mechanic fixed the tube (3 minutes, $1.25) but kindly pointed out that the tire itself was stuffed. A short while later as predicted the tire popped again so we were back with our feet on the ground a little sooner than we had hoped. It was great being on a bike though and seeing so many others getting into it. And being offered bike pumps by helpful locals. Hopefully we will get to try the Quito riding experience again someday.
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.
One of the lovely things about being in a holiday destination for an extended time is that you have the luxury of doing ‘normal’ things – like going for a walk without a particular tourist must-see in mind. We took a stroll down to Guápulo park, which has one of the steepest paths I’ve been on in a city park. It was kind of like home with all the eucalpts, flowering callistemon and wattle trees. But not really. I am enjoying surprising Ecuadorians by telling them that eucalypts are ‘de Australia.’
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.