Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Cotopaxi: Above the clouds

At 2,850 metres above sea level, Quito is the second highest national capital in the world. The highest is La Paz, Bolivia.

Today we were heading to Cotopaxi National Park which is a volcano in a protected area about 50km away from Quito. 

Cotopaxi is the world’s second highest active volcano. It’s last huge eruption was in 1877 but it did show some activity in 2015.

We caught our tour bus at 6:30am. The bus drove us higher and higher into the mountains.

We stopped for breakfast in a small town. An adorable baby lama was grazing on the front lawn of the family restaurant.

I bought an alpaca hat, socks, gloves and shawl from the owner. So soft.

We have a really nice group of six from Germany, England, Netherlands and of course us.

After breakfast we returned to the bus and continued to climb higher into the Andes.

Soon after entering Cotopaxi National Park, we passed herds of wild horses. As our bus continued to climb, the road became bumpier. The bus parked at 4,600 metres and we began to climb to the refuge building which was at 4,864 metres (15,953 feet).

I was really happy to have my hiking poles with me. We were in the clouds. There were two paths you could take, one straight up or an easier but longer path that zig zagged itself along the scree. We all took that path. Poor Sabrina (one of our fellow travellers), who was suffering from the flu fell far behind. I was also behind. The higher I got, the more breathless I got and I was starting to get a headache. Halfway up the slope, I saw Sabrina, far below me, turn around and head back towards the bus. 

I continued a bit but by this time it felt like my heart was going to explode so I also turned around. Meanwhile John, our guide Ali, Mathilda (England), Michael (Germany) and James (Netherlands) were way ahead.

Back at the bus, Sabrina and I had some ginger and lemongrass tea and then I went to sleep... I woke myself up a couple times when I let out a snore.

I’ll let John describe the rest of the hike up: Although the refuge was only 284 metres higher in elevation  than where the bus stopped the zig zag trail was 1.5 km and it took us about 1.5 hours to hike just that 1.5 km. I could really feel the lack of oxygen and had to rest every 25-50 metres as I was gasping for air. The views were spectacular with clouds both below and above us. We made it to the refuge where I had some cocoa tea. Mathilda remained at the refuge while the rest of us climbed further up an even steeper and more difficult trail to the glacier. I thought my lungs were going to explode and every step was arduous but I made it to the end of the trail at 5,040 metres (16,535 feet) where the ice and snow began.  Beyond this point you need to have special equipment and be properly acclimated to go to the top at 5,897 metres (19,347 feet). 

Back to me again: John returned to the bus fully expecting that I had spent my time eating all our snacks...really. I only ate half the snacks. I still had a dull headache.

The bus drove us further down the mountain to where the road became less bumpy and steep. Four of us and our guide got out to bike down the rest of the way while the bus travelled slowly behind.

I attached my action camera to my helmet. I still haven’t seen the footage, but am glad that according to reviews, the waterproof case muffled the language wasn’t the best. I was the slowest biker. John, James and Mathilda were way ahead. My glasses were falling down my nose and every time I hit a bump, my head felt like it was going to explode. When it started to rain, I stopped and got back on the bus. 

Mathilda and our guide got back on the bus when it started to hail. They said it really hurt when the hail hit them.

John and James were still out biking in the rain, hail and lightening but they made it to the end of the bike trip at a lagoon where another herd of horses were grazing in the rain.

My headache was getting worse. On the way back to Quito, we stopped at the same family restaurant for a late lunch. We had a delicious zucchini soup, stuffed chicken, a patty of mashed potato, yucca and cheese and a pasta salad followed by a chocolate cake dessert. I finished the soup and had a bit of everything else but couldn’t finish because of my headache and a slight feeling of nausea. John was fine.

The bus couldn’t get back to Quito quick enough for me. We went back to our hostel where I took two Tylenol and went straight to bed at 5:30pm.

I woke up at 4:30am feeling back to normal.

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