Monday, January 14, 2008

Ecuador 2008 Part 2

Thursday morning we headed out from Quito. Took a taxi to the bus terminal with a certain amount of confusion over which bus terminal and which part of the bus terminal. But the taxi driver took us inside and handed us over to someone else who eventually led us to our bus. We got on and the bus left a few minutes later. Maybe it´s just coincidence but that has been the pattern for every bus ride - they seem to leave as soon as we get on. Maybe because there are frequent buses and they are directing us to the next one to leave.

We took the bus to Machachi for 75 cents each, spending the first 30 minutes of the 45 minute ride just getting out of Quito. Our climbing guidebook said we had to walk down the street to transfer to the bus to El Chaupi, but the bus dropped us off immediately behind the next bus so it was an easy transfer. It was 50 cents each for the bus ride to El Chaupi, where, as the guidebook said, there were ¨taxis¨waiting. Actually, pick up trucks - more suitable vehicles for the rough roads out here. This was the most expensive part of the trip - $2 to go the last few kilometers to Hacienda San Jose El Chaupi.

We had tried, with the hotels help, to phone ahead and book at the hacienda but we weren´t sure it it had worked. Probably not, since there was no one around except for three exceptionally friendly and dirty dogs. We wandered around the farm giving strokes and belly rubs to the dogs and meeting the pigs, sheep, chickens, cows, and ducks. We finally met Juan, the caretaker who waved us inside the hacienda but didn´t speak any English so we weren´t sure what was up. We hung out and finally started cooking our supper in the kitchen. At this point two more climbers showed up and Juan appeared with a cell phone with Rodrigo, the owner, on the line. He told us to make ourselves at home and he would come in the morning to make us breakfast and then drive us up to the start of the trail into the Ilinizas.

Rodrigo showed up to make us a great breakfast of eggs, bread, jam, tea, coffee, juice, and fresh milk from the farm. After breakfast he drove us up to the end of the road at La Virgin. (There are a surprising number of virgins here!)

The end of the road is about 4000m. (The hacienda is at about 3450m.) There is a hut at 4600m but that is quite a big jump from the hacienda so we camped at about 4400m, at the bottom of the N.E. face route. A descending guide told us it was "too hard" to go up the N.E. face, that it is a descent route, but it didn't look too bad to us.

Shelley even ate supper - a good sign. (Appetite is one of the first things you lose at altitude.) We set our alarms for 4am and got away about 5:30 under mostly clear skies. At breakfast Shelley said she figured she'd be puking sooner or later but I hoped this was the usual altitude plus godawful early morning rather than altitude. I was optimistic when she set a blistering pace for the first few hours of about 300m vertical per hour. That may not sound like much but up this high it's a good pace. [Shelley: The reason I was setting a fast pace wasn't because I was feeling good, it was in hopes of reaching the summit before puking!]

We reached the ridge line after about two hours and joined the normal route. It was still early and the tracks in the snow were pretty frozen and icy. The last 100m of scrambling (5.3 according to the guidebook) made me a little nervous because it was quite icy and we didn't have crampons, just ice axes. But we made the summit (about 5100m) by about 8:30 am.

This was luckily the clearest day we'd had yet and we got good views of Cotapaxi (second highest mountain in Ecuador) across the valley.

Unfortunately, Shelley's breakfast prediction came true and just below the summit on the way down she vomited up her breakfast. So much for my wishful thinking that this time she'd be ok at altitude.

On the positive side, the N.E. face is a quick descent route an once we were past the icy scrambling at the top we descended quickly. Back at our camp we relaxed for a bit. It was pretty obvious Shelley wasn't going to be up for the higher and more difficult South peak the next day so we decided to go down and catch a ride with Rodrigo who was picking up some other people at 3pm.

Unfortunately, although we got down about 2:30, we missed Rodrigo. We put up our tent, expecting to have to spend the night at the end of the road, but a German couple came down and gave us a ride to El Chaupi where we got a taxi back to the hacienda. There was no one around but eventually we found Juan (the caretaker) and he let us in.

As the saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay". Obviously, with Shelley's altitude issues we weren't going to be able to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo as planned. We decided we'd go to Riobamba for a few days and then come back and climb a few of the lower peaks like Corazon and Ruminahui.

So the next morning, after another great breakfast, Rodrigo drove us down to El Chaupi where we took several buses to Riobamba where we checked into Hotel El Estacion (Station Hotel) that Rodrigo has recommended. It was $24 per night including breakfast and well worth it.

Just as we arrived a parade passed by - very colorful. Later in the day another parade went by the coffee shop where we were sitting. Sunday must be parade day.

That night we ate at El Delirio in a building where Simon Bolivar (the "liberator" of Ecuador) had written a poem to Chimborazo. We had a great meal and the restaurant was delightful with a tiny courtyard full of plants and a giant tree, and the interior decorated with local arts and crafts.

The next day we wandered around Riobamba. It doesn't seem to be a very touristy town. The few tourists we did meet seemed to be the hard-core, traveling for a year types.

On the 15th we took the bus to Banos. Originally we thought we couldn't go the Banos because the nearby volcano, Tungarahui, was erupting and they were evacuating. But things seemed to have settled down so we decided to visit for the day. Banos is an interesting little town, definitely touristy, but with a "hippie" flavor. We at lunch at a place called "The Hood" ("where the food is good"), at a table under a large mural of Ganesh (the Hindu elephant god).

We spent most of our time in Banos at the Eco-Zoo. Most of the time we were there we were the only visitors - it was nice to have the place to ourselves. One of the highlights was the escaped monkeys. We weren't sure if the zoo staff knew the monkeys were on the loose. The monkeys were delightful and very friendly. One of them followed us around and kept trying to climb up our pant legs and jump onto our shoulders and heads!

From Banos it should have been a simple bus ride back to El Chaupi. Unfortunately, our plans got derailed once more. Just about when we reached El Chaupi there was a big accident on the highway and we ended up sitting in the bus, stalled in traffic for over 2 hours. And then when we did get moving, the driver forgot to stop for us and we didn't realize till too late. So we ended up back in Quito instead of at the hacienda (where we had left our climbing gear). It ended up being a 6 hour bus trip instead of 3. Luckily the Patio Andaluz had a room and they even gave us the same rate as we'd got from the internet.

So much for our plans to climb a bit more around El Chaupi. We wanted to be back in Quito on Thurs. so that Fri. we could go north to Otavalo to see the big Sat. market. By the time we got back to El Chaupi we would have just had to turn around and come back. We managed to contact Rodrigo and he kindly brought our climbing gear back to Quito for us.

Wed. we wandered around town, confirmed our Galapagos trip and went to the Vivarium (small zoo in Carolina Park). But we would have rather been out in the mountains.

Thurs. we took the Teleferico up to 4000m from Quito at about 3000m. From there we hiked up Rucu Pichincha, about 4700m high. It was a good hike with a bit of scrambling near the top. The weather was a little better than it has been - we actually got a bit of sun - but for much of the time we were buried inside clouds. Shelley felt a little queasy by the top but felt better by the time we descended.

Today (Friday) we're taking the bus to Otavalo for the Saturday market and hopefully to do a little climbing around there.


  1. Wow! Sounds/Looks like a great place to visit.

  2. Anonymous5:39 PM

    nice.. :-)