Does Cotapaxi actually exist?
Another long bus ride to go, this time to Latacunga. Objective – to see Cotopaxi, the volcano that eluded us on our last trip because of bad weather.
Our bus, were assured, would take 8 hours and would drop us, not in the bus station, but on the Panamerican Highway. Not a problem we thought, as we remembered from our last visit that the highway went right through the town and the bus station was right on said highway in the centre. Not anymore!
After around 10 hours, we are dumped on the new bypass about 7 kms outside of town. In fact, we were lucky to get off the bus at all. We weren’t expecting the stop and by the time the driver had shouted “Latacunga!” people were piling onto the bus and we had to literally fight our way through the incoming masses as the driver was pulling away.
So far I am not feeling the love for the Ecuadorian travelling public much on this trip! Still it all goes towards fulfilling our ambition of travelling the length of the Panamerican Highway through South and Central America (seems a shame not to as after someone took so much trouble joining it all up!)
On the highway there was single taxi driver waiting on the highway who, naturally enough, spotting a couple of gringos, held us to ransom and wanted an outrageous $5 for the $1.50 trip into town! We managed to get him down to $4 – either that or walk!
At breakfast the next day we met Enrique, the owner of the hotel. He on taking us up to the roof for our very first glimpse of Cotopaxi and the other famous peaks The Illnizas – it does exist after all!
A really helpful guy, he sorted us out with a guide for Cotapaxi. Well sort of. It was first a group tour, then it wasn’t, then it was a private guide at 09.00 and then it wasn’t. All very confusing.
Eventually, Patrio, our Spanish speaking guide arrived in his 4×4 at 10.00 to whisk us off to Cotopaxi – just as the previous clear blue skies were starting to be replaces with ominous looking grey clouds!
We had intended to hike to the refuge which is the starting point for the climb to the summit, but since the eruption last year, it is still off limits.
Instead, Patrio took us to Laguna Limpiopungo for a gentle walk around the lake. It is a pleasant amble of an hour or two through paramo type landscape with lots of wildfowl and other birds, wild flowers. I also caught a glimpse of something that resembled a giant rabbit with a squirrels bushy tail. I mentioned what I had seen to a couple of guides standing around and they assured me it was variously, a fox, a rabbit or a chinchilla. I insisted it was none of these but they, either a) didn’t know, or b) thought I was mad and seeing things! Maybe I was. Anyway it was too quick for me to take a photo so no proof exists.
The laguna is a very pretty place, even in the midst of the thunderstorm that started just as we arrived. Through the rain and cloud we did get some great views of Cotopaxi – although the thunder and lighting made it feel as though it was about to erupt again!
After walking around the lake for an hour or so, the weather started to clear as we headed back to Latacunga via some small villages and farms. All very scenic and as we stopped at a few points along the way, the weather cleared and, looking back we were rewarded with some uninterrupted views of Cotopaxi and the other famous peaks, The Ilnizas. Patrio also took us to a giant graffiti inscribed rock which apparently had flown the 10 kms or so from a previous eruption of the mighty volcano. Amazing really as it was the size of a small house.
The tour was good value at $30 pp – Spanish only, but it provided us with a much needed opportunity to practice our language skills.
Back at the hotel we got chatting with Enrique the owner about our plans to get to our next stop of Otavalo via Quito. He told us we were mad to do it that way and suggested we go back to the highway and pick up the direct bus to Otavalo from there, saving ourselves the 2-3 hour trek across Quito from the southern to the northern bus terminal.
In the end, that was exactly what we did and Enrique and his wife were kind enough to give a ride to the highway in their car. Service above and beyond and yet another bus ride on the Panamerican Highway..