With over a month off before leaving for South America we probably should have had plenty of time to prepare but instead we spent evenings sipping pints with friends and burned days either in the mountains or wandering around outdoor stores without buying anything and pretending that this was somehow making us more prepared. So when the day finally came we were running around right up until the moment we had to leave for the airport. And then boom, 30 short hours and a few World Cup hockey games viewed in airport bars later, we were in Quito, Ecuador.
Quito was a cool big city with plenty of opportunities to feel like a complete gringo while walking around and checking out the colourful colonial buildings and trying to track down cheap empanadas and almuerzos completos with our toddler-level Spanish. Without a real plan of attack we ended up doing what any good traveller would do and headed to one of the biggest tourist draws around, Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world. Latitude 0° 0′ 0″ is conveniently marked by an enormous yellow line and a large monument with a museum inside which is super neat until you learn that the actual zero latitude line is 240m away and the equator is technically 5km wide. But hey, they already had our money so let’s run with it. Unbeknownst to us we showed up on the autumnal equinox so the town of Mitad del Mundo was the closest community to the sun that day. Neato!
That was about enough touristing for one day so that night we experienced the authentic act of piling 35 non-Spanish speaking people from our hostel into two busses and heading to a club to down fishbowls and dance to no more than 30 seconds of a song before DJ A.D.D. fired up the next track.
To kill a hangover we decided to haul our climbing gear out and check out an inner city crag only a short bus ride and walk away. The climbing was a bit lacklustre, was more like a few oversized boulders with an assortment of routes of slapped on them but the sun was out, the views of the city were stellar and only climbing 10m routes was probably the best thing for our current state.
The next day we put the big city in our rear view and caught a bus up to the rolling hills below the Cotopaxi volcano for a few days of hiking and a stay at the very chill and scenic Secret Garden hostel.
We had a solid group at the hostel, especially the volunteers running the joint, and the daily routine was unreal, so much so that we plan on coming back towards the end of our trip to volunteer for a few weeks. We knocked out two solid day hikes of Mt Rumiñahui and Pasochoa getting up to 4721m and 4200m, and lucked out with two clear days which apparently are far and few between.
Following Cotopaxi we headed downhill, dropping almost 1.5km of vertical over a 3 hour drive, to the town of Baños, sitting pretty amongst a network of rivers and lush green mountain sides. The town is completely catered to tourists, offering up adventure activities like rafting, zip lining and biking but it was in a beauty location and everything is within walking distance. We rented mountain bikes and got shuttled to the top of a nearby mountain to get views of the nearby volcano and then ride down the road. Apparently our good luck with weather had run out because the moment we loaded our bikes up onto a truck it started pissing rain. Nevertheless we rode on, looking like drowned rats as we biked the route along the highway checking out various waterfalls on our way to the big show, the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall.
The clear skies held through to the next day so we took advantage and heel toed our way over to the Parque Adventura San Martin to climb. The rock wall was located along the edges of the Pastaza river right where it chokes up and cuts through an ancient lava flow. The basalt rock was something else, almost as impressive as the two locals war crying their way through 7a+ (5.12) routes. Turns out there was only one route under 5.10 and only a few under 5.11 so we were a little limited in what we could climb but fortunately were able to top rope several routes after climbing easier ones next to them. Note to self: get better at climbing.
Well that’s more writing than I’ve done since university so I better cut it off here before I get tempted to do something crazy like pick up a book or dust off my calculator. Tomorrow we’ll get one more day of climbing in here and then we’re on the move again, off to do the Quilotoa Loop, a 3 day hike through the Andes finishing at a crater lake.
¡Hasta luego amigos!