Week 31 - Volcano Hunting!
We all (Steve, Kelvin and I) begrudgingly met up at 7am outside Moto Hell, with the alarm going off at 5.45am to ensure we made it in time for the start of Festival of La Mama Negra. We just took the PanAmerican highway all the way South to Latacunga, making it there for 8.45am. On route we stopped for a couple of pictures of Cotopaxi as the sky was clear blue and we could also see the peaks of Chimborazo in the distance. It was stunning!
We got to the hostal, met Elsebie and Michnus, changed and headed in the direction of all the action in Latacunga. We needent have rushed...I don't think the parade started until about 11.30am, but we managed to get some front row seats, have breakfast and catch up. Then, the sounds began and the parade had started. I'm not sure I knew what to expect, but it was definitely an experience. The parade was vibrant, cheerful and plied the crowds with questionable alcoholic drinks and sweets, as well as some little gifts like Mama Negra keyrings and we even got an Ecudador 'Love Life' sticker each. Chuffed! It was good fun, and Kelvin, Michnus and Steve each had a blessing/cleansing ritual done which consisted of being slapped with shrubbery and having alcohol spat all over you! Elsebie and I managed to avoid it. In fact, as Michnus was out in the parade taking photos, he was subject to several of these blessings. I think he enjoyed the flogging with nettles best of all!
The final person to come through was a person dressed as 'Mama Negra' with his face painted black and riding a horse. By this point, being about 3-4pm, there were many drunk people about, some of whom had lost the use of their legs. We wandered around the town and later went for food, while all of the stuff from the parade was still being cleared away. It had been a fun day.The next day we all chilled out. The sky was clear and there was a great view of Cotopaxi from the cemetry (yes very morbid, I know). They have their cemetry's very different from ours with most of the coffins being above the ground in big cement structures. Having been 'day of the dead' very recently, most of the graves had fresh flowers and little cards with people's writing on them. We visited several coffee shops and just did very little. Nice!
The following day we headed North towards Cotopaxi. It really wasn't far and Elsebie had arranged for all five of us to stay in Hostal Rondador, with a great view of the volcano. We ended up staying for two nights as it was such a lovely place. They had wood burners, an awesome view of Cotopaxi, great food, music, and on the first evening we were able to try lots of different traditional instruments like panpipes.
The next day, Michnus and Elsebie had to return to Quito and Kelvin and I went up Cotopaxi with Steve. We were so unbelievably lucky as it was a beautifully clear day and the views were stunning. We had a lady from the hostal called Diana who was our guide for the day, and it was just the three of us on the tour. We went to the park entrance and then the next stop was the lake at the foot of Cotopaxi. We then stopped just before we started ascending the volcano so Kelvin could fly the drone without too much wind. Then we headed up to the parking area, which was around 4600m. From there we spent about one hour walking super slowly 400m up to the Refugio, where we had a lovely hot chocolate. We then finished off the ascent by walking to the foot of the glacier, which was at about 5100m. It was quite a challenge walking at such a high altitude, and it was the highest we had ever been on foot. It was such an amazing view though and well worth it, plus Kelvin got to fly his drone some more. Surprisingly, Kelvin was the one suffered with the altitude. Normally I am the one that gets headaches, but for some reason I was fine. Kelvin felt sick and had a banging head by the time we descended, so he went to lay down as soon as we got back. It had been such an awesome day, and all for $25 each, so not too bad.
The following day we headed to Quilotoa lake (Caldera), a very popular crater lake. We found a place to stay that was just accross the road from the viewpoint where there was a spectacular view of the lake. It was a little cloudy when we arrived, however the next morning it was a lot more open so Steve and Kelvin had a go at flying the drone again. All the rooms in our hostel had its own wood burner, which was much needed as it was brrrrr! Sadly there was no hot water and the place was under construction so there was a thin layer of dust over everything and lots of noise, but it was ok for just one night. We also met a lady from Australia who was visiting the area and she worked on long-haul flights, so she was telling us about all the travelling she had done with her job. Then we bumped into a couple from France who were 2-up on a Honda CRF250 Rally. Hard going! Basically they had shipped their bikes by boat and something had gone wrong, mainly due to a strike at the docks. The bikes had ended up not being unloaded and when eventually they did arrive weeks later, they were trashed. Gutted! So, they had to buy a bike and they could only afford one, so here they were. The bike looked good, and had they had one each I think it would have been a perfect bike for the trip, however 2-up they were struggling at altitude and it wasn't overly comfortable. We told them about the place we were staying so they pitched up there later and we had a quick chat about all our travels so far as you do.
The next day it was off to El Corazon. We got to do some awesome off-road with quite a few Llama's on route. We stopped for some photos and at one point my bike blew over! Some of the roads were a little challenging due to the small, loose rocks but it was such a great ride. We managed to end up on a route where the bridge was out, and although the workers suggested we could try to shimmy our bikes down the very narrow side track, it looked far too risky and we retraced our steps instead. Following our diversion, we stopped for a picinic lunch on the side of the road with another great view. Life is hard!
We had planned to get to Salinas that night but it was impossible to get there before dark so when we pulled up in El Corazon for a very late lunch we decided to call it a day. The people in the town were really friendly and we found a little hotel at the bottom of the town overlooking the sports ground. Sadly, once again despite the promise of hot water, there was none. We had a good wander around the town with Steve and bought a huge plastic sheet for Kelvin's bike as his cover got destroyed by a little dog in Otavalo. It cost us a grand total of $4. Despite the 'Eau de Damp' in our room, we slept ok and the next morning we got up nice and early to set off to Salinas (the little town South of El Corazon, not the big coastal town). Again, we were fortunate to have some great riding with nice easy dirt roads and spectacular views. When we arrived, Steve and I went scouting for a hostal while Kelvin looked after the bikes. We found a great Hostel in main square called Hostal la Minga. After a few days of off-road bliss and good weather, we all decided to have a break and spend two nights in Salinas as we got such a good vibe from the place. Initially, the hostal owner thought we were with Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental as apparently they used the place all the time for their clients and tours. There was a little confusion over rooms as we found out later they had given Steve an old lady's room and moved all of her stuff up to the roof-top room with a rickety spiral staircase. Needless to say she was less than impressed, so they swapped and Steve got the room the next day after they left. We watched the locals playing volleyball, had a good walk around and found an Artesanal craft shop. Kelvin bought a hooded Alpaca-wool poncho which he was very happy with and I got a warm, soft Alpaca-wool scarf as I was still jacket-less (after stupidly losing mine in Pasto), and a mini shoulder bag for my purse. We then found a little cafe called Mama Miche's, and while we were waiting for our food they bought us a plate of cheese and ham for free. It was the best cheese I had eaten since leaving the UK. Happy Suzie! We also returned to Mama Miche's for breakfast on both mornings because it was such a nice little place.
In the morning, we all took a trip in a collectivo to the nearest big town (Guaranda) to get cash as we were all running out. The last two or three towns we'd stayed in didn't have cash machines. We hadn't factored a lack of cash machines into our plans, so we were glad to see one at last. In Guaranda I also decided to treat myself to a manicure and pedicure as my nails were looking crap to say the least. As Colombia, it was super cheap, however it was awful! My toes were bleeding in places and really sore. They then put alcohol on it which made it sting like crazy! I was not a happy bunny. Compared to Colombia, the service was way below par. Anyway, the town was nice and we had a good wander around the place before geting another collectivo back to Salinas. I had to share the front seat with another lady...not the most comfortable but sitting in the front made me feel less sick on the windy roads.
From Salinas, we headed to Pelileo via Chimborazo volcano for our last day travelling with Steve. We had another beautiful day of travel, with some lovely dirt roads to Chimborazo. When we got to the visitor centre at the foot of the volcano, there was a mountain bike event on. We were met by four local guys who said we could go upto the next refugio. We all hopped on our bikes and headed upwards. When we were not too far from the top, some guy stopped Steve and I and said we were not permitted to go further as bikes were banned from this road. Kelvin had continued and reached the top of the road (4800m), where a police officer greeted him and didn't mention anything about bikes not being allowed up there. Steve and I were admiring the view of where we got to and Steve got started on repairing his broken wind sheild with zip ties. Kelvin found us on his way back down and as well as doing some small repairs, we watched the mountain bikers whizzing down the side of the volcano which was cool. Two other guys stopped and had a good chat as they were interested in our travels as they were fellow bikers. Just as we were about to leave, a ranger stopped and had a bit of a grump about us being there. Anyway, we were leaving so we told him that and got going. At the bottom we stopped to watch the end of the mountain biking route, a hot chocolate and a donut!
So, off we went again. We ended up on a very random route around some fields in a cut-out dirt track about one to two metres wide. We thought there was no way this could lead to where we needed to be but we kept going out of curiosity. Eventually we hit a tarmac road and we kept going all the way to Pelileo, where we found a little hostal (Estrella-Azul) with great parking. We ventured into the town for a view of the Tungurahua volcano. This volcano was not snow capped but looked very volcano-like and apparently is the most active volcano in Ecuador. It wasn't very active when we were there but the view was good and it was very clear.
We also found a chineese restaurant, and having ordered a dish each, we soon realised one between us all would have been quite enough. We took a doggy-bag each and promptly gave them away to a family with a small stall who were overjoyed with the freebies. We had one last look at the volcano before heading back for a chill-out. Kelvin and Steve played with the GPS's and then the next morning we both said goodbye as Steve needed to head South to meet his girlfriend in Cusco, Peru in a couple of weeks, and we needed to head West for a 'Work-Away' we had arranged. It had been a fantastic week of awesome roads, beyond amazing views and some great experiences, and Steve had been a pleasure to travel with.
Off to the Pacific coast we go...!
Here are some more photos from the week: