Quito and Cotopaxi

After our last breakfast in Latacunga we walked across town to the bus station and boarded a bus to Quito. The capital of Ecuador is a huge city so following the bus ride we took a 45 minute cab ride to our Airbnb. We booked an apartment in Quito for 5 days which was the longest time we’d spend in one location so far on our trip. This was partially because Quito was enforcing weekend shutdowns, so we had at least two days when we’d likely just be hanging out inside. Luckily we landed in a nice two bedroom, two and a half bathroom apartment within a high rise complete with a giant TV, gym, hot tub, and an accessible rooftop. Not to mention a pretty nice view.

View from our apartment in Quito

Our first day in Quito was relatively uneventful. We went grocery shopping for the weekend, drank coffee, played cards, did laundry, and got takeout for dinner. We also chugged a lot of water in preparation for the next day when we’d be tackling one of the world’s highest active volcanoes: Cotopaxi.

On Friday morning we were picked up by our guide in a pickup truck for the day’s excursion, a hike up to base camp on Cotopaxi. The long journey took us through the national park, up some crazy dirt roads, and eventually to the base of the volcano where the truck started to really show its value. The road, or path more appropriately, was quite steep, windy, and full of massive potholes and ditches. We climbed for about an hour in the truck and as we approached the last bit of vehicular path we saw an incredible fox scavenging for food.

Friendly fox on the way up to Cotopaxi

We parked at the base of the trail and started on our way up the slope. Our guide told us there were two options to get to our destination, and we chose the more direct (and difficult) option. The temperature had to have been close to freezing and snow covered the ground right from the start of the hike, and only got thicker as we gained elevation. After a slow and steady ascent we arrived at our final destination, Refuge José Rivas.

Approaching Refuge José Rivas with the peak in the background

Refuge José Rivas is perched at 15,953 feet and is where people spend the night before summiting the volcano. It’s not quite the highest elevation we’ve reached this trip (Chimborazo was) but it’s up there. While we weren’t continuing on to the summit it offered us the chance to enjoy some hot chocolate and mate de coca and take a quick rest before heading back down. As we sat and enjoyed our drinks we also saw some other hikers with a more serious set of equipment who were heading back down after reaching the summit that morning.

On the way up

The hike down went much more quickly as we hopped and slid down the gravely path back to the pickup truck. We took a few more minutes to snap some photos and then began the drive back down the steep, switchback path. At the park entrance we stopped for a typical Ecuadorian lunch at the park restaurant, including some tasty soup, fresh juice, and chicken with rice. Exhausted but with full bellies we napped in the truck on the ride back to Quito.

Back in Quito we decided to treat ourselves after another high altitude excursion and make the most of our last few hours before weekend lock down. We stopped for a drink at a German beer garden before sharing a whole chicken dinner, which was delicious.

The weekend was relatively uneventful seeing as we couldn’t leave the apartment for more than an hour (for exercise). We cooked a bunch, watched movies, and used some of the building’s amenities including the gym and hot tub. It was during this lock down period where we learned about an unfortunate change in travel restrictions regarding our next stop after Quito… but more on that in our next blog post.

On Monday morning, lock down over, we headed out to explore Quito. Our day started with some awesome donuts from a local shop before we made a quick stop at a local clinic for Covid tests, which we needed to fly to our next country. After our tests we walked to Parque Itchimbia, a really cool hilltop park which offered 360 degree views of the city. We grabbed drinks at a nearby spot with a great deck also overlooking the city, and walked to a small restaurant for a super cheap Ecuadorian lunch (that cost less than $10 total for the 4 of us). Next on the agenda was visiting Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, aka the “Middle of the World”, just north of the city. We researched which buses to take, walked to the nearest bus stop, and waited for a bus. Then a nice man told us that buses weren’t running for some reason. At this point we’ve gotten used to last minute unexplained travel snafus, so we flagged down the nearest cab and took that instead.

The “Middle of the World” is a place dedicated to where the Northern and Southern hemispheres meet at the equator (even if the monument is located a few hundred feet from the actual equator…). Despite being a bit tourist-trappy we enjoyed our time here, especially the girls who found countless ways to switch between hemispheres including literally hopping across the line as well as hand-stand walking, jumping, and zig-zag running back and forth. The main monument which included a small museum was in the middle of a mini town that had been built here including a few small parks, some museums, and plenty of little shops and restaurants.

View from the monument looking down at the line separating the northern and southern hemispheres

The next morning we headed to the bus station for a day trip to a town a few hours north of Quito called Otavalo, which is known for it’s traditional market in the main city square. A few hours later we arrived in town and stopped for coffee and lunch at a cool little stop in town. It was here where we experienced what I would call our low of the entire trip. As Emily pulled out her wallet to pay for our meal she realized she did not have cash, which did not jive with the amount of cash we should have had. She asked if I switched the cash from her wallet to mine, which I had not, which is when I pulled out my wallet to see again no cash. It turns out, after recounting the morning’s event, that we were robbed on that morning’s bus.

A bus worker (or so we thought) sitting behind us at the back of our bus had evidently gone under our seats and reached forward to our bags that were sitting at our feet, cut Emily’s pack and unzipped mine, and took all of our cash. All without us noticing. Talk about deflating. Fortunately nothing else (bank cards, ID, etc.) were missing, so we took our lumps and took exceptional care of our bags for the rest of the trip. With our morale pretty low we ended up taking a walk through the market and then heading back to Quito. To add to a stressful day, after arriving at the main bus station back in Quito in hopes of transferring to a city bus to get to our apartment, we learned that some city buses still weren’t running. We asked someone for directions who told us to take the next bus to another station, and transfer there. We followed their recommendation and arrived at the next station to a huge mass of people all waiting for essentially one bus. There was maybe one security guy compared to hundreds and hundreds of people, and some tense moments on the platform, but we eventually made it onto a packed bus and back to our Airbnb. Overall not a particularly enjoyable day, but we figured we should share the not-so-fun parts of travel along with all the good stuff. It’s still by far mostly good stuff. We spent that night, our last night in Ecuador, packing up for an early flight the next morning.

Next stop… Panama! A new country for all four of us and where our friends Clara and Nestor were flying to meet us for a week of vacation. Little did we know we’d have quite the experience before actually getting to meet up with Clara and Nestor, but more on that in our next post.

  • Mike

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