Saturday, July 04, 2009

My day...

Warning to my friends and family: travel with me at your own risk. I can usually get to places. Getting back, however, is another matter...
Today I went to Cotopaxi with a friend. We had meet with a guide, a friend of one of my friends here, and discussed a trip to Cotopaxi, the big volcano here. It is 5897 meters, and basically, when it finally blows, there is going to be a very big mess to clean up...
We meet at 7am in Quito, and headed down. Cotopaxi is about two hours south of Quito by car, and our guide had a car. Well, he had what could very justly be called a shell of a car. We couldn't quite see the road through the floor, but it was obvious that there was very little separating us from it. Wires were dangling from several locations on the driver's side, and thus we rattled our way down to the entrance of the Parque Nacional Cotopaxi.
From the main road, it is about 6km to the entrance, where you pay. We drove the entire distance through a thick, eerie fog. Our guide had picked up a man, an indigenous, who worked near the entrance selling alpaca ponchos to tourists, to give him a ride. He and my friend spent the bumpy ride arguing about having children. To this man, there was something fundamentally wrong with any woman who doesn't want children. (A normal attitude here. As my friend, another female, put it "no soy machina de hijos").
From the entrance, it is another 13km to the Laguna de Limpiopunga. At this point, the fog was so thick that we couldn't see the giant ditches which had formed in the dirt road we were on. We drove through a couple of shallow rivers and bumped along. All we could see were the plants by the side of the road: thick grasses dripping with water from the low clouds. It was cold in the car, but I was reluctant to add any layers, knowing that it would be even colder up ahead.
Once we reached the Laguna, the fog started to clear slightly, and we could catch a glimpse of the base of Cotopaxi. From the Laguna, it was about 12km up a series of switchbacks to a parking lot. Once in the parking lot, we had already crossed the snow line. The snow at that point wasn't everywhere on the ground, but it was definitely there. Here, again, the fog was so thick that we couldn't see much of anything. There were no trees and no plants of any type. At this point, we were at about 4,200 meters above sea level. The wind was blowing so hard that we could barely open the car doors, and it ws snowing. We bundled up in everything we had brought and set out and up.
Cotopaxi, remember, is a volcano, so we were walking in volcanic ash and rock. Imagine walking up a steep sand dune, the earth shifting beneath your feet with every step, with the wind blowing stinging snow against your face and taking away the very little oxygen you are fighting to breath. That is Cotopaxi.
I made it up a ways, but then stopped when we reached a ridge, drop offs to either side of the path. At this point, my fear of heights kicked in. Now, my fear of heights is a funny thing. Some days it is better, some days it is worse. But on just about any day, when I am faced with a strong wind and a cliff, I freeze. So I froze. When my friend and the guide caught up to me, I announced that I would psychologically not be able to go any further. My friend announced that she ws freezing and not having any fun. And so we turned back to the car, not having made it that last 1km up to the refugio.
Now, I like hiking. But when I picture hiking, I picture trees and plants and nature. This wasn't quite climbing, in the sense that you need special equiptment, but it was somewhere between hiking and climbing. Treking, the guide called it, and I think it is a good word to use to differentiate it from hiking as I've always pictured it.
Once in the car, we decided to go to the Laguna and walk around it. We bumped down the switch backs, gradually leaving the snow and wind behind. But before we reached the Laguna, we heard something snap, and the car stopped.
Our guide got out and disappeared under the car on the passenger's side. He got back in, face grim, and tried to start the car. Nothing. He got back out again and disappeared. A few seconds later, back in the car, he managed to get it to start, but it wouldn't go. Car off again, he turned to us and gave us our options: wait in the car until another car passed and see if we could get a ride from them, or start walking to the main road. We chose the walk.
So I spent my day walking from the base of Cotopaxi to the entrance to the park. And now you all know why I carefully gave the distances from one landmark to the next. All in all, it wasn't too long of a walk, and the ground was more or less level. But I had everything I had brought with me in my backpack and, as this is Ecuador, it started to rain while we were walking.

So now I need to decide if I want to go on another hike tomorrow. I think I may wait until tomorrow morning and decide then. It will be a mountain, but when I ask about it, I can't really get a straight answer. People here are not so good at giving direct information. I have no idea if it will be like Cotopaxi or if it will be more like Pasachoa, where I went a couple of weeks ago. I'm afraid that if I go and it is straight up a windy mountain, well, I'm not going to be able to do it. And I will be stuck waiting for the rest of the group to go up and come down--and probably waiting in the rain. So, I just don't know.


At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just writing to convey appreciation for the updates. :)

Glad you got off Cotopaxi (and on down the road) ok...

When I read the introduction to this "My day..." blog, though, I expected to get a story involving lavatories on trains, though. ;)

...and, as a side note, I visited the India Garden in Blacksburg last week. Without an actual re-enactment, I remembered going there with you and your mom.

Happy Friday!



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