Tuesday, 7th October
Our hostel includes a complimentary continental breakfast and all you can drink coffee (not that much as it turns out before you start to tremble). I had breakfast outside in the courtyard out the back of the hostel then we asked some advice on what we could do whilst staying here. Latacunga is a base people use for exploring the Cotopaxi National Park, with the Volcan Cotoapxi peak to climb, and also to hike around the Quilotoa loop (a collection of small villages set amongst stunning countryside). There were options of various ability on offer for the volcano and we could do the Quilotoa loop on our own.
We had accumulated a lot of laundry by now so the next task was finding a laundrette where we could drop it off and get is washed before tomorrow. We walked to a point on the map which had one marked, found nothing, then walked back to the hostel to ask only to find out we needed to walk a block further. So, after two trips and about an hour we found a laundrette that would wash our clothes and that we could pick up in the afternoon. They wouldn’t give us a time, only in ‘the afternoon’ so I thought I would return around 3pm. We then set off to find the market which is in town on a Thursday. This we also couldn’t find and when we found ourselves appearing to walk out of town we decided to head back not knowing what we were walking towards or the area we were in. Still, we got to see quite a bit of Latacunga this way. We wandered around the town on the way back to the hostel. It’s a busy place with all the amenities of a fully functioning large town. There are also churches and various town squares around lined with colonial buildings. Not as picturesque as other towns we have been in but it’s nice to see a typical Ecuadorian town at work. We did notice as well that everyone loves tracksuits here, whether they be school children walking around in matching tracksuits or adults walking around in full, top and bottom, matching tracksuits. We did see some tailors where it seems as though you can get tracksuits made, bespoke. If I had more space in my bag I might even consider this myself.
Our hostel is a lovely place to relax and we went back to drink some free tea and coffee and hang out in the garden courtyard whilst thinking more about what we might do in Latacunga. We settled on the Cotopaxi National Park tour tomorrow and the Quilotoa loop later. After that we would have a few days before we were due in Guayaquil for our flight to the Galapogas Islands. Having access to a kitchen here is great and we went off to a supermarket to get some stuff for lunch, a simple salad. It’s nice to be able to control your diet. Eating out is fun but after so manny months away I am missing cooking up in the kitchen and we have eaten more deep fried items than we care to mention. Not to mention that fresh vegetables are really cheap here so it’s not only good for us but good for our budget. After lunch I set off to pick up the laundry. When I returned and unpacked it, I found some was still considerably wet and having to wear some tomorrow I had to go back to the laundry again to have it completely dried. The lady seemed to imply that it was my fault for turning up early to collect it. When I dropped it off I made a point of asking for a time though and she just said ‘the afternoon’. This time she did give me a time, seven o’clock. By the time I go back and collect the washing I will have been to that part of town four times and at 30 minutes a go that it way to much time spent on paying someone else to wash and dry your clothes. Oh well, it did only cost US$1 I guess. We then relaxed back at the hostel where I caught up on some blogging and Kirsty some reading. We ate in again tonight, eating the rest of the vegetables I bought yesterday and had an early night with our tour leaving at 8:30am tomorrow morning and wanting to have a hearty breakfast beforehand.
Wednesday, 8th October
Today we had out tour booked of the Volcan Cotopaxi, sitting in the Cotopaxi Natural Park. After breakfast we met our guide (Luis) at 8:30am in our hostel. The tour is limited to four people which is nice as big groups can be annoying, and we went in one car passing a llama (or alpaca) by the roadside along the way. The road there was standard at first then we turned off into the National Park and our guide switched in 4WD mode, taking the bumps and rolls of the road. A short way into the park we had our first stop, just for the toilet then a short while on we had our second stop, at a cafe for a cup of coca leaf tea. This leaf had many proclaimed benefits amongst which are:
I was then encouraged by the guide to chew the tea leaves which I duly did and found an unsurprisingly unpleasant bitter state in my mouth. I don’t doubt the effects of the coca leaf but I can honestly say I didn’t feel an discernible effects. Once we were done with our cuppa of coca we hopped back into the 4WD and drove up to the car park from where we would start our hike. We had opted for the shorter version of the climb, with a road leading us up to around 4,500m from where we walk the further 300m up to a refuge and from there a further hike up to the start if the glacier (incidently one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world). I guessed we were at around 5,000m at the end. I wasn’t expected to feel any effects from the altitude, not having felt any so far but my chest felt tight and I did get a few headaches not to mention a couple of dizzy spells. This is all fairly normal though. The hike up was hard work and we took a very slow pace due to the altitidue, our guide, despite being 74 years old, was still marching on ahead though. I guess he’s had a lifetime of altitude. We walked through rain, sleet, snow and sunshine so we had it all, the weather changing every few minutes. The views were breathtaking back down below to the valley floor and up towards the snow-capped volcano peak. It is quite strange to think of an active volcano covered in snow but there it is. It last went of 140 years ago though so don’t think we’re in any danger. We got to the refuge which was a building site as they are fashioning a new one, and from there we opted to climb another 45 minutes up to the glacier which covers the summit of the volcano. I love this kind of thing, to be surrounding by awe-inspiring nature and to be on what many consider to be the world’s highest active volcano is something quite special. The walk down was easier than the climb up but only on the lungs, not the legs as the ground is soft, volcanic rock which is pretty much like sand. It took us 20 minutes to climb down and once back at the car we jumped in and drove to the lake nearby for a few photos opportunities before another stop at a picnic spot for lunch. We were dropped back at our hostel around 2:30pm. All in all a great tour.
Back at the hostel Kirsty noticed a rash so we asked where we could find a doctor. Helpfully, the hostel arranged to have one come to the hostel so we don’t have to wait around in a waiting room to see someone. Anyway, long story short it’s nothing serious and we got a prescription for some anti-histamines so off the pharmacy. It cleared up in the evening. For dinner, we went out trying to find a nice place to eat but Latacunga isn’t exactly the place to do that. There are plenty of fried options and many restaurants, either empty or closed. In then end we opted for a Mexican place and got our picture taken for their trip advisor profile or something. Anyway, it was a busy day and we went to bed with the plan to head towards Chugchilan tomorrow and do some hikes on the Quilotoa loop that travellers like to do here.
Thursday, 9th October
After getting up and having breakfast we sorted out our stuff to head off only for Kirsty to find the rash had re-appeared although not as much as yesterday. Rather then head off to more remote villages we decided to stay close to Latacunga. We caught a bus to Saquisili which has the biggest market of the region on Thursdays. The bus took around 20 minutes and was 30 cents each. Once there we walked towards the market area and came across a market selling all sorts – food, vegetables, handicrafts, textiles and household items. We had heard that was meant to be animals in the market so we walked on to the far end of town and found the animal market. This market starts at 6am and by now some people were starting to leave. Here you can buy sheep, lamas (or alpacas), cows, pigs and goats along with vegetation to feed them. We wandered around looking at the animals. A lot of people seemed to be buying a single animal either to raise for produce or to eat. The lamas (or alpacas) were amusing with their massive eyes and sideways jaws as they chew. They look like shaggy canals without the humps. We walked around taking photos and absorbing all the sights and smells. It is clearly an every day part of life this kind of thing. A lot of people were there selling and buying; women in traditional dress selling lambs and guys in trucks selling cows. After a walk around we wandered back towards to other market in town. On the way there was a family with a sheep and two lambs. The youngest child was riding the sheep back into town.
The other part of the market was much like we expected to find and the kind you find in many a town although on a larger scale. We bought some vegetables to make soup back at the hostel. A whole bag of produce came to US$1.50 so a cheap day of eating ahead of us. I also bought some panela (unrefined cane sugar) to put into hot water for a drink. We tried this in Bogota and liked it. Not only can you buy vegetables, either singly or by the bag here, you can also get a meal, get your clothes mended by a row of men on sewing machines, buy a hand-woven poncho or stock up on toiletries. Truly everything you might need for living here.
When we had enough of market day we took a breather on a bench in the main square and listened to a marching band going through their numbers. Not sure of the occasion but they drew a large crowd. We walked passed the commotion and waited at the place where we got dropped off by the bus for a return bus to Latacunga. We saw one come and go with a very unhelpful man telling us this was not the bus we wanted but to wait there for another one. The next bus that turned up let us on board but it turns out they were just giving a ride across town to where the first bus was parked. We got off and on the other bus that we had seen before and rode the 20 minutes journey back to Latacunga. For the afternoon I set about researching the Quilotoa loop to make sure of what we could do there and how and when to leave to get there. We have booked a hostel but communication isn’t our strongest point here and between my emails in garbled spanish and their lack or responses I hope we have a bed booked. Otherwise there are three hostel in Chugchilan so there will be somewhere we can sleep. We are also leaving most of our luggage in Latacunga at the hostel we are currently in so we’ll be travelling light. The Quilotoa loop as the name suggests beings you back to Latacunga. I then cooked up the soup so get something healthy into us for lunch and to have leftovers for dinner. We just lazed around the rest of the day and I looked into every which way around the loop and decided on the original plan I had come up with hours before.