Archive for Dezember, 2011

Cuenca, Ecuador – Burning dolls: New Year’s Eve in Ecuador

Samstag, Dezember 31st, 2011

The doll goes up in flames. If it doesn’t burn properly, the arsonist pokes around in its stuffed body to set the fire alight. On the next corner people think more practical: They use gas as accelerant. Immediately the mannequin is ablaze. Burning life-sized rag dolls on New Year’s Eve has a long tradition in Ecuador. They symbolize the past year’s evil that is burnt and exterminated herewith. Next year everything shall be better. It is quite intentional that the dolls sometimes bear a resemblance to living men or women from the same district. Naturally this is the person who made himself or herself most unpopular during the last year by avarice, jealousy, fraud, malice or other bad habits. The rag dolls can be bought days before New Year’s Eve at stands along the streets, they just have to be dressed and decorated.

Especially at midnight, but also before and after, half of a fortune goes up in smoke and flames – in form of fireworks, firecrackers, and bangers. The more noise the better. Soon a dense pall of smoke lies over Cuenca with its half million inhabitants. We fire some bottle rockets as well The colourful bull packs made in China were too expensive, so we bought a bunch of homemade skyrockets made from bamboo cane, newspaper, an alarmingly short fuse, and an unknown mixture of black powder. After lighting one has to run fast, but get enthusiastic about its acceleration and trajectory as well as the bright explosion and the loud bang.

Popular with locals are costume parties where adults dress up with highly imaginative and lavish costumes like kids do in carnival. We instead have a quiet evening. Ray cooks a rich Asian dinner for us, and we enjoy wine, champagne, watching the urban fireworks from our elevated position, and dogsitting of Mario’s mastiff who come through the banging amazingly well, but finally guards for an unknown reason the bathroom door in distress.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Useful GPS data

Freitag, Dezember 30th, 2011

In Cuenca there are three Supermaxi groceries. The branch that is easiest accessible by car is the one at Avenida de las Americas (S 02°53’22.5’’ W 79°01’25.9’’), with unfortunately small parking lot. The supermarket in Mall del Rio directly at the Pan Am has a broader range of goods on offer (stationary, clothing aso.), but limited delicacies.

Propane can be refilled in Cuenca at Austrogas (S 02°50’26.3’’ W 78°53’39.1’’) on the road to Azogues. Propane is as fuel in Ecuador less expensive than in most of the other countries.

You can purchase third-party insurance for your car (SOAT) at Seguro Colonial (S 02°54’23.0’’ W 79°00’23.9’’) at the stadium (estadio), where even prolongations for one of three months are available.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Another Christmassy dumpling deformation

Sonntag, Dezember 25th, 2011

Christmas in Ecuador is celebrated with a large family and friends circle. Sonia and Paco invite us to their country house, an 80 years old adobe house on a big property where they regularly spend their weekends. Their nearly grown-up kids, Lissy and Marco, their children, Ray, and Jo are in on it. Later other friends come. Lissy as enthusiastic Austrian cook serves delicious rissoles rolled in bacon with creamy mushroom-red wine sauce. With this there are bread dumplings that also don’t maintain the mandatory ball form. We will still study the dumpling-altitude-physics.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Exotic Christmas with detonated tennis balls

Samstag, Dezember 24th, 2011

The morning: The thermal spring
The day starts too early, uncharitably early I would say if it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Paco picks us up at 5 a.m. to warm ourselves in sauna and hot springs. 20 minutes later we know why we started so early: Even now quite a lot of people are here: It’s weekend. In a neighbouring town of Cuenca, called Baños like the other famous Ecuadorian hot springs, boiling water bubbles directly from the volcanic mountains. There are different swimming baths with different standards and prices.

The medicinal springs at Hosteria Duran are especially popular with locals, admission fee is $ 3. 95 per person. The steam saunas are heated by the hot mountain water. The grotto-like men’s and women’s sauna are very hot and atmospheric, although the ladies’ ward is in need of renovation. The mixed sauna is less hot, in o.k. condition, but kind of sterile. Around 60 swimmers crowd in the pleasantly lukewarm thermal pool at 7 a.m. Time to leave.

The midday: The parade
We hardly returned before we have to leave again. The tradition of the Christmas procession lasted in Cuenca longer than in other cities. In the morning of the 24th December a pageant starts and lasts to late afternoon. Hundreds of decorated trucks, pick-ups and cars as well as thousands of adults and especially children dressed up or wrapped in traditional costumes take part in the El Pase del Niño. The little Indígenas, performing traditional dances in national costumes, are especially enchanting; or the mestiza girls who proudly sit on their horses, dressed in valuably embroidered riding dresses adapted from Spanish princesses, with perfect patronizing-arrogant gaze and seductively pursed lips. All that takes place with little Christmassy bright sunshine, and in front of historic backdrop. Cuenca’s centre doesn’t have to hide from colonial Quito. The city is blessed with 52 beautiful churches – one for each week of the year.

The evening: The repast
In the evening we initially celebrate Christmas with Ray and Jo, although we didn’t get a duck or goose (the traditional German Christmas meal). The turkeys were too big for my camper oven, thus we decided for a giant chicken. The homemade red cabbage is great, only the potato dumplings basically appear like exploded tennis balls. Was it the wrong sort of potatoes of a physical altitude problem? Since Jo as not-dumpling lover demands second helping, it can’t have been so bad. Or perhaps he was just hungry. Or polite. The biscuits for desert are flawless, despite the altitude. After dinner we pay Lissi and Marco a visit for a drink. After all the two of them don’t have German speaking visitors every day.

Cuenca, Ecuador – A workshop―just in case

Dienstag, Dezember 20th, 2011

Christmas will be soon, and since Arminius served us loyally during the past year, he earned a Christmas present as well. He receives an improvement, which mainly serves a practical purpose: We’ll get a stack. Long time we thought about it and finally decided to get it done. According to other travellers’ reports and own observations it might be problematic to start the cold engine in the morning with very low temperatures of -20°C / -4°F and in extreme altitudes of above 5,000 m / 16,000 ft. First and foremost the lack of oxygen together with the temperature is more of a problem than just the temperature or the altitude. To not have to torture the engine constantly with starter spray people tend to let the engine run overnight in these exceptional cases. Since it is impossible to bolt all windows tightly without suffocating always a part of the exhaust fumes enters the cabin. Although carbon monoxide is heavier than air and sinks to the ground we take exception to the exhaust emissions. We hope to minimize the problem with a stack.

The exhaust workshop in Cuenca doesn’t have all the materials we have in mind, but we agree with the price and the work seems to be decent. Since stainless pipe wasn’t available with the requested diameter we have to paint the steel tube now. We get the stovepipe paint from Mario. Mario is painter from Germany and together with his Austrian wife Lissi self-employed in Cuenca. The body repair and paint shop is situated on Paco’s ground, owner of a motor vehicle workshop. Paco studied in Germany and together with his wife Sonia he runs the company following the example set by German workshops.

Here we want to carry out the due oil change. But of course any other technical problem can be rectified by Paco. Additionally, the four are explicitly nice and helpful. We might camp for free on the company’s parking lot above the Basilica. There is a bathroom, water, and even electricity if required. And chance would have it that we meet Jo and Ray (the Dutch from Germany), our former travel companions from Colombia. They have arrived yesterday evening half an hour before us. Although they gave us the tip with the workshop, we couldn’t know that we will accidentally meet here.

Servicio Automotriz, Cuenca: S 02°53’06.5’’ W 79°00’32.7’’, Calle Humboldt 2-42, behind the Basilica
Mechanics: Paco and Sonia: Tel. 07-2848093, Mob. 09-9675942, e-mail:
Bodywork: Mario and Lissi
: Tel. 07-2833108, Mob. 09-9054234, website:, e-mail: (better call, they don’t check their e-mails regularly)

Cuenca, Ecuador – Another rescue operation

Montag, Dezember 19th, 2011

Today we are the saviours. It rains continuously and depressingly on the Pan Am between Alausi and Cuenca; moreover the clouds hang over the road and reduce visibility. A semi-truck went into a skid with these bad weather conditions. Now the semi-trailer stands in a 90°-angle to the road, one of the supports landed behind the high kerb. The trailer is facing the oncoming traffic and is now located in the grass behind the kerb. The truck can’t escape by its own efforts. There are no breakdown or recovery services in Ecuador. Just the organisation of the rescue would take hours. Joerg shows a good heart and offers to haul the lorry by winch.

The tractor has to be uncoupled, and then we drag it through earth and over the kerbs while we constantly have to change the Unimog’s position to correct the angle of traction. To our amazement the truck makes it back to the road without damages, despite its low clearance and lots of plastic at the bumper. Now it’s the trailer’s turn. Since one of the supports doesn’t skid over the kerb and the trailer is in danger of being bent, the truck driver and the surrounding rubbernecks have to lift the trailer again and again with a jack, and underlay the support with rocks and beams until it is on the level of the kerb’s top edge. The other support scratches the asphalt from the road while dragging, what doesn’t bother even the police that arrived in the meanwhile and helps half-heartedly to regulate the traffic.

After one and three quarters of an hour the trailer is in position as well, is coupled to the tractor, and our worn-out winch cable is coiled up. The truck driver respectably asks how much to pay for removing. We reject compensation, hoping we will get help if we need it one day.

Parque Nacionál Sangay, Ecuador – The invisible

Sonntag, Dezember 18th, 2011

Was this necessary? Another road crossing the Eastern Cordillera? It’s the fifth meanwhile. Admitted, it makes travelling and living for the people here easier. It’s problem-free to change between highland and the Amazon Basin. This newest traffic-wise achievement is now mainly paved and cuts the National Park Sangay in two halves. What is counterproductive for an intact flora and fauna is a delight for travellers, particularly as the pass traverse offers an access into the before extremely difficult accessible nature reserve.

Short after Macas the park begins with the subtropical jungle of the Amazonian highlands with uncountable meandering creeks. Ascending slowly the Andean mountain range we find cooler cloud forest where long skinny Wax palm trees stick their dainty top into the clouds. Numberless waterfalls divert the collected rainwater. In altitude trees give way to dense green-brown grasses and scrubland and release the view to the Atillo lagoons that nestle between the surrounding peaks. The páramo lake area is the highlight of the Sangay National Park that is accessible by road.

The 5,230 m / 17,160 ft high Sangay, one of the most active volcanoes on the entire American continent, isn’t visible from the road, at the most with a long hike or from far with a lot of fortune from Baños, the Pan Am or from Macas. The other volcanoes and mountains in this national park like the Altar or the Soroche, which bears the pretty as proper name “altitude sickness”, cover themselves.

The best place to sleep is at the lakes; either on the parking lot at the viewpoint (S 02°10’34.8’’ W 78°30’12.1’’) or a bit further west at Campamento Atillo with better view. Here you can park at a gravel place beside the road or better and way quieter one floor deeper, accessible via the dirt track leading down: S 02°11’16.2’’ W 78°31’14.3’’. There shouldn’t be safety doubts, but at the second site we are even in sight of the village. Best photos of the lakes can be taken at night or at sunrise when clouds disappeared.

Macas, Ecuador – Yucca fritters: deliciously packed with calories

Samstag, Dezember 17th, 2011

How to make yucca fritters? In principle like potato fritters, and they taste at least as good as those; especially if substantial butter is added for an enhanced dainty-yummy-factor, the fritters are stuffed with cheese, and deep-fried in sufficient oil. During I learn how to put as many delicious calories in the most confined of spaces, Joerg works for his portion clearing Peter’s big property of pointless grass by machine. We simply forget for a while what the expression “kilojoule” means and which consequences are joined with their consumption. Instead we let ourselves be stuffed with breaded fillet of beef, chicken with mushrooms, and barbecue meat. (Peter, how can you keep your figure with Patricia’s culinary skills?)

At least we can stretch our legs on Peter’s jungle plot, 20 minutes far from his house. Five hectare (12.5 acres) secondary forest – the tropical wood was removed years ago, as it was still allowed – that are acknowledged as building land and developed. In Germany we would build a hundred houses including feeder roads on this plot. But maybe Peter just wants to keep a piece of jungle.

Macas, Ecuador – The rescue

Dienstag, Dezember 13th, 2011

Galo lures us to Macas, but now we are somehow lost. Galo whom we met on the way in Ecuador with his travel group, and his Texan wife are one day late due to a postponed flight. The quiet gravel road in front of their plot, where we stand, transformed into a busy bypass and produces more dust than we like to expect of our cabin’s interior. And as the nature guide and RhoAnn, the travel agent, finally arrive we find the excursions way too expensive. 100 $ for two travellers for a daytrip into a nature reserve of the local Shoar Indigenes don’t seem appropriate to us. We would neither have seen the Shoar’s culture nor their shrunken head production – for what they have been dreaded. Costumes adapted for tourists and rehearsed dances are only presented with multiple-day stays.

But salvation already draws near, in the form of Peter. The German pensioner with his young Ecuadorian wife, his daughter, and a hidden estate in the middle of abundant greenery with swimming pool adopts us. And so a planned overnight stay in Macas turns into a longer stopover.

Macas, Ecuador – Down to the Amazon

Montag, Dezember 12th, 2011

The Amazon Basin: huge forest area, our planet’s lung, inaccessible jungle, one of the few areas of the world that are only basically explored. Ecuador has its share in the Amazon as well – with more than 100,000 sq km / 40,000 sq mi after all more than a third of the national territory. In the course of our journey, in Brazil, we’ll get to see at lot more from the Amazon. But we want at least to “scratch” it to cover all three different landscape forms in Ecuador – the coastal area, the Andean belt, and the Amazon Basin. The inside of the jungle is here like in Colombia only to explore by small airplanes and boats.

From Baños the deep canyon of Pastaza river cuts through the eastern cordillera and leisurely leads down into the plain. The road that doesn’t miss scenic drama is called Ruta de las Cascadas. As the name indicates one waterfall follows the other. The most powerful one is the El Pailón del Diablo. A mighty water mass pours forth in a narrow pothole before the torrent finds its way out and turns off into Pastaza River. Best viewpoint is a swinging suspension bridge. But honestly: There are many cascades on our earth that are higher or spit more water. For 1.50 $ the two kilometres / 1.2 mi long hike with high steps is an edifying physical education at least.

The road drops deeper and deeper until it leaves the Andean highland in Puyo. We continue south to Macas. The reputation that rushes on ahead this less touristy and somewhat sleepy city is to be “clean”. Clean means in this case free of oil boring, collecting tanks, pipelines, and their dirty, deeply polluting consequences.

Petroleum is one of the main economic factors of Ecuador: In the meantime it amounts to 60 % of the entire export volume. The major part of the reserves is the Amazon region of all places, the inaccessible jungle that doesn’t really make those researches easier. At present the daily output of 500,000 barrels is pumped through a pipeline from the primeval forest over the mountains to the Pacific harbour Esmeraldas. The first test drilling was executed by Texaco in 1963 – at that time on Shank’s pony through the inhospitable mosquito contaminated area. To guarantee profitability, the oil companies use cheap obsolete technology and reduce maintenance to a minimum. Leaking oil pipes and crude oil basins contaminate ground water. Worse are the cesspools from drilling refuse: drilling residues, salts, acids and lye are flooded with rain and generously spread out in the nature. Consequences don’t fail to appear. Further exploitation of the oil reserves, which are only estimated for duration of 20 years, is at the planning stage.

Baños, Ecuador – Ashes, smoke and clouds

Sonntag, Dezember 11th, 2011

We give volcano Tungurahua another two days to show activity. The weather is perfect, although clouds usually set in for sunset. But between two and five in the morning it mostly clears up, a resident betrays. True. It stays without overcast during the day, but the volcano shows only moderate activity. Poisonous yellow puffy clods escape at times, otherwise it produces large amounts of white steam that unite with passing clouds and cover the crater like a white toupee with decreasing temperatures during the evening hours. During Baños’ inhabitants still sweep the ashes from the streets that Tungurahua blew on their roofs and into the trees during the last two weeks, the volcano implements a cease-fire and confines itself to smoke.

Again we stand on the hill Las Antenas, this time at the restaurant Ojos del Volcan on the grass verge in the curve. The owner invited us some days ago during our last visit to camp here. We eat a well stomach filling portion of baked trout with rice, potatoes and fried plantains for a fair price. The food is vegetable-free besides a slice of tomato with marinated onions, like Ecuadorians love it. Instead Rogelio and his wife get us a hot Canelazo, a kind of Ecuadorian grog made from fruit juice or like here from sugar cane juice with schnapps. Very warming.

During the day they hand us homemade blackberry juice or fruits from their trees through our cabin window. The restaurant with unhindered volcano view opens on request only, therefore advance notice is practical (Rogelio Bastidas cell 092977530, Elisabeth 095776781, both Spanish, S 01°22’57.4’’ W 78°26’03.1’’). Trucks are officially not permitted on the feeder road, but as an important evacuation way it is in good shape and suitable for vehicles up to 4 m / 13 ft. The winding road is narrow and steep with little traffic, the pitch big enough for several rigs.

Baños, Ecuador – Stew at waterfall

Freitag, Dezember 9th, 2011

The volcano doesn’t get off that easy. We decide to stay in Baños for the moment for more photos. Tonight we change location. The Germans Regine and Dietrich own the Hosteria Finca Chamanapamba with the restaurant Regine’s Café Alemán in the neighbouring village Ulba since many years. With its idyllic setting in the middle of a subtropical garden with many birds and a waterfall we feel like in a different world. There is enough space to park camping vehicles. Bigger rigs can stay at the waterfall before reaching the buildings where trees hang deeper. The highlight is the restaurant. You can get Hungarian stew, steaks, and chocolate cake for moderate prices with fantastic view and original architecture:, phone in Ecuador 03-2742671, S 01°24’02.9’’ W 78°23’58.4’’.

Baños, Ecuador – The Tungurahua burps

Donnerstag, Dezember 8th, 2011

A hundreds of metres high plume of smoke leaks from its pit. Dense smoke soars up into the atmosphere. We watch the remarkably active Tungurahua with mixed feelings, but consider ourselves to be safe on the other side of the deep Pastaza gorge, which does not only secure a magnificent lookout for us, but hopefully maintains a sufficient distance between us and the volcano. Just in case… The 5,016 m / 16,460 ft high Tungurahua belongs to the very active volcanoes of Ecuador. Its most violent eruption occurred in 1777, but even in the recent past it became a talking point: In 1999 Baños was forced to evacuate for several months, and 2006, 2007 and 2008 some villages at the foot of the volcano were run over by hot mud and scree avalanches. Just since some days the Tungurahua draws again attention. Besides smoke it spits occasionally lava and glowing talus, what might be seen with clear sky.

But the view to the volcano is a bit tricky. The hot and in the meantime snow-less peak is permanently surrounded by clouds that get caught in the peak or steam that’s self-produced. After our hike at the Chimborazo we drive to Baños, the town at volcano Tungurahua’s feet, Ecuadorian backpackers’ paradise. We don’t come for the hustle and bustle, but because of hoping to get pictures. The tourist information in town distributes city maps and information about the best viewpoints. The closest look you can get is at Casa del Arból midway up the mountain. We don’t think it’s best for photos, and we are already in the middle of the volcano-clouds. On the other side of the deep river valley, in the safety zone, we go up instead to the mountain Las Antenas at 2,600 m / 8,530 ft. The road is freshly made with pavement stones, but big rigs might have problems in the steep and narrow hairpin bends.

At Mirador Ojos del Volcán there is a restaurant (not open every day), and in the hairpin bend a kind of lay-by on grass. The hamlet seems to be deserted, and only after a long search I find an inhabitant who immediately offers to stay on his plot instead. The man just has to climb two poles to remove the volleyball net for Arminius to fit in and park (S 01°23’02.1’’ W 78°26’14.1’’). The view to the ogre is perfect. Leniently it shows itself for a few minutes between swirling wafts of mist. We don’t get to see it again in this night, but we can hear it. The volcano discharges a loud burp into the darkness, a threat, a thunder like from a mighty fireworks, and then peace reigns again.

Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The 5,000-metres mark (16,500 ft) cracked

Donnerstag, Dezember 8th, 2011

I heavily breathe with every step. It’s only ridiculous 900 m / 990 yards to go and 200 m / 660 ft of elevation to overcome. That would be a piece of cake – if we wouldn’t be in 5,000 m / 16,500 ft elevation. The volcano Chimborazo that has erupted last 5 million years ago offers mountain hikers one of few possibilities to get into these heights. From Refugio Hermanos Carrel, the lower shelter, we plod through deep snow to Refugio Edward Whymper on nearly exactly 5,000 m / 16,500 ft (S 01°28’21.9’’ W 78°50’18.9’’). Here evidence stickers are available for one dollar the piece.

The atmosphere is quieter than at the Cotopaxi, wintrier and awe-inspiring. At night temperatures drop below freezing. We can walk a bit above the shelter; we reach 5.100 m / 16,830 ft for our logbook. Don’t dare to climb into the glacier as hobby mountaineer. In spite of all panting walking is still better than anything else. Eating, drinking and sleeping belong besides tying shoes to the silliest activities to do in this elevation. Since it is not possible to continue breathing while eating and drinking without choking, shortness of breath inevitably results, which has to be made up by vehemently gasping for breath. The nights are even worse. Sleeping – that’s quite out of the question! Concentrating on deep and fast breathing when still half awake, we immediately fall back into the acquired shallow breath when falling asleep, and we wake up struggling for breath. The whole night feels like a slight asthmatic attack lasting several hours. Only bending down is worse. Since one doesn’t have the entire lung volume at one’s disposal, it is impossible to tie the shoes without choking fit.

While hiking breathing is automatically faster and deeper and in fresh air we feel relieved. We manage the ascent in deep snow in just under half an hour, and we dash down in ten minutes. An oncoming group of hikers that struggles up through the snow uncomprehendingly stares at us – as if we cam from another planet.

Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The world’s highest elevation

Mittwoch, Dezember 7th, 2011

I’m hearing you groaning aloud. What does she claim now? The earth’s highest mountain is the Mount Everest! Correct. And still I’m in the right. The Chimborazo Volcano is the spot on our planet that has the largest distance to the centre of the earth. Therefore it was considered for long time for the world’s highest mountain. It’s paradoxically not. Its peak is only 6,310 m / 20,702 ft away from the earth’s surface. How does this go together? Let’s fall back upon Galileo Galilei. He wasn’t right with his assertion that the earth is a sphere. At least not completely. Isaac Newton stated that the earth goes baggy at the equator and is flattened out at the poles due to its rotation and the effect of the centrifugal force. Later this theory was proven. Therefore sea level isn’t the same like sea level. The surface of the oceans close to the equator is further away from the centre of the earth than close to the poles.

Even if Chimborazo isn’t he earth’s highest mountain, it is Ecuador’s only mountain over 6,000 m / 20,000 ft. Its glacier noticeably ices up because of leaking fresh snow, global warming and increasing UV radiation, and gets more difficult to climb. But we don’t want to get that high. The well paved road south of the volcano is already above 4,000 m, so it’s nothing to us to drive up the 8 km / 5 mi long dirt road to the Hermanos-Carrel shelter at 4,800 m / 15,750 ft. Here’s a parking lot and not far from it a complimentary camping zone.

In the ranger station at the access we again have only to pay the 2 $ local fee and the second day is free, although we declare that we want to overnight. Between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. the post shall be unmanned, but we happily pay the 4 $, the park has to be financed somehow. There was nobody in the camping area for long time, the snow is probably too deep. Arminius feels well here, and we also in the snow-covered solitude. After the engine is shut off, the vicuñas dare to get closer. Vicuñas are one of four kinds of the hump-less New World camels. Two of them are original wild species – guanacos and vicuñas – and the other two, lamas and alpacas, are millenniums-old breeding. Vicuñas are the daintiest and most elegant, but rarest and most endangered Andean camels.

They were nearly extinct because of their fur – the finest and most expensive we know. Since nearly 50 years the hunt for them is forbidden, they are just captured for shearing and released again. One animals produces only one pound wool, and this is worth around 300 US$. Their silky fur is yellow-brown to red-brown, the belly is white. Vicuñas adjusted best of all four species to their cold barren environment. They never live below 3,500 m / 11,500 ft, but they are still seen above 5,000 m / 16,500 ft. They modestly nibble at mosses and grasses. Thanks to a program of the Swiss government the animals were re-introduced to the area and the stock recovers well, despite the threat through recurring ash sediments from the neighbouring Tungurahua Volcano, vehicles on the road and Andean foxes that attack the small camels. The surrounding farmers got lamas and alpacas as presents, and as a countermove they withdrew the voracious sheep that challenge the vicuñas’ food.
Ranger station Parque Nacional Chimborazo: S 01°29’51.0’’ W 78°52’29.9’’
Camping zone at Hermanos-Carrel-shelter: S 01°28’21.0’’ W 78°50’56.6’’, 4,845 m / 16,000 ft

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – The perfect giant

Dienstag, Dezember 6th, 2011

The Cotopaxi doesn’t let us go. Ecuador is a fascinating country of partially harsh beauty, but the Cotopaxi volcano has a certain appeal. Yesterday evening we returned once more to the national park since we hoped for more weather fortune this time. And really, the sky clears during the night and it stays like this until sunrise and into the morning. Joerg is up half of the night to take photos. From half past eight on the mountain produces its own clouds. The sun thaws the area, then it gains strength and starts to evaporate the humidity. The mist immediately condenses in the cold air and there we have the ground fog. It clears for several times, but then the usual afternoon clouds of the rain front come in. We are happy nevertheless, because Cotopaxi rarely presents itself so beautiful and naked.

Machachi, Ecuador – The Quilotoa roundtrip

Sonntag, Dezember 4th, 2011

The crater walls of the Quilotoa stand completely on their own in a circle. In the middle is the emerald green lagoon, in a sheltered place mirroring clouds and crater walls. Who likes can hurry downhill the 400 m / 1320 ft of elevation to the waterline on a sandy path for 1.5 km / 1 mi and uphill on foot or on a mule. Alternatively one can hike around the lake along the edge of the crater for around six hours. Admission fee is 2 $, sleeping on the parking lot (S 00°51’59.7’’ W 78°54’58.5’’) in front of the crater would be possible as well. Coming from south Laguna de Quilotoa is accessible via paved roads; from here on we drive for 50 km / 31 mi on a pretty good sand track through the mountains. The area is known for its artists that capture naive painting on sheep skin, which is depilated and cleaned with a special procedure. Three kilometres / 2 mi after Tigua there is a sales exhibition.

The Quilotoa roundtrip seems to be popular among globetrotters. On our way we meet German Frank with his BMW motorcycle, who already formed his opinion after travelling 14 months through South America: “The people here are stupid and futile.” Well, enjoy your further trip. In a tiny village we see the well-known car of an English couple on a world trip whom we have met at the Overland Expo in Amado, Arizona. They have a breakdown. The transmission case of their Landrover is broken since two weeks, but they seem to have pretty well integrated into the community. If brandishing the machete or tending cows – nothing is worse than boringly waiting for spare parts. We have to admire them. Nearly without Spanish knowledge they happily and impartially repair around the world.

The complete Quilotoa roundtrip is 200 km / 125 mi, a quarter from it is sand track, the rest cobblestone and asphalt, altogether problem-free for most cars. In the end, back to the Pan Am, we turn north again to the town Machachi. The Papagayo farm will be our nightly host (S 00°33’38.5’’ W 78°35’41.6’’, feeder road 1.5 km / 1 mi south of Machachi toll station, direction EcoRoses). Although they ask for 5 $ pp for camping on the parking lot in an intransigent way, they have at least bathrooms, hot showers, and a fast internet. The Papagayo seems to earn its money with Cotopaxi mountain climbers and to organize these tours. Even though not all clamberers return happily: They are all exhausted, but not all of them reached the peak. Maladaption to the elevation, insufficient fitness, or just bad luck with altitude sickness are the main reasons.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – Onset of winter on latitude zero

Freitag, Dezember 2nd, 2011

I nearly don’t trust my eyes: Snow everywhere I look at. My mind tells me that even on the equator precipitation falls as snow from a certain elevation on. It is hard to understand nevertheless. The whole night it rained on our overnight place, but the glacier of the Cotopaxi instead received a new layer of snow. Driving up to the parking lot below the shelter José Rivas the jet-black lava sand is gradually overlaid with bluish white. The eight kilometres (5 mi) long trails reaches 4,500 m / 14,764 ft. The last stretch is so steep and bumpy that the coaches that dare to go up here – astonishingly enough – have to park some hundreds of metres further down.

From the parking lot (S 00°39’23.3’’ W 78°26’19.5’’) a simple trails leads to the refuge at 4,810 m / 15,780 ft. There is no time difference between the shorter but steeper direct route and the longer winding path, both ways request 45 minutes. Walking in the fresh snow isn’t easy, and if trampled down it is slippery. We make it before the first coach group of seven (It’s only a weekday!) climb the mountain. The few teens that come close to us are more than enough for us. Loud music booms from their MP3 players and some of the boys put on so much cloying scent that I become dizzy even without altitude sickness. But I have to admire a young lady who manages the climb with lilac patent leather boots with high wedge heels.

In the shelter José Rivas a strengthening meal is available, and the “real” mountain climbers sleep here before conquering the peak. The glacier above the shelter isn’t demanding, but no playground for hikers. We descend back to our truck and drive down into the beginning ice-cold rain to the south entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Our next destination is crater lagoon Quilotoa. We will drive the Quilotoa roundtrip clockwise. We find a camping spot in the village Tigua at the pretty farm La Posada de Tigua (S 00°56’50.3’’ W 78°51’22.7’’). Access is signed from the main road. Camping fee is “normally” 3.50 $ per person, but 5 $ for two will do.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – The road of the volcanoes

Donnerstag, Dezember 1st, 2011

Ruta de los Volcanes is the name of the valley that extends along 500 km / 310 mi and a width of 20 to 30 km / 12 to 19 mi from north to south. In 1,800 to 3,200 m / 5,900 to 10,500 ft elevation it snuggles up to the two Andean cordilleras, the Cordilliera Occidental and the Cordilliera Oriental that cut through the entire Ecuador. The two mountain chains are larded with volcanoes, but even in the long valley some of the more or less dormant giants are situated. Today we again proceed to the old bumpy Pan Americana that brings us from Quito directly to Cotopaxi National Park. We want to thank the Carrera family whom we left this morning for their hospitality and their repeated introductions to Ecuadorian cuisine. In the town of Sangolqui south-east of Quito we just have to find the way to Rumipamba (partially signed / ask around). Once on the cobblestone road it is only 32 km / 20 mi straight ahead to the park’s north entrance. The pavement stones are partially torn out and left deep holes that ask for vehicles with some clearance. It is a bit narrow with deep hanging branches in one spot, but besides scratches the road doesn’t cause any problems.

A watchman opens the gate of the EMAAP waterworks, or lend a hand yourself if the guy is absent. The volcano route takes us through lonesome páramo scenery with scattered tiny Indigene villages. On our way south we pass the flattened volcano Pasochoa to our right, and then we see the deeply fissured Sincholagua peak at 4,898 m / 16,070 ft on our left hand side. Rumiñahui Mountain is again on the right with its three peaks that lend it the appearance of a face in a lying position. Just in front of us we can guess Cotopaxi Volcano that wraps itself in clouds like most of the other mountains today.

At the little used north entrance of the park we have to pay admittance. Foreigners shell out 10 $, but for an unknown reason we only pay the local charge of 2 $ pp, and since we want to camp there are another 2 $. Park’s opening hours are daily 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Soon we reach the flat plateau nearly without vegetation at 3,800 m / 12,470 ft where Cotopaxi stands completely secluded. The volcano is with 5,897 m / 29,190 ft not Ecuador’s highest but possibly most famous one, perhaps due to its perfect cone shape. It is said that its glacier is technically easy to climb. The plateau is a bit spooky: It is covered with lumps of rock in different sizes, dumb witnesses of the volcano’s eruptions of the past thousands of years. It was especially active during the 18th and in the middle of the 19th century. The last eruption occurred in 1904. Scientists become aware of a warming of Cotopaxi during the last years, measures of evacuation were prepared.

The park ranger at the entrance explains us that we can camp everywhere, and that there are two designated camping zones. We decide for the parking lot at Laguna Limpiopungo where it is very lonely. On our way there we already get to see the wildlife highlights: wild horses with long manes and tails down to the ground; the timid Andean fox that nearly reaches the size of a coyote; and buzzards that are attacked by way smaller birds.

Laguna Limpiopungo: S 00°36’53.9’’ W 78° 28’25.8’’
Other camping options in the park: Tambopaxi Hosteria close to north entrance
Camping zone 1: S 00°37’38.8’’ W 78°28’30.4’’
Camping zone 2: S 00°38’11.6’’ W 78°28’57.0’’
Along Ruta de los Volcanes there are many options for free camping, the area seems to be safe; for example:
S 00°29’37.1’’ W 78°26’22.7’’
S 00°31’38.2’’ W 78°26’52.7’’
S 00°31’52.0’’ W 78°26’59.6’’
S 00°32’28.2’’ W 78°27’09.3’’