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

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.

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