Wednesday, August 23, 2017

16 south of the Equator – the valley, the rain, the wind

OK, as promised – the final post on Cotopaxi National Park! Not my final post on Ecuador, for sure, but you won't be reading about this park anymore!

So, our last day we had to leave the park for the airport. But we were leaving after noon, which left plenty of time for me for one last hike! Granted, it was a very stubborn decision, because there was a strong drizzle and a correspondingly strong wind. But I just had to do it!

This time I decided to walk along a rift next to the lodge. A stream ran at the bottom, horses were down there enjoying the water and peace, the ground around me was the typical volcanic soil with tiny plants we'd seen before...





I just pressed forward, keeping the rift to my right, and battling wind and rain. The wind was blowing so hard and so unidirectionally, in fact, that I was getting wet just on my left side, while my right side remained dry!





On my way back to the lodge – this was bound to be a short hike, since we were leaving – I admired the different stones and boulders on the way. Like me, some were soaking on one side and completely dry on the other  – me, on the other hand, was now getting wet on the dry side, since I was going back! – while some were big enough to offer me solid shielding from the wind and rain. Others had strange patterns left by drying moss, and I even found what seemed to be the remains of some creek, with a dry mud bed snaking into the distance...








Back at the lodge, we caught a hummingbird taking cover from the rain and wind by our window. Amazing how these birds survive the freezing nights here!



Our car finally arrived, and we began a drive that was both exhausting – the road was just so rough! – and gorgeous, since the driver took the scenic – hence rough  – route through the mountains instead of taking the highway after Machachi. I enjoyed the views, but having a flight to catch, it was just a tad annoying to drive at such a low speed!

Here's one last video about this amazing park which I just can't understand how it's not teeming with visitors – so imposing, so unique...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

16 south of the Equator – valley of rainbows

Yeah, I know, you're thinking "when is he ever gonna stop writing about his hikes?". It's just that I had such an amazing time, and each hike was different! But I promise it's just this one post and the next, and then we're done with Cotopaxi!

So, this hike I made by myself. The habibi wanted to stay at the lodge, and I was too excited about the place not to go out and hike myself to death (very figuratively) if I could. So, I promised the habibi I'd be careful and follow the paths, and that I'd be back for dinner. Then I left the lodge, and headed straight towards a hill in the distance with a few lonely trees on top, across the valley, where there were no paths, of course. I somehow feel like he knew I was lying when I promised to stick to the paths, and that he knew I knew he knew... 





So, up I went that beautiful hill with long golden grass that swayed with the strong wind. It was not only an easy way not to get lost (with the hill and the sun as reference), but the views from up there were stunning! The valley on the other side was in stark contrast to the hill I was standing on – it looked like the bed of a river, or the remains of some glacier... it was a broad, rough natural highway extending all the way into the distance towards the volcano. Gorgeous!




And then? Then, the rainbow! A full arc extending right in front of me! I couldn't resist and, instead of coming back the way I came – which would have hidden the rainbow from my sight – or simply staying there at the top of the hill – where's the fun in that? – I decided to climb down one of the other sides of the hill – not the one right in front, that was a precipice – to get more and better views! And besides, I had seen some people riding horses on the valley below, so that had to mean there was a way through the valley back to the lodge. And so down I went, into the valley, with constantly changing views of a rainbow that simply would not go away!





I swear, the rainbow lasted so long at some point I was like "OK, enough with you, can't take any more pictures, just vanish, will you?".  And I had to start getting back to the lodge, in case the way around the valley was longer that I expected. Fortunately I had a compass and a map in my iPhone, plus horse tracks to follow! And that hike back was stunning as well, even with my back to the rainbow. The wind. The isolation. The boulders. The volcanic rock...





I finally made it back to the road that led to the lodge. I even caught glimpses of the volcano, which seemed to be getting cloudier and cloudier. And then, another – or the same? – rainbow! I thought "I gotta get back to the lodge and have the habibi see it!". By now the clouds were thicker, and moving fast, so I figured I didn't have much time left to show the rainbow to the habibi, so this very last stretch of the hike was more of a sprint! LOL




And I made it just in time! For rainbow views from our volcano and bedside windows! Yay! What an intense experience! 




And yes, here's another short video of different moments of this hike:



Finished the day with a big dinner, preceded by a warm cup of canelazo (a local alcoholic beverage). Nice.



Next day we were leaving Cotopaxi for the airport to catch our flight to Guayaquil. Which didn't stop me from having one final hike, right?

Monday, August 21, 2017

16 south of the Equator – of lakes and freedom

Our third hike – on day two – in Cotopaxi was, unsurprisingly, amazing as well. We had called off going to the Laguna de Limpiopungo for sunrise, since the weather was really cold, that would have meant leaving at around 5:30am, and frankly the weather was so changing that we feared we could find ourselves just standing there in the cold with no views of the volcano at all. So we decided to get up a bit later, enjoy the views of the volcano from our window and the lodge, have the hearty breakfast the lodge offered, and then hitch a ride to the lake, so we could have a nice hike back from there. 




Once we reached the lake, it really did look we were not gonna get any views of the volcano – it was completely covered in fog. But we had a nice, long, placid walk all around the Laguna de Limpiopungo. It was a nice change of view to see the water, the streams, the reeds... 





Some meadows were covered in lilac-coloured flowers, which contrasted beautifully against the moss and the bright green plants, as well as against some dry silvery trunks and branches lying around...




It was drizzling just a bit. The walk was one of those where your mind really gets lost in the calm and the beauty and the colours... So lucky to be able to hike in a place like this...





Once we finished the tour around the lake, we began our hike back to the lodge. We decided not to walk on the road, but across the valley. We had become comfortable enough with the surroundings and it was clear that it was hard to get lost with a reference point like the volcano. The ground was soft with the weird dry white-gray plants (fungi) we had encountered before. Patches of flowers gave splashes of colour here and there. And the volcano teased us with hints of maybe – just maybe – coming out from behind the clouds.




The open area, the wind, the plants, the drizzle, the sun coming in and out as well... Of course the habibi felt like doing an improvisation here! With the added bonus of being able to take off his boots and wear some soft Japanese two-toe tabi shoes. It was so inspiring! The constantly changing light, the clouds moving, the volcano appearing and disappearing, the habibi's water-sleeves flying in the wind... 



And when he was done. I took off my boots too, and just ran across the valley! So much freedom! So exhilarating! 



The rest of the hike was a bit wetter and windier. Which was perfect, because the views deserved that... roughness to complement them. Wild horses in the distance. Boulders lying around. Fog rolling over distant hills...






We took a short break. The habibi sat on a big boulder. I sat on another big one I climbed, next to him. The harshness of the weather, of the stone we sat on... this also inspired the habibi to do Butoh, but in an even more intimate, more internal way... He'll post video at some point, so all I'll offer here is this one single photo of him...  



After that and more views that made you feel like you were the only person in the world, we finally made it back to our lodge to relax, enjoy some goodies we had brought from Quito, and just enjoy a nice read sitting right in front of our huge window to the volcano...






Like with the other hikes, I took a number of still videos, and a couple with movement. Here's all of them stitched together into a single short video.