It has been a long time since I last posted, so I´ll make this one action packed and talk about Volcanoes!
Nic and I made it past Banos, which was a great adventure in itself. After our hike in Banos to the Virgen Mirador (from my last post) we met up with some friends of Nics, as well as some new ones we met in Banos. The best part of this trip so far has been meeting so many new people from across the globe; Ecuador, Chile, Australia, England, Iceland and Switzerland just to name a few. We shared a few beers, visited hot springs and hiked around with these new friends and talked about life and our future travels.
Nic and I also rented some ATVs to explore the canyon and waterfalls below this mountain town. After quickly losing each other (within the first 3 minutes) we each ventured on our own for the next 3 hours, searching for each other and just taking in the scenery, which included upwards of 10 waterfalls. We spent a total of 3 days in Banos, most of which I was sick and slept through, but enjoyed our stay non-the-less.
We traveled to the town of Latacunga, where we are currently, to celebrate the Mama Negra festival, a celebration of the town´s existence after numerous volcanic eruptions in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The festival is focused on men (many police men in fact) dressing up as Mama Negra, with white and rainbow striped masks dancing around, cleansing locals and tourists along the parade and spraying alcohol everywhere. It was one of the most amazing cultural festivites I have witnessed, celebrating the strength of a community to overcome the devestation of unending volcanic destruction. It was also great to share this experience with Nic, shooting photos, capturing priceless sounds and drinking some local liquids.
After resting Sunday, the day after the Mama Negra festival, we decided to sign-up to climb the Cotopaxi volcano. At a whopping 5,897 meters (19,342 ft for you Americans) it is the tallest active volcano in Ecuador and is covered in snow year-round. Our friend Luis, an Ecuadorean climbing guide who lives in Europe, recommended a guide company and even visited us, to assist in our pack on Monday, as we were preparing for our journey. We met our guide after Luis had to leave us (to guide a trek of his own on a different mountain) and we made our way towards the Refugio de Cotopaxi, around 4,800 meters. It was only an hour trip from Latacunga and after arriving we began to eat and drink constantly. Nic and I had never been so full, with slight head aches and anticipation for our midnight excursion to the highest point either of us had explored. Every step upwards we took was the highest either of us had been. We were excited, so falling asleep at 7pm was difficult, especially in a bunkroom of 20+ people all preparing to do the same trek. After a restless (and bathroom break filled) night, our guide woke us up and we began adourning our many layers, gators, headlamps and harnesses, but only after one last bathroom break.
We were about the 5th group to begin our trek, but being a group of 3, we were able to stay nimble and focused. Early on we passed a few groups and stayed slow and steady. Hiking to the refuge the prior afternoon, we learned that slow and steady pacing was the key to success. The hike was a 6 hour, all night venture, and the goal was to top out before the sunset. Knowing that sunset meant nearing the top, it was a long and arduous night hiking in the dark. The stars appeared as headlamps of climbers much further ahead, and the diziness and headaches made understanding the difference much more difficult. Every step was painful, and our boots seemed to get heavier, and our breaths shorter. At some point it began to feel as if my heart was going to thump right out of my chest, and that feeling amplified as we gained altitude. There was no reprive from the pain except the frequent breaks; with sips of gatorade and small bites of Snickers bars we were able to continue.
At around 5:45am on Tuesday, after just passing the only group of two ( a guide and a Denmarkian*) Nic, our guide and I were the first to summit Cotopaxi. The rush of endorphans made it all worth it, and the pride of arriving on top of such a steep and difficult climb was much needed after nearly succumbing to the pain for the previous 2 hours. After less than 15 minutes at the top, with one of the most amazing sunsets I´ve seen and a moment shared with Nic, our new friend from Denmark and the guides, we began our descent. It was just as, if not more, painful than the ascent due to the pounding of our brains within our skulls and the relentless cruching of our knees. Luckily the snow compressed and our crampons slid at a rate which made descending relatively quick. Nic and I still needed many breaks, as our hearts were still pumping profusely, but our guide pushed us, “listos?” he would ask, meaning “ready?” in spanish. After a painful, but short two hours we arrived at the refuge, barely able to move and tired, we still had to pack our things, hike down to the road and travel back to Latacunga. We both fell asleep along the short journey, and upon our arrival at 10:30am we walked to the hostal (after purchasing some ice cream), asked for a room, each took a shower and I fell asleep.
We woke up this morning in a lot of pain, our legs barely able to move, but our hearts full after our succesful journey. We are now planning our journey to Cuenca, a 7 hour bus ride we will begin this afternoon as we make our way to the Peruvian border. We have both enjoyed Latacunga and Cotopaxi but are ready for new scenery and even more fresh adventures. Until then…