Ecuador! Part Three

To catch up on the trip to Ecuador, you can read Part One and Part Two.

We left off completely soaking wet in the jungles of Mindo, after ziplining through pouring rain. Let’s fast-forward to the next morning, wherein everyone was dry and comfortable. The kids were at school, so the adults decided to go on another adventure. Our destination? Cotopaxi, a volcano about 17 miles south of Quito. Although at 5,897m tall it should have been visible from within the limits of Quito, it had been incredibly cloudy all week and I hadn’t gotten a glimpse yet.

Here is what I knew about Cotopaxi as we headed out to explore: it is Xavier’s favorite mountain of all time. We are going to climb it some day. It looks like this:

Photo taken by Xavier

Here is what I know about Cotopaxi now that I have explored Wikipedia: it is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It last had a major eruption in 1903, but there was some minor volcanic activity in 1975. It’s apparently pretty easy to climb, making it an ideal target for novice outdoorsmen such as ourselves.

After driving for an hour or so, we reached Cotopaxi National Park. The roads deteriorated rapidly at this point. The trip was much more exciting when we drove through random waterfalls.

We paused for a few minutes to tour a little museum, take a couple of photos, and ready ourselves for the great ascent. Just kidding – we weren’t going to hike, but drive up as far as we could. From here, when the clouds shifted, we could see the snow-dusted peak of the volcano.

Group shot
Driving up

After driving another ten minutes or so through the rocky roads of the park, we reached a large valley directly underneath the volcano. There, we stopped, because we spotted wild horses. Cameras were withdrawn and utilized frequently. I skipped around the valley, frolicking with the horses only to rapidly feel dizzy and out of breath (hey, we were 3,800m/12,500ft above sea level and oxygen was scarce). The sun peeked out and we took more photos. It was such an amazing hour: we were completely alone with our silence and the snow-covered tiptop of Cotopaxi flashing at us from behind the clouds.

Amidst all the beauty, we got a little silly. Some cute shots were taken of Xavier and I, and his brother and sister-in-law. And there may have been some dancing, but I’ll never tell. What happens in Cotopaxi, stays in Cotopaxi.

Unfortunately, the weather really blocked the views that we had been longing for. Although we could have driven for another hour or so, getting closer to the summit, it would have been pointless. The peak would remain hidden under all the clouds. So we decided to check out a lake that was just a little further up the path, and then head out for some food.

The lake was beautiful. But as we were enjoying the view, I noticed a man descending the mountain on horseback. It reminded me of a photo that Xavier took at Cotopaxi a while ago, one that I’d always loved. Here’s his photo:

My boyfriend takes amazing photos.

And here’s the one that I took, making the most of my conditions:

The man was very nice. He even offered to let me sit on his horse for a few minutes. Despite all of the warnings I’d had to not touch animals while abroad, I couldn’t refuse.

Our drive back down the mountain was uneventful, but the views were fantastic.

Volcano in the background

On the way back to Quito, we stopped for lunch and had te de coca. According to the package, te de coca is supposed to stimulate digestion, wake you up, and provide numerous other health benefits. We definitely woke up after drinking the tea. I would recommend it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to buy any te de coca to go, so that experience must remain in the mountains of Ecuador for now.

The next day was, unfortunately, the last in Quito. We still had many items on our to-do list, though. A few were gastronomical: we purchased many fruits that you can’t find in the States, and went out for ceviche. Then we went to watch Xavier’s brother Christian play soccer. I had a great time capturing sports action shots with my zoom lens.

And finally, we went to Mercado Artesenal, a marketplace in Quito where vendors sold handmade goods. We had a great time and by the time we were through, I had been completely spoiled by everyone around me and gifted with tons of awesome stuff. I was decked out completely in handmade Ecuadorian stuff. In spite of my local attire, I had a hard time bargaining with the merchants to get the best deal on the lone necklace that I purchased – my Spanish is passable, but my thick accent gives me away as a gringa.

“Wait, you’re taking my picture?”

From there, we were out of time. We went back to the house to collect our stuff, had a quick dinner, and then Xavier and I were dropped off at the airport. Going home was really sad, especially as we bid farewell to the large group seeing us off at the airport. We’d had an amazing trip. I feel incredibly lucky to have met and been welcomed so warmly by Xavier’s extended family; every time I think about that, it makes me smile. I can’t wait until we have another chance to visit Quito, reunite with everyone who I met and loved, and explore more of the beautiful country of Ecuador.


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