This past Saturday I laid pretty low in Quito. I did some grading for my law journal (the grip of law school work is inescapable, even in another hemisphere), and I checked out the mall that is a few blocks from my apartment. I also made sure to relax before my big day trip to Cotopaxi, which happened Sunday.
When I was at Plaza Foch last weekend I saw a travel agency called Happy Gringo. I checked out their website and it turns out they have a great selection of day tours for reasonable prices. I thought that a travel agency angled at gringos (United States folk) would be good for me, as it might help me make some English-speaking friends and because it might be more inclined to the all-inclusive, touristy trips I was looking for - which i think my native Quito friends wouldn't be interseted in and Quito tourism agencies aimed at locals wouldn't cover as much. I stopped by after work one day, and it turned out they had a tour to Cotopaxi on Sunday that I could get in on.
The guide picked me up in a little SUV from outside my building bright and early Sunday, and then we picked up the two other tourists from their hotel - a girl and her mother from Texas. We started off on the Pan-American highway, and I even got a nice shot of Quito from higher up in the valley when we got gas:
After an hour or two we arrived at Cotopaxi National Park and paid the $2 entrance fee. We drove through the park and stopped at a lake, which was scenic and had great views of the volcano:
The lake on one side, and volcano Cotopaxi on the other...
We then drove partway up the mountain to a parking lot. The parking lot was at 4500 meters altitude and it was very windy. From there we bundled up for our trek up the mountain. Amusingly, the two women from Texas, who are here for three weeks to tour and adventure about, had all the right gear: wind pants, windbreakers, headwraps, good climbing boots, and the like. I, unable to pack for every contingency, armed myself with a pair of leggings under jeans, a pair of sneakers, a cashmere scarf and beret (hey, it's all I had) and a pair of aviators. In short, I was the city-slicker-est volcano climber you've ever seen.
We started our climb up the mountain. It was incredibly windy and thus very cold, though we had great views on the way up of the country behind us, the volcano ahead of us, and some glaciers to our side. After an exhausting while, we made it to the refuge building, at 4800 meters altitude. There we warmed up a bit, ate lunch, and tried to force the altitude sickness to settle a little.
From there, we practically slid back down the beaten bath back to the parking lot. We had avoided this route on the way up because even though it is more direct and there is less wind, it is much steeper. But it was a much easier walk down!
From there we headed back home. I spent the rest of the evening laid up in bed, exhausted from all the hiking and the altitudes. But what a great experience!