On our way down from Cotopaxi ’s parking area we stopped to take a short walk and see some of the hardy plants that grow in this altiplano or paramo landscape. Here we saw the chuquiragua plant, which Jose Luiz told us is the national flower of Ecuador. This is a low shrub which grows only in this country and neighbouring Peru. It has yellow/orange flowers which the hummingbirds like to visit for their nectar – indeed we saw an Ecuadorean Hillstar Hummingbird here, which is the highest-living hummingbird. I didn’t manage to get a photo of the bird (though I was able to later in the day, as you will see), so am using Chris’s photo here, with his permission!
Other plants that grow in this tough environment include valerian and lupine. I took a photo of the latter but have not a clue what the yellow flower in my fourth photo might be, despite a lot of web-searching. So if anyone can enlighten me I would be grateful.
Next tip: lunch at Tambopaxi Lodge
Fondest memory: As the sun went down, Cotopaxi began to appear. We hoped our friends were on the ridge above Limpiopungo enjoying the view as well. There was not much time for reflection as we cooked and ate a well deserved meal and retired to our tent for some needed rest. We weren’t in for long when we heard what sounded unmistakably like footsteps. Thoughts raced through our heads of the murdered backpackers in Peru that preceded us by a mere month on our last South American adventure so we remained silent until we heard more steps coming towards the tent. I coughed loudly to show we were certainly not unaware of their presence but intermittently there were sounds of imminent encroachment. Unable to remain blind to what was approaching; I quietly unzipped the tent to have a peek at our intruder. I was somewhat relieved to see it was not in fact an axe wielding human. Still what was approaching had horns though in the dark it was hard to see exactly what it was. Visions of being trampled by a bull now filled our obviously vivid imaginations. I banged on a cooking pot and yelled loudly to discourage any further advancement. Though it made little sense to leave the tent we knew all too well it did not offer much in the way of protection. After what seemed like forever our visitor was on his way and we laid back in vain, much too excited to fall immediately asleep. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
In the course of the next two days we would get even luckier. We got photos of Cotopaxi perfectly reflected in mirror flat Laguna Limpiopungo just minutes before the wind picked up. There were herds of wild horses with luminescent volcanoes in the background. We even caught red glowing light on Cotopaxi’s peak at sunset. We had also had the entire park to ourselves, not seeing a soul since parting with our cab mates until miraculously meeting an Ecuadorian father and his two young sons, who kindly drove us not only out of the park but all the way back to our hostel.
The reflection was my most sought after photo from the entire planning phase of our Ecuador adventure. I even remarked after that I could go home right then and be perfectly content with the whole trip. But somehow it was this first morning that seems most satisfying in my memory. Was it the elemental surprise of peeping from the tent to see the magic one greeting us good morning? Escaping a mad bull that’d lost his way? Or as with many things was it just the first feeling that you get when you do something you’d not done in ages, not only finally knowing you can do it, but being there, a part of the whole thing.
Fondest memory: The next morning, I awoke from what seemed a dream and immediately popped my head out of the tent without leaving the warm comfort of my sleeping bag. Not only was there no mad bull to be seen but Cotopaxi was looming much more clearly than the evening before. The early morning light offered a luminous quality that had me excitedly and simultaneously waking my wife, readying my camera and getting out of my bag and dressed. It was cold and the tent was still very much in the shade but already the upper reaches of the ridge lining the valley were glowing in the morning sun. Cotopaxi was a glorious sight. Now, the views of it from the previous evening seemed to pale in comparison and I was ecstatic that we’d been able to camp out overnight to enjoy it. I wandered around snapping photos from various angles oblivious to a herd of cows heading towards the tent. Once spotting them and having no time to break camp, we headed up the ridge and hoped they didn’t squash our little abode. They approached cautiously as the unnatural object was obviously something they hadn’t seen before but once a few had passed, the rest moved more quickly. Soon enough we could head back down to enjoy a breakfast in Cotopaxi’s unwavering presence. We basked in our good fortune. It was true that things had started bleakly and that dreary beginning had become downright creepy at one point but the results were tough to argue with. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: After four hours we seemed to be about three quarters to the base of Rumiñahui. We hadn’t brought information on climbing the now somewhat imposing peak since it wasn’t in our original plans. Though it looked like a worthwhile excursion it would certainly slow us down by an extra day in addition to the one we were currently “wasting.” So, we found what looked like a great place to set up camp for the night, on a flat plateau not too far from a strongly flowing stream. The weather had cleared somewhat and it was nice to get the heavy packs off our backs. We set up the tent and went about all the activities that camping in the wilderness entails from collecting and purifying water to airing out our mats and sleeping bags. Despite being rusty from lack of practice things went smoothly and soon we were watching a herd of cows in the distance through the zoom of our camera. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: That the 6000+meter wonder was nowhere to be seen when we arrived at Laguna Limpiopungo put a slight damper on our introduction to the park. Throw in a cold spraying drizzle and you get the idea that we wished we waited for a better day. Our taxi cohorts were under more pressure. They only had four hours in the park and a non-appearance by the world’s tallest active volcano was not in their plans. With the bleak weather and our late arrival time, we opted to head towards the back of Laguna Limpiopungo rather than continue on the road that was the beginning of the circuit around the currently invisible one. It was an easy flat walk but our cab cronies were far ahead since they were without packs and obviously more pressed for time. In fact, we now had no plans other than the make shift one we half decided on in the cab on the way over. We got to the back of the lake in no time and decided to head into the valley towards Rumiñahui, an impressive if inactive volcano that would keep us on course as well as give us something intriguing to look at as we trudged now somewhat upward into a more protected valley. Our friends were now no longer in sight and we figured they had started to climb the ridge that would give them a better vantage point if the great one decided to show himself. We half wished we could join them sans pack but it didn’t really look as if they would be so lucky and we were happy to have more days at our disposal for achieving such vistas. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
They don’t call it Cotopaxi Province for nothing. Anyone venturing into this corner of the world has to be coming at least in part to see the world’s tallest active volcano. We were no exception and personally it was THE main reason I was going to Ecuador. It is one of the most beautiful peaks in the world, a perfect symmetrical cone, snow covered for contrast and looming out of a nearly flat barren terrain. It is a sight you’ll never forget if lucky enough to see it in all its majestic glory.
Fondest memory: Hearing footsteps from the security of our cocoon-like tent threw adrenalized angst onto an already less than perfect day. The day that was to be the first in completing a circuit around famed Ecuadorian volcano Cotopaxi began lazily when we opted to share a taxi with an American couple into its namesake National Park rather than walk two days from the Pan American Highway. It might have been a sluggishly later than ideal start but it became apparent it was a good one just the same when we found ourselves behind a herd of yellow school buses. This perhaps made our drive into the park a dusty one but at least we were not on foot inhaling and covered in the dirt churned up by their wheels. At first it seemed an odd sight in what was otherwise a barren and foreboding wilderness but the fact remains that Cotopaxi National Park is not only Ecuador’s second most popular park but also its second top tourist attraction after the Galapagos Islands. And why wouldn’t it be with the perfect cone of the highest active volcano in the world as its centerpiece. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
When we were walking downwards, we had a splendid view over the volcano slope, and the lower part of the National Park.
Also on the way down there was more time to enjoy the view, as it was not so difficult to descent. So we had more time to make pictures.
Fondest memory: the scenery
It was a great experience to visit this Cotopaxi National Park, and of course it was a great feeling to have reached the Refugio Jose Rivas at an altitude of 4800 metres (on foot).
You can see the orange roof of the Refugio on the picture.
And we were very lucky that the fog did disappear partly so we could see something more of this fantastic volcano.
Fondest memory: The scenery and the fact to have reached the Refugio.
We spent the night in the colonial Hacienda La Cienega in Lasso. And on a clear day it is possible to see the Cotopaxi Volcano from the Hacienda.
Unfortunately it was cloudy when we where there.
In the morning we did visit the local market in Saquisili.
And from Saquisili we did drive to the Cotopaxi National Park.
In this National Park we wanted to climb the big Volcano (5897 m).
The entrance fee was 10 US dolars.
Fondest memory: The scenery
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