Chaupi is a very small village off the Pan American Highway. To get there from Quito, catch a local bus to Machachi and from there another one to El Chaupi. Each one should be around 75 cents. It was quite easy to make the switch. In fact, we had to run to get it as it was pulling out as we arrived! This is the same bus to Hosteria Papagayo which is a great base for exploring this whole area. You just let the driver of the El Chaupi bus know you want to get off for the hostel and they know where the access road is. You will have to walk from there uphill about 2 kilometers. When you leave you just go down to the road and hail down a bus in either direction depending on where you want to go. It’s quite simple and efficient.
We unpacked our sleeping bags and grabbed a bunk even though all were obviously available. I set off to find some water but the nearby stream described in our hiking guide was nowhere to be found and I soon discovered a huge container of water next to the toilet. It was there to refill and flush the primitive commode. It didn’t look so great but I was going to have to boil it anyway so it would have to do. It was too cold to spend any more time looking. I filled a huge bucket and brought it in and figured out how to light the massive multi-burner stove. You could see it was set up for groups and many a climbing expedition had spent the night there. We were soon having a hot soup and our bodies finally warmed up. With some hot chocolate our spirits rose a bit too and I ordered Doreen into her sleeping bag so she could really get comfy. It was cold even in our bags so we took out our inflatable mats that we had brought in case there were no mattresses which luckily there were. Between the two we would manage a fairly comfortable night. It was a bit spooky and there wasn’t much to do so we got to sleep early and hoped for a clear morning.
(concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Mountains are wonderful and unpredictable things. Weather is another thing we have little control of. Put the two together and you have a recipe for profound disappointment or delight depending on how lucky you are. Having been exceptionally lucky in Cotopaxi National Park just a few days prior to making an attempt on Ilinizas Norte, I had said to the powers above that I would be happy with any weather outcome on subsequent parts of our Ecuador adventure. Sometimes it seems the powers are listening and this seemed to be the case here. After one day of rest at Hosteria Papagayo that followed a four day hike around the amazing volcano Cotopaxi we found ourselves standing on the side of the Pan American Highway waiting for the same Machachi to El Chaupi bus that had dropped us at this exact spot less than a week earlier. So much had happened in this short span of time that we now felt a world more experienced and hopped on the bus with none of the trepidation of the first leg of the journey. No tourists in sight and only looks of amused curiosity from the locals for the gringos carrying the big backpacks.
Fondest memory: The bus turned off the Pan American more quickly than expected but the ride just became more bumpy and dusty. We arrived in El Chaupi in one piece and set off on the road towards the trail to Ilinizas once we realized no cabbie would besiege us for a fare. Ah, the disadvantages of being away from the tourist track. We passed a hostel and soon a young boy followed us up the road inquiring if we needed a lift. Ah, to be back on the track again felt good. We sorted out the fare quickly and since we didn’t know exactly what time we wanted to return the same kid who tracked us down offered to give us a walkie talkie to keep in contact with him. This was working out a little too well we thought but enjoyed the ride up to the parking area in a very comfortable and new car owned by the boy’s neighbor. By doing so not only did we save invaluable time but from also a pretty boring walk through mostly farming area. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
The next day couldn’t come soon enough and unfortunately when it did come it was only marginally better than the day before. It cleared enough to see part of the obviously snowed over Illinizas Sur before fogging back over. We had given up on doing the climb. Even if had been clear it would have been too icy to get to the top. It would have sufficed to get some photos of the snow covered peaks before descending but appeared even that would be too much to ask at this point. Now, we just hoped it cleared enough to find our way back down. The walkie talkie we had borrowed was not working and eventually we headed down despite the poor visibility. After a few hundred meters things improved quite a bit and the lower we got the warmer it got too. Needless to say it was not only easier going down but much quicker too. We eventually ran into another group coming up who evidently paid extra money for a lift further up the trail. As luck would have it, it was our friend from the day before and he soon radioed for the same car to come get us. We shed all our outer gear, wet with sweat and were soon in the car heading back to El Chaupi.
Once there, we stopped in the hostel to pay for the refugio and our ride. It was a charming rustic place and we decided to have a much deserved lunch there. A hot meal and beer never tasted so good. We lingered but not too long. We had a bus to catch back to the Hosteria Papagayo. The Pan American was calling but this time we wouldn’t swagger. We had gotten lucky again and this time we made no promises. What was the point? Mountains do what they do with little acknowledgement of us. We’re just small specks drawn to them. Happy when they let us see them and happy when they let us leave.