yesterday's (admittedly long) post about my adventures in and around Quito, Ecuador, you probably already know that the Andes highlands can be a challenging place to go for a hike. The weather is unpredictable – especially during the rainy season – and the trails can be steep, difficult, and often completely hidden by high grass. It was with that in mind that I woke up this morning in the incredibly warm, and comfortable, Cotopaxi Pungo lodge wondering what I'd face on my second day of hiking in the Andes. Turns out, I needn't have worried at all, as today's trek was very leisurely, not to mention rain-free, while still providing plenty of wonderful scenery to enjoy along the way.
After yesterday's very soggy trek, I had set my trekking gear close to the fireplace in my room at Cotopaxi Pungo, and overnight, most of it dried nicely. The lone exception was my boots that still felt damp. Knowing that I needed to have good, sturdy shoes for today's walk, I dug out my thickest pair of socks, and slid them on. Then, with a bit of trepidation, I slid them into the boots in question, only to hear a resounding sloshing sounds, and feel the socks already begin to dampen. This wasn't a good start to the day, but there was nothing to do but grin and bear it.
Fortunately, the weather outside didn't appear like it would be sending rain our way anytime soon. The clouds were once again hanging low, obscuring visions of the surrounding mountains for the most part, but it at least seemed like we'd get off to a dry start. So, after grabbing some breakfast, I returned to the trail with my guide Fabian, who led me to the summit of Pasochoa yesterday, and Carmen, a representative of Tropic the adventure travel company that has been introducing me to one of their itineraries. The company does everything in Ecuador, including taking visitors to the Galapagos Islands, the rainforest, and the Pacific coastal region.
Before we set off, I was informed that we were not granted the normal permit needed to hike the trail that was on the schedule for the day, so we'd be walking an alternate route along a road instead. Apparently, since we weren't scheduled to say in a certain hacienda along the route, the permits were withheld, so we had to make the most of the situation. Hearing this news, I was wondering what we might miss out on along the way, as trekking a road didn't sound like a lot of fun. It turns out the road runs almost parallel to the trail anyway, and we were still treated to some excellent views along the way. It should also be noted, that we probably encountered a half-dozen cars on the dirt and cobblestone route, and perhaps eight or ten other people walking it as well. In other words, it wasn't crowded, and it still afforded us a great connection with the Andes forests and grasslands that are common in this area.
Today's hike was to follow the Pedregal Trail, which winds its way along the Pita River – a source of water for the valley below. The Pita begins on the glaciers of Cotopaxi, and its runoff helps to sustain life in the region. But as noted, we had to take a detour, and while we were no longer following the Pedregal, we were essentially on a parallel route.
The morning air felt cool and damp, but upon striking out from the lodge, we were soon plenty warm with the exertion of the hike. The road went over, around, and down, some rolling hills, while the clouds played peekaboo with the surrounding scenery. Nearby, Cotopaxi loomed large, but its summit remained hidden by mist and cloud cover. At one point, even Pasochoa, yesterday's big challenge, appeared from behind the fog, giving us a brief glimpse of where we had been just 24 hours earlier.
About 45-minutes into our walk, a black puppy joined us on the trail. We weren't really sure where he came from, but he soon fell into stride along side of the three of us, as we made our way through the highlands. He stayed with us throughout the entire day, enjoying the walk as well it seems. The friendly pup showed no indication that he wanted to return to wherever he had left, and the dog was with us as we arrived at our lodge at the end of day. In fact, he seems to have already been adopted by the staff, and has made friends with the llamas that graze on the grounds.
As our day wore on, the clouds dissipated some, giving us a better look at the surrounding countryside. What we saw were rolling hills covered in incredibly fertile grasslands, which were perfect for farming and grazing of livestock. Many of the fields we passed had horses or cattle in them, and small homesteads dotted the landscapes. Occasionally, one of the farmers could be spotted going about the days chores. Any that past close enough to see our wandering trio were quick to greet us with a friendly "hola" or "buenos días." The warm and inviting people of Ecuador are found high in the Andes as well it seems.
Around noon we stopped for lunch, and were soon greeted by the six mountain guides that had accompanied us on our Pasachoa summit, and soggy trek from yesterday. They were walking the same route as us, and had started a short time after, but had caught up just as we sat down for sandwiches and snacks on a covered bench. It was a lively and fun reunion for all involved, as it seemed like we all shared a common bond following the mountain storm we had survived together the day before. Our combined groups would hike the final section of the road to our lodge together, with much laughter to be had along the way.
As the afternoon drew on, the sun even poked out from behind the clouds, and blue sky appeared overhead, That made for a pleasant walk to the Hacienda Santa Ana, a historic hotel that was once home to the Jesuit priests that came to the area. It has been restored, and looks fantastic, with beautiful and comfortable rooms as well. The restaurant serves wonderful gourmet meals too, which make it a wonderful destination following a long day on the trail.
Tomorrow, I'll spend just half of the day with Tropic doing yet another trek, this time along the Cotopaxi Trail. It is said to be another relatively easy hike, and we're predicted to finish up by around noon or so. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and provide us with some good views of this awesome mountain. It has proven somewhat elusive over the past couple of days. Once I'm done with the trek, I'll then transfer to the Tierra del Volcan, a lodge that sits right on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park, where I'll spend my last couple of days in Ecuador before returning home.
The trip so far has been filled with wonders, both cultural and natural. Ecuador is a wonderful place for adventure travelers, as it has so much to offer outdoor enthusiasts. But the thing that will stick with me the most upon my return to the U.S. is just how friendly and hospitable the Ecuadorian people are. Everyone I have met has been incredibly accommodating and polite. That is a wonderful impression to take away from any destination.