Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cotopaxi to Banos: travel and settle in

For our last few days in Ecuador, we decided to head to the warmer and more tropical town of Banos. (There is supposed to be a tilde over the "n" in Banos but I can't figure out how to make Blogger do it.)

We said goodbye to our llama friends at Secret Garden

and shared a pickup truck ride to the town of Machachi with a few other departing Secret Garden Cotopaxi guests.  From Machachi, we somehow managed to catch the correct bus to Banos, although there were some moments of doubt, since our Spanish wasn't as good as we thought.

On the bus to Banos.
 After about 3 hours on a Wi-Fi enabled and very comfortable bus, we arrived in town and walked to our hotel.

La Floresta hotel, a very nice hotel on the edge of Banos but within walking distance to everything.

Our room is the one with the hammock on the balcony on the second floor to the right of the bamboo tree. A nice location!

The room was too big for us, but the Internet said that's all that was left.  I'm pretty sure the hotel was not nearly at full occupancy, but a splurge at the end of the vacation was not against our rules.

After a little down time, we ventured out to check out the town and find something to eat.
We could have stayed here!

And we could have eaten here!

There were a variety of street foods on display.
 We settled on a place that Lonely Planet said had good authentic Ecuadorian dishes.  Oh boy were they authentic.
I'm just pretending to eat the chicken parts that were floating in my soup.

The fish was good, once you got past the scales and eyes.
 Drew didn't have much to eat because everything had meat in it, so he was OK stopping at la panaderia (bakery).
I'd been too long without American doughnuts. This giant, bread-y and not sweet enough doughnut-like creation made me happy.
 We had a few hours before dark so we decided to go for a hike across the big river and up into a less-populated area.  One attraction on this bridge is to jump off tethered to a bungee cord. Lots of people we loitering about on the bridge and one woman was getting talked into jumping by a man. We walked a little farther and were taking in the view from afar when she finally jumped.

The tiny red speck in front of the zig-zag scaffolding below the bridge is the jumper.  I don't know if she didn't jump correctly or if the bungee cord is not very stretchy, but she bounced, hard.  I'm pretty sure she has back problems now.
 The goal of our hike was to see Tungurahua volcano behind the town. Shop keepers said there had been a pretty significant eruption a few months prior, but the mountain was quiet now.

The city of Banos and Tungurahua volcano in the background.

Obligatory geology picture.  I think this is low grade metamorphism.  

Obligatory happy couple picture. This might be on the Christmas card too.
 There was supposedly a trail that would take us on a loop back to town, but we couldn't find it, so we backtracked on the paved road in time to grab some pizza and beer. 
We searched high and low for a restaurant that had microbrew beer.  The menu at this place said they did, but when I ordered, the waiter said they were out.  My disappointed and border-line angry expression prompted him to run out to a store or different restaurant and get some for me.  We tipped him well.
Our first impressions of Banos were that the town is a lot more touristy than other places we had been but it has an air of adventure. Another full day would tell if those impressions were correct.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cotopaxi Recovery Hike

We had a choice of activities for our second full day at Secret Garden Cotopaxi: "mountain bike" on the outskirts of Cotopaxi National Park and fish for our lunch at a fish farm, or hike to a waterfall.  We've been mountain biking in developing countries before and I hate to sound like a bike snob, but the bikes and trails are just not up to our standards.  "Mountain biking" in developing counties usually consists of bumping down gravel roads on Walmart bikes.  I was really beat from the big hike to Pasochoa the previous day, so I wasn't keen on another hike with elevation to a waterfall.  What I really wanted to do was go into the park and hike on the volcano, but with the recent eruptions, the mountain was closed to visitors.

We decided to chance it, catch a ride to the park, and beg to hike there.

 No sooner did we get to the entrance than we were turned away.  With the volcano periodically spewing ash, dangerous conditions could come over random hikers very quickly.

So plan B was to walk back to Secret Garden, a 7 mile walk with just a little elevation gain and loss.

A rather weak national park sign. 
 It was windy and chilly, but the clouds moved away to give us our closest look at mighty Cotopaxi.

Note the dark surface of the snow on the right side of the peak. That's ash on top of the snow.

Modeling his Cotopaxi brand bag with Cotopaxi in the background!

A runoff stream full of ash.

Planting potatoes?

Drilling a well?

Pasochoa Mountain, which we had summit-ted yesterday.  Because we came in at night, we hadn't seen the setting of our lodge. Secret Garden is the collection of tiny orange-brown rooftops on the slope of Pasochoa located just above the big white building in the center of the photo.  No wonder we were sore from that hike yesterday.

Cowboy Drew
 The hike took us a good three hours but we made it back in time for lunch.  The rest of the afternoon was spent taking in the glorious view from the gardens...  

 and from the hammocks.  We owned these two hammocks all afternoon.

Tired dogs.
And more "wildlife".
 After two full days in the Cotopaxi area, we felt tired, relaxed, healthy, and happy.  We both decided this segment of the trip was the best so far.

You might see this photo on our Christmas card.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cotopaxi Time Lapse Video

In case you didn't get enough volcano from yesterday's post, here is a 10-second time-lapse video of sunset on the mountain. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in, but the Lucy and the llama are entertaining.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cotopaxi -active!

On the morning of our second full day around Cotopaxi National Park, we were treated to glorious views of the volcano. I snapped quite a few photos, playing with my camera setting and exposure. After we left Secret Garden and got back to a news outlet a couple of days later, we learned that Cotopaxi had been moderately active with steam eruptions.  I'm very glad I took so many pictures, because when I zoomed in on the pictures I had taken that morning, I realized I had been witnessing activity at the crater!!   How ironic is it that a professional geologist trying to be an amateur photographer doesn't realize what she is looking at?  In my defense, there was no Internet news to alert us to the activity. Nor did the staff at Secret Garden seem to know of the activity, or maybe they didn't want us to know.

Look closely at the "cloud" on the right side of the crater in this series of photos I took between 7:38 and 7:44 a.m. on Feb 19.












The steam cloud is small, but definitely more lively than normal clouds.  Reports were of occasional lahars (mudflows) on the mountain from ash and steam melting snow. The pictures clearly show ash on top of the snow on the right hand side of the top of the mountain.

So that's my second witnessing of an active volcano (the first being Kilauea in 1997, which was, to this day, one of the coolest things I've seen).  You don't see that in Utah! At least not in this epoch.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cotopaxi Secret Garden

 When planning our trip, to minimize transit time, we chose to visit Cotopaxi National Park because it is the nearest national park and volcano to Quito and midway to Baños, our final destination. I probably should have checked the current access into the park when I read that the park was closed due to recent volcanic activity, but to be honest, I really just wanted to be near a volcano in the mountains, so we booked a 3 night stay at the Secret Garden Hostal near the boundary of Cotopaxi National Park.

Even though we never got access into the park, we were enchanted by the beautiful mountain setting, remote location of our lodging, and hippy vibe of the hostel, so much so that I will devote this entire post to the hostel.

View from the front of the hostel

View out the front of the lodge of Cotopaxi volcano. The structure beyond Drew is a 10-person hammock.

A few of the buildings at the Secret Garden Hostal.       

On the right is the composting toilet, which the management prefers you use to make compost for their gardens.

The composting toilet

The view from the composting toilet has got to be one of the best views available while doing your business.

As long as I am showing pictures of toilets, here is the main bathroom attached to the lodge. It almost makes you happy to have to go.

One more variety.

Hot tubbing is a popular activity with a view like this

As for our room, We had one of three casitas, the most private of the lodging types available. Sharing toilets with 20-year olds is not Drew's style.

The view of Cotopaxi from our casita.

The bed in our casita was upstairs.

The first floor of our casita contained a tub and shower, basin, toilet, wood stove, and a small dresser.

Outside our casita was the llama pen. They make a snorting noise sometimes which was a bit frightening on our first night.

They look so cuddly, don't they?

Jean Luc was as curious about the llamas as they were about him.
 The majority of the guests were staying in dorms holding between 4-8 people in bunk beds.

 There were also three hobbit houses which shared a really cool semi-outdoor shower (my favorite kind of shower) and bath house. 

Hobbit house

Had I known that the temps were ok for outdoor showering and had I been able to convince Drew that it would be fun to pay to share a toilet, I totally would have opted to sleep in the hobbit house. As for the common areas, they were comfortable and sometimes very lively.
Lodge lounge at a quiet moment     

A typical evening scene in the lodge.
Mealtime was communal around a huge long table.

A cozy fire invited guests to commune in the living room in the evening.

Cosina (kitchen) where the cooks prepared quite delicious meals. For the first time, we didn't feel like the mini minority as vegetarians, as at least a third of the guests were veg

The bad and the good

The one aspect of Secret Garden that I found less desirable was that I could almost forget we were in Ecuador. American English was the most common native language, and I would hazard a guess that more than half the guests knew no Spanish. Even most of the staff spoke almost entirely English.  The typical traveler was an American in his or her early 20s traveling for 4 months or more, so to them, Secret Garden is probably a lovely slice of home in a foreign country, but for us, with only 16 days to experience Ecuador, I wish our stay had been more "authentic Ecuadorian".  

If you can't already guess, I was enamored by the hostel and the people.  I loved the mountain setting and the artsy feel.  The food was really good also.  One of the best aspects was the lack of WiFi or any computers, which encouraged human interaction to a degree we have not seen in many years. Watching the social interactions of adventuresome young people thrown together for a few days was highly entertaining!  I'm so glad I'm not 25 anymore.  But seriously, no Internet connectivity was a gift that allowed us to interact with other travelers and with each other.  I hope it taught us a lesson: put the phones down and communicate!