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!