September 26th - 29th 2003
After spending the morning repacking our gear and yet again thinking we had brought far too much stuff, we headed out to the Pasochoa Reserve for some camping/hiking with Joe and some friends of his. The reserve is on the northern flanks of the now extinct volcano Pasochoa and sits within the collapsed volcanic crater. Our campsite was at about 2800m above sea level. On the way we stopped to fill up our little jerry can of petrol for the stove, only problem was the petrol station was "empty".
As we neared the reserve, the sky turned a very dark shade of grey and the lightning started. Not the ideal weather when you are sleeping up high in a roof tent! (Luckily the weather cleared up later in the evening). The last 45 minutes of the journey was spent along a very rough track and Ed had to go into low box, mainly because the diesel engine does not seem to have much power at altitude.
Like all national parks here - and many other places - local residents get in for a lot cheaper than "foreigners" - $2 versus our $7 each. But at least it means that they can keep the parks running and locals get to visit the parks. Camping was an additional 75 cents each, and whilst the rest of the group walked up the path into the camping area, we had to stay in the field that was the car park. The roof tent was put up and we joined the rest of the group to cook our dinner - sausages and one of the two cans of Heinz Baked Beans brought from home. Thanks to Woody for coming to the rescue with some petrol for the stove.
There are a number of walks you can do in the reserve ranging from 30 minutes to a full 8 hour hike to the summit. We decided to walk as far as we could until 12:30 and then turn back to enable us to drive on to Cotopaxi National Park that afternoon. The walk was hard going, partly due to the altitude and partly because we had not been walking for quite a while and were out of condition. The path was reasonably steep and just kept going further up the volcano through the cloud forest. We walked as far as the ridge at 3523m before retracing our steps to the campsite - a lot quicker downhill!
View from our tent in the morning
Before heading off to Cotopaxi, we flogged our duvet to one of the ex-pats in the group. We had been telling them how we regretted bringing so much stuff and the duvet was one luxury we could do without - especially as Ed pinched most of it in the night anyway. By the end of the walk the duvet had a grateful new owner and we had a bit more space in the Weasel. Not sure what we will get rid of next......
Heading back to the Panamerican, we made our way to Cotopaxi National Park, taking the only exit that had a signpost and hoping it was the right way to the main entrance. Ecuador is not strong on roadsigns to say the least - sometimes there are none at all and other times there are one or two signs directing you to where you want to go, and then suddenly the signs stop and it is a guessing game as to which road to take. Going along this track was no exception. The track was also a rough dusty gravel track with lots of corrugations.
Eventually we reached the park entrance after about 45 minutes from the Panamerican turnoff. It was then 4:30 and there was a sign stating that the last entry to the park was 3pm. Playing the stupid gringos who can't speak very good Spanish - not hard - the guard decided to let us in and on we went with the skies getting darker by the minute. (Why is it that as soon as we start to camp the weather takes a turn for the worse?). It took a further 40 minutes to get to the campsite.
By this time it was starting to get dark and no sooner was the tent up than the heavens opened and it poured down. A good hot cup of tea would soon warm us up - not a good moment to realise we didn't have enough petrol to light the stove. In the dark the night before we had not put as much petrol in the stove as we had thought. We were at 3800m, it was cold and wet and there was no hot food or drink to be had. Matters only got worse when we realised that the group of tents a couple of hundred yards away from us were a group of Ecuadorian school children who were noisy to say the least. A lot of them didn't even go to sleep at all and sat up all night shouting and screaming.
The next morning we were up bright and early and thankfully it was dry - for a while anyway. We decided to stay another night in the park and spend the day sorting a few things out on the car. A difficult decision as that potentially meant another cold day and night without anything hot to eat or drink. But our prayers were answered when a Toyota Landcruiser pulled up to admire our landy and stopped for a chat. Ed cheekily asked if he could syphon some petrol from the tank for our stove. We didn't fancy another night of cold sandwiches. Thankfully he was only too happy to help.
As for Cotopaxi and the fantastic views in the park, the weather was against us yet again. We caught a glimpse of the snow-capped volcano for about 5 minutes before the clouds rolled in and it disappeared again and it rained on and off throughout the day. Cotopaxi Volcano is the second highest peak in Ecuador at 5,897m and one of the highest active volcanos in the world. It last erupted in 1904 and there was a slight increase in activity recorded at the end of 2001. But nothing since then.
The next morning we were up early again, this time with the intention of driving to the car park just below the Refugio of Cotopaxi, hoping the weather would clear up and give us some good views of the volcano. The car park was situated at 4600m above sea level, which meant an ascent of 800m from the campsite, and the Refugio was at 4800m, a steep 1 hour climb from the car park. The road became ever steeper, ever more winding and narrower by the minute, which had Sue hanging on for dear life and Ed grinning wildly. We reached the car park eventually and only three other 4x4's were there. One left just after we arrived but could not start his engine and just rolled down the road until he could. Probably due to the altitude. We had good intentions of walking up to the Refugio, the only problem was it was so misty we could not see where the Refugio was and the paths in the volcanic ash went in all manner of directions. We decided to err on the side of caution and not chance getting lost. Deciding to turn back we got a glimpse of the Refugio for about 2 minutes before it was once again obscured by clouds and mist (also we were both too knackered because of the altitude).
We went back down and after chatting to a lady from Quito we decided to leave the park by the northern entrance, which came out at Machachi. It was definitely a more interesting route. We were the only vehicle in sight as we crawled our way across the barren landscape, basically guessing which tracks to take, purely by compass bearing, as they weren't marked on our map. Eventually we reached the northern gate and the guard let us through - after we had given him the rest of our "All Butter Scottish Shortbread" - he said he was hungry. It was only 16km to Machachi from the guard's station, but it took us over an hour. The road conditions were mud, potholes and cobblestones to various degrees. Quite a shakeup for the landy.
Both batteries were flat in the camera so no pics of the journey.
Back on the Panamerican we headed north to Quito, to pick up a couple of spare parts that we hadn't managed to get prior to leaving the UK and then south again to complete the Quilotoa Circuit.
The Landy dealers in Quito are Britanmotors Cia Ltda. Av Eloy Alfaro 40-542 y Camilo Gallegos, Quito. Tel: 2444 673 - 2444 675 - 2430 080 - 2443 957. Peter Peñaherrera was really helpful in sorting out some bits and pieces.
Whilst there we also met the British Ambassador to Ecuador, Mr Richard Lewington. Richard was a really nice chap and we talked lots about our trip. He had lots of advice on interesting routes to take and things to watch out for, based on his experiences in South America and elsewhere. He also gently reminded us that we should be registering with the Embassies as we move along. That was something we had intended on doing, but had always felt a bit unsure as to whether we were being a bit paranoid.
More pics of Cotopaxi in the Gallery section here.