25.12.2005 - 31.12.2005
We returned to Quito to meet our older daughter, 26, and her boyfriend, who were flying in for 10 days from New York. By the time she arrived, the weather had turned cold and rainy, and was the same for our two day excursion to the Otavalo market. On Christmas day, we attempted to climb the lower reaches of Vulcan Cotopaxi. At 5897M or more than 19,000 feet, it is the second highest peak in Ecuador. Our Spanish speaking guide picked us up early in the morning, as the drive took about 2 hours. It was overcast, but not raining. On the way out we saw many Indians, whole families with children, begging on the side of the road. Our guide told us that they were there because it was Christmas. Occasionally a car would stop and give them a few pennies, but for the most part it seemed like they waiting in vain. When we arrived the upper half of the mountain was totally encased in cloud. Our plan was to start hiking from somewhere around 14,500, and make it to the snow line, around 17,000 feet. It was chilly and damp as we trudged through the open paramo that surrounded the cone.
The hiking was not difficult, but at altitude, it was tiring. Natasha, in particular was struggling, as she and Eric had just spent a couple of days in the highlands before coming here, and didn't have enough time to acclimate. A small dog followed us all the way up from the refugio, apparently belonging to the caretaker.
Despite the mist it was quite beautiful, and although the summit never did appear, we occasionally got a longer view of the ravines on either side.
The walk took us through low grasses, and then onto finely ground scree of volcanic rocks. After a few hours of hiking in the ever thinning air, Natasha had enough and wanted to turn back. We didn't make it to the snow, although our guide said it wasn't far. The weather deteriorated as we hiked down; the rain adding to the chill. It became difficult to see. Not quite a white out, but still hard to determine exactly where the path was, as the terrain all looked the same in the dim, flat light.
On the way back to Quito, the rain picked up, but the indigenous families were still out begging. Covered with plastic or cardboard, they attempted to keep dry any way they could, though the splashing from the cars and trucks made that difficult. We got back to L'Auberge in the late afternoon, glad for the opportunity to get out of our damp clothes, and feeling very privileged compared to the people we saw on the road.
The next day we went to Canoa, for a few more days of R and R on the beach. The folks at L,Auberge had just opened up a small hotel there. The price was right, $30US for two with two meals a day, and Canoa seemed relatively undeveloped from what I could gather by talking to the staff. The ocean swimming on the Pacific coast is not nearly as pleasant by the time you get to Peru and Chile, where it is chilled by the Humboldt Current. On our previous trip to Ecuador we had been to Atacames, which was then practically deserted, except for a few small thatched huts rented to German tourists. Most of the people on the beach were local shrimpers, who would come in every day and sell their catch to the open air restaurant, where we gorged ourselves on ceviche. Not now though. According to the guide books, it is THE party spot of Ecuador, and the beach is lined with hotels, restaurants and bars. I had no desire to go back and see how the quiet, beautiful place I remembered had been wrecked. That's always a problem when you go back to a place you remember fondly, especially when it's been a number of years. It's somewhat of a dilemma for me, even in terms of this blog. While I love sharing my experiences with others, I worry about what will become of the places I describe. I seem to get to many of them before they get written up in the Times. That's great, but I worry about running out of out of the way places, when its possible to get to so many of them in a day or two.
And then there was the bus ride. Not really a chicken bus, it was crammed to the gills with people sitting where they could in the aisles, or else standing for most of the 11 hours or so that it took to get there. It was supposed to take 8. We had our own seats, but people in the aisles couldn't help but lean against us. My daughter was a little stressed, both because of the overcrowding, and the fact that there was no bathroom on board, which was typical. We assured her that the bus would stop for pee brakes, but really we had no idea how often, or for that matter what the condition of the bathrooms would be. Perhaps it would be like our last trip here when the buses simply stopped along the side of the road, and the women hiked up their skirts. The bus did stop for bathroom breaks, but not for long, and not that often. Although I was somewhat used to it, I had forgotten how long the wait could be, and unfortunately had my usual morning coffee. Not a good idea when it could be three hours before the first real stop.
It seemed to take forever to get out of the city, but when we finally started to descend from the mountains the scenery was magnificent. Huge gorges and waterfalls lined our route, not to mention the inevitable 1000 foot drop off on one side of the road. When we got to a rather large town, at around two in the afternoon, the driver decided he was hungry. He got out, but neglected to tell us how long we would stay. Before we had a chance to climb out, which no one seemed inclined to do, thereby making it impossible for us to do so, hordes of street vendors descended upon us. This was not unusual, but because the bus was impossibly crowded they could not climb on board. Instead, they all seemed to have movable platforms on wheels that reached up to the bus windows, perhaps 10 feet or so off the ground. From there they sold us all manner of bananas, fried chicken, tamales, partially frozen, but melting ices, and the ubiquitous Inka Kola, which was not really a cola at all, but a super sweet lemon-line soda the color of urine. Apparently the bus crowds were a regular thing and these vendors were prepared.
We arrived at the end of the line as it was getting dark. Our hotel, Coconuts, was a few miles down the beach, and we took a taxi. We were all exhausted, but the room was fine, if simple, and faced directly out on the water 300 feet away. You could hear the waves breaking, and best of all, we seemed to be the only guests in the place. Since one of the owners was French, dinner was delicious. The little town of Canoa was a mile down the beach, but that would wait until tomorrow.
The beach was wide, and where we were, completely undeveloped. Except for the occasional brightly colored “cabanas” stretched over a couple of poles to provide shade, there was nothing.
The water was indeed warm and inviting. As in Nicaragua the surf conditions were highly variable, depending on the tides and the time of day, and the sunsets were sometimes incredible.
On the walk to town there were sand cliffs/dunes that grew in height to a couple of hundred feet.
These were perfect for paragliding, and we would often see the red and blue kites riding the thermals for hours, just like the smaller hawks nearby. After hearing I might get airsick the first few times, I decided not to try it. The town which had been primarily a fishing village, was slowly being transformed into a small beach side resort. There were several backpacker hotels and sea food restaurants which were good and inexpensive. We sampled a couple of them for lunch.
Most of the patrons seemed to be middle class Ecuadorian families on holiday, though the backpacker establishments clearly had an international clientele. The streets beyond the water were still just sand.
On the beach there were fishing boats that had been dragged up beyond the water line.
Kids frolicked in the water, while the ice-cream man made his rounds.
A long line of those same brightly colored cabanas, open on two sides , framed the water giving the whole place a festive air. It was busy enough to be fun for people watching, but small enough to be low key and relaxing. Natasha and Eric rented horses for her birthday, and went riding along the cliffs and the sand lanes beyond town. The staff at our hotel made a little cake and sang Feliz Cumplianos. All rather charming.
It was hard to pull ourselves away, but we left on the 31st because we wanted to spend New Years Eve in Quito and their flight was scheduled the next day. For the third and final time we returned to L'Auberge. That evening we went back to Mariscal for the festivities. There was music and large crowds milling about and looking at the huge paper- mache puppets that lined the streets.
Many seemed to have a political theme and we heard that making fun of the government and its corrupt politicians was a favorite New Year's Eve pastime. For a time we donned our own paper mache devil masks, which were being sold everywhere.
After the long drive, we did not make it to midnight.