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Exploring Northern Ecuador


November 14, 2017

We left Finca Sommerwind Tuesday morning, stopping in Ibarra to do some shopping and other errands.   We drove south into Otavalo and a tad east to the Parque Condor, which is a rescue bird reserve high on a mountain – directions were all over the place! Unfortunately, the place is not open Mondays and Tuesdays so we were quite disappointed but continued northwest to our next destination: Lago Cuicocha which we’d heard had a great hike around the crater lake. Volcan Cotacachi looms in the background and is snow peaked.

We arrived here early in the afternoon and it began to rain almost immediately. There is a free camping place right outside the park entrance on a grassy field with a lovely view over the valley and you can see Otavalo (when it’s clear…..). Around 3:30 the sun popped in and out and felt dry enough to at least enter the park (which is free) and go check it out.

We walked up to the first mirador which had a lovely view of the crater lake which has two islands towards the western end.

photo of view when no fog
our actual view

The hike around the rim is 14.5 km/7m and is supposed to take five hours with not too much up and down, hence the reason we (Fran) chose it. We continued westward along the path and saw a ritual bath site, a solar calendar and a lunar one and at the end of the main path was a small museum.

It was a pleasant way to spend almost an hour and we’ll see how the weather is in the morning to decide if we want to do the hike. We spent a quiet cool night camped there with no service (although you could use the bathroom inside the entrance gate).

Wednesday we awoke to dense fog and decided to skip the hike and head back to the Condor Park. We arrived around 10 which was good timing as they have give bird demonstrations at 11:30 and 3:30 so it gave us enough time to walk around the park, checking out the various eagles, owls, hawks and a pair of condors before the “show”.

There were about ten visitors for the show and five different types of birds were brought out. The trainer spoke pretty rapid Spanish so we didn’t catch it all but we enjoyed the show. Because it was a partly cloudy windless day, many of the birds did not do a “flight” as such but many were active and obviously well trained.

Cayambe’s main square

We left the park around noon and drove to the city of Cayambe hoping to get some information about the road to Volcan Cayambe where you can hike up to the glacier. This volcano is on the equator and has a glacier on it! Doug had considered doing a tour to summit this peak, but they are quite expensive and they start in Quito with not a lot of acclimatization time. Christine and Mark did this hike and they advised that the last kilometre up the road to the trailhead was pretty bad and they parked at the end of the official road, and also hiked that bit.

The very nice woman at the tourist info centre said she’d just been up there on Sunday and the road was passable with 4×4. So we thought, let’s go! We had lunch at a small restaurant near where we’d parked Tigger and set out just after two. At this point we took some altitude drugs to prepare for the hike. Once you leave the city, the road turns to cobble for several of the 25 kms to get to the “Refugio” (ranger station/trailhead) and then turns to dirt;

took us about two hours to get up. It was pretty good up to that last kilometre and the fog was coming in but we went for it anyway. We did get hung up on a large rock at one point but Doug’s 4×4 skills were up to the challenge of getting us out and after that, we were in some pretty thick fog, but we did manage to make it all the way, and after some scouting around, found some pretty level ground. There are a couple of buildings up here with lodgings and a small café.

It was COLD though; back in the city we were are about 17C/65F and now we are at 4600m/16000’ and when the sun went down it was 3C/36F (different thermometers in our vehicle) and Doug began to worry about the water pipes if it went much lower. By the time we went to bed it was 0.9C – just above freezing and Doug decided to open a couple of water drains to allow the water to very slowly drip all night. Hard to believe we are only a few hundred metres from the Equator!

Tonight we used the furnace a couple of times to take the chill out of the air and bundled up well to go to bed. It was warm enough under the covers but neither of us slept that well this high up (and probably the Diamox didn’t help).
When we awoke on Thursday, we turned on the heat for a bit and when Doug went out to check the drains, the fog had cleared and we could actually see where we were and the glacier of Cayambe.

We quickly had some brekkie, got dressed in layers, packed a bag and grabbed our hiking sticks and hit the trail shortly after seven am. The route is a loop with the right one being harder but it’s the side that has all the views of the glacier and peak so we took that way, stopping a lot – mostly for Fran – to catch our breath.

After close to two hours, we reached the “end of the trail” where you see a small green glacial lake.

Here we met a Texan with his Ecuadorian guide and asked about getting right to the snow line (past the “end of the trail” sign) and the guide showed us the route. We walked up to that point (4900m/16,076′) and sadly the fog had settled on the peak but we still had some great views.

We took the other side of the loop back and that took about an hour walking mostly in glacial sand.

Fran was feeling weird from the Diamox and felt maybe her dosage had been too high or was having adverse effects with her BP meds. She was hot, had tingling sensations in her hands and face and they seemed much more severe that Doug had ever experienced. Upon arriving at Tigger we packed up and headed back to the city of Cayambe, this time in not so much fog but there were foggy sections near the top and made our way south towards the Quito airport to a hostel with good amenities including hot showers.

When we stopped for gas and to fill the tires back up, Doug noticed one end of our sway bar was missing a bolt on one side so we tried to get that repaired enroute. While airing up, Christine reached out via FB asking where we were and lo and behold they were at the hostel we’re heading to, awaiting their friend to fly in that night. Colibri Hostel offers parking when you fly out of Quito so they had left their rig here when they flew home in August and Joe and Josée left their’s here last week when they flew home for two months so we plan to do the same when we go to Ontario for Christmas so this was a good opportunity to check it out.

We arrived at Colibri while they were out shopping so we had time to get set up, have a shower and do a few things online before they arrived in time for “happy hour”. Fran googled her meds and their interaction with Diamox and luckily there were no known side effects. She was still experiencing some tingling but it was lessening.

Doug, Fran, Christine and Mark in front of Joe & Josee’s parked rig: Silver

It was so nice to catch up with Mark and Christine again and figure out when we’ll meet again. Their friend, Brad, from Montreal arrived around midnight and we met him at breakfast before they took off for Otavalo. Doug went to get the sway bar repaired in the morning and we spent the day here relaxing and researching Amazon trips.

That evening for happy hour, an American couple from West Virginia were at the hostel. David and Lavonne joined us for a cold one and we chatted about our travels. They told us they’d done the Amazon last year and where they stayed.
We left early on Saturday morning heading east over more mountains towards the Amazon. The first half of the drive was actually four lane highway and after that only two lane but other than a half dozen small washed out sections, pretty good.

We had some amazing views of Volcan Antisana:

We stopped at another section of the Cayambe Coca NP on the east side, where we hiked to the lookout of the San Rafael Waterfall – it was worth the warm/hot walk in the jungle. There was a significant amount going over in a very pretty setting with a cave at the bottom.

Enroute to our camping spot, Doug was hearing a rattling sound and gosh darn it, wasn’t the sway bar detached again only in a different spot! We saw a tiny 24 hour mechanic sign and pulled over. The an there was able to finagle something in less than an hour and we were on the road again.

Doug making balloon animals for the mechanic’s kids while he reattaches the sway bar

We drove another 50km/30 miles northeast to a tiny town called Cascales where there is a small hotel with cabins, a bar/restaurant and swimming pools where we got a room with AC for the night. After a swim, we had some lunch, more pool time then dinner in the rig.

We had made an online inquiry a couple of lodges the day before to learn that the one our friends had used was closed for two weeks for renos. We had not heard back from the second one that David and Lavonne told us about so Fran called and then after a few WhatsApp messages, we have a reservation for a two night, three day tour into the Cuyabena National Park section of the Amazon on Laguna Grande. We will drive to Lago Agrio on Sunday afternoon and meet the tour there where after a two hour bus ride, you take a two hour boat ride to the Caiman Lodge.

It rained hard overnight and it seems our newly sealed back window and other leaky spots are holding – hurrah!

We spent Sunday morning doing the usual exercise, brekkie, wifi time, reading and Spanish before heading to Lago Agrio.