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|Reading the cloud atlas in snowy hills above Quito
Every day that people walked in Ecuador there was a feeling of magic,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], also it was little wonder which i was thinking of Lord of the Rings.
Ecuador is really a green land with mighty plains, interspersed with cloud-capped mountains. Occasionally, the landscape is barren and desert-like. Many farmers' trails criss-cross this lovely scenery and you'll often see a farmer on his sure-footed horse, attired in trilby and woollen poncho,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], looking for all the world like Clint Eastwood inside a Fistful of Dollars.
Our first port of call was Quito,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], at an altitude of 2,800m,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], the capital. Its colonial architecture reflects the Spanish baroque style during the time of the Spanish conquest of Ecuador in the 16th century. The famous La Compania church is in Quito and the Jesuits started building this edifice in 1605. Some refer to this as probably the most beautiful churches in South usa. We have an impressive facade, nevertheless its interior is even more impressive, with a lot of gold in evidence about the walls and ceiling.
After a couple of days' sightseeing, we drove for three hours to the first walk, which was around a lake called Cuicocha,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], which lies in a volcanic crater,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], so that as we strolled around its four-hour circuit we had our first sight of the flora of Ecuador,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych],[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], that was so different, so beautiful, so exotic.
You will find only two seasons in this country,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych],[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], the wet season and the dry,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], and there is little fluctuation in temperature,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], which remains comparable like a typical Irish summer.
We stayed for a few nights in an upmarket hotel and loved it,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych]. Each morning we could sit on our verandah admiring the hummingbirds feeding at the flowers,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych].
We drove to a bustling market town called Otavalo, where Indian women sold crafts, including superb woodcarvings and oil paintings,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], woollen garments and silverware.
For three days we walked in the beautiful Yana-urcu De Pinan park, and while i was eating our sandwiches about the second day we watched three condors soaring above us. One even came close enough make it possible for us to identify its individual features.
Our pathway was lined having a large number of flowers and insects; there was one especially charming flower whose small golden petals appeared as if shoes. It's called "Baby's Slippers".
Our luggage was carried by three horses, and three muleteers, one driver/cook (Hugo, who looked Indian), and our guide (Jacobo,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], who looked European). Both Hugo and Jacobo are Ecuadorian. A dog also accompanied us. We crossed passes that were about 4,000m high and slept in well-appointed tents.
After Yana-urcu De Pinan,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], we spent several equally enjoyable days trekking in the Chimborazo National Park after which we headed to Cotopaxi,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], the second highest peak in Ecuador, Chimborazo is the highest.
On a single memorable morning my affable Ecuadorian guide Jacobo woke me at 1am as well as an hour later we set off to climb Cotopaxi, that is 5,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych],897m. I was leaving from the height of 4,800m. The only others attempting the peak simultaneously as myself were two young Canadian men as well as their guide. The turnaround time was eight hours and many people take 6 to 8 hours to achieve the top and 3 to 4 hours to descend.
The Canadians turned back at 5,200m. I was told that they'd been vomiting and didn't like the fact that the snow slope am steep; they had expected the gradient to be less severe -- many are,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], actually,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], similarly surprised. The very first stage of the climb took 30 minutes and was on the gravelly path. The 2nd stage commenced whenever we reached the glacier and after putting on our crampons we went up a relatively steep ice slope which took us Twenty minutes.
The third stage proved to be the part I especially disliked about the descent -- volcanic scree, which was sometimes hard and at in other cases soft.
When we were descending on this scree we were still wearing our crampons and something could easily have twisted an ankle or worse. Climbing this took 30 minutes and then the fourth stage was a steep snow slope rising for 300 metres to 5,400m. It had been about 100m up this that the Canadians decided they'd had enough and turned back.
This steep snow-slope was very hard work,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych], a real slog and it ended at a crevasse. The fifth stage took us past a serac at 5.15am; Jacobo looked at his thermometer and said hello was --6 in the distance we could see the lights of Quito far below us. Beyond the serac, the path became dangerous because of exposure; basically had slipped here it could happen to be fatal.
Close to the end of the ascent there is more front-pointing up a steep section and then the path swerved slightly to the left and we were in the summit. It was wonderful and gorgeous up there, and we got another whiff of sulphur and saw steam rising from the crater a few hundred metres below us.
Cotopaxi is definitely an active volcano -- the mountain's last little bit of serious activity is at 1904 when mudflows swept over the nearby capital of scotland - Latacunga submerging and destroying a lot of it,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych],[link widoczny dla zalogowanych]. It had taken us six and-three-quarter hours to achieve the very best and would take us three hours to descend,[link widoczny dla zalogowanych]. Jacobo opened his arms inside a yoga gesture and embraced the energy and also the purity of this summit-place.