Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Submitted by RW

We arrived safely in Quito, Ecuador to begin our honeymoon. We did a bit of walking in Quito (9,200 ft. elevation) the first two days, then went for a bit of an acclimatization trek from the mountain village of Isinlivi to Chugchilan, to the high altitude village of Quilotoa (with a volcanic crater lake) at 13,000 ft. The villages are located in the Andes and are a mix of mestizo and indigenous (Quichua) peoples. Amazingly, even though the mountains are very steep, there are farm fields on every patch of land imaginable.

We hiked on a system of ancient trails that are still used by local people to bring produce to market and just to get around.Since the purpose of the first week was basically to acclimatize for our attempt on Cotopaxi, after our village to village hike we took the bus to the small town of El Chaupi to climb Iliniza Norte (peak) at 5,120 meters. We both had a bit of stomach bug for a day. We got some great views of the surrounding mountains in the morning while we were hiking up, and we also went through some beautiful paramo vegetation - basically high altitude boggy grasslands that have some super cool plants.

From there we traveled to a sort of retreat/resort called Tambopaxi in the Cotopaxi National Park, where we walked a bit and slept to rest from our Iliniza hike and gear up for Cotopaxi. Finally, our attempt! Our guide woke us up at 11:45 at night, we geared up, ate and departed for our assault on the world's highest active volcano Cotopaxi (5,897 m) at 1 a.m. We were lucky to have a beautiful, clear night with great views of the stars and Quito in the distance. Everyone had assured us that it was a "walk-up" mountain, and about as easy of a high peak you could ask for, although it does require crampons for glacier travel. Well, I'm here to tell you that 19,000+ feet ain't easy!!! Ever!!!

It was much steeper than we had anticipated, averaging over 45 degrees for the whole route and definitely approaching 80 degrees at some points! Nevertheless we arrived at the summit 6 hours later, in full sunshine and with amazing views of the surrounding terrain (considering we have had rain almost every day otherwise, we were very lucky with the weather). So at about 7 a.m. eastern time we stood the closest to the sun (apart from the noon hour, dead summer) as possible from earth! (accounting for the equatorial bulge and the peak being nearly on the equator). We both felt really good at the top - no headaches or nausea from the altitude - and were really glad we had spent the time to acclimatize well.

After Cotopaxi we spent a well-earned afternoon at the Papallacta hot springs north of Quito, soaking our aches away in the shadow of cloud forested mountains (no shortage of mountains down here!). The next day we wandered around the old town of Quito for a while. In the afternoon, we went to the Mitad del Mundo, a monument on the equator. Well, almost on the equator. It seems the equator has moved a bit and well, the measurements weren't quite correct, so the equator is actually quite a ways off, but still, the monument is there! We did manage to get to the real equator as well, where we happily played with our GPS unit until it produced all zeros. And yes, water really does spin the other direction in the southern hemisphere.