aventura, Ecuador, natural wonder, South America

play it again, Quito

Bec / 17/05/2013

Our Intrepid Active Galapagos tour finished in Quito and we celebrated with wood fired pizza and Marie bestowing awards on all passengers. JP and I earned the joint “Playful sea lions” award since we were fairly inseparable and fun. Marie and Paul are very special people and if you’re up for a good walk in Australia, book with Auswalk and ask for Marie Killeen for a great experience.

Over the next few days JP and I spent a lot of time people watching and enjoying as many different restaurants as we could in Plaza Foch. One of our favourites was Azuca, good happy hour specials that last several hours, a big pink couch from where we witnessed a hail storm surprise people in the plaza and great cappuccinos.

One day was dedicated to mountain biking around 30km down from Cotopaxi Volcano with Biking Dutchman. Cotopaxi is on the southern side of Quito, snow capped and freezing. After a decent drive and a spot of shopping for alpaca wool gloves and a beanie we go to the starting point. As bikes were lined up we spotted Andean gulls (I’ve given up being perplexed by incongruous wildlife – penguins near the equator and now gulls on the top of a volcano – of course) and a fox hanging around the car park.

Cotopaxi Volcano…prime downhill cycling territory
Not a car park warden with whom you want to argue

The gravel road wound down the side of the volcano in steep declines, sharp turns and a few holes. We were wearing jumpers, rain jackets, beanies under helmets, two sets of gloves, scarves and sunglasses. The cold of the 4500mtr altitude mingled with the rush of air as we zipped ever downwards.

On the way down Cotopaxi Volcano
Thankfully not a lot of traffic on the road down Cotopaxi Volcano

Our route took us across very old lava fields, past Inca ruins, up to a natural spring for a delicious lunch and then onward to the limits of Cotopaxi NP to join a bumpy, rocks-the-size-of-grapefruit riddled road and a bolt to the end for the energetic ones. I opted to try and hit every puddle and muddy patch I could find and take mum’s advice – enjoy the journey – since I was just about saturated with rain and couldn’t see out of my sunnies to avoid the puddles anyway, I felt like a kid again playing in the mud.

On the muddy valley floor below Cotopaxi
Natural springs below Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi from top to base on a bike is a great day out
Biking Dutchman took good care of us on Cotopaxi

It was fortunate we found a laundry which washed shoes and three pairs of shoes and five kilos of washing only cost us $9. Some of my favourite people in this part of the world are lavanderia workers!

For the second – and hopefully last – time, I had to let JP get on a plane and go home, leaving me to continue on my way. I had a very quiet final day alone before joining my final tour, Intrepid’s Best of South America – 67 days from Quito to Buenos Aires…

I joined Icelander Kristin to ride the Teleferico cable car up the steep slopes of Pichincha to the observation points at the top, the thin air made it hard going walking along the paths, especially so when we mistook a goat track for the route to the rental horses. The horses were already busy when we got there so made do with admiring Ruca Pichincha in between the clouds rather than riding to the very top. We also took advantage of donning a cowboy hat and poncho and getting a photo with a llama with the biggest beautiful brown eyes you’ve seen. We felt a little better when we saw they took the goat track up to the path too.

A cup of coca tea – strictly medicinal for altitude – we cable car’d back to the base and met Lou, Stefan and guide Johanna at Seminario Mayor bus stop for a decent ride on the metro bus to Mitad del Mundo.

There is a fake monument and a real museum dedicated to the Equator line here, the fake is from the 1800’s and is only out by about 200mtr, not too bad. The real museum has a cultural section about the nearby indigenous tribes, a real shrunken head dating back about 150 years, giant preserved spiders – the juvenile that was about the size of a dinner plate was particularly hair-raising, he was only about half size…check your shoes people.

Next came the experiments only possible at the equator. Water does spiral in different directions down a drain depending on the hemisphere. Right on the line though it goes straight down. I can balance a fresh egg on the top of a flat head nail straddling the equator. However I can’t go more than a few steps along the line with eyes closed and arms outstretched. The centrifugal forces pull you either way. Fairly fitting I pull to the southern hemisphere 😉 And you wouldn’t want to be pulled over for a sobriety test on the equator. Fail every time.

The group for the first stretch to La Paz includes Ivy from Melbourne, Lauren from Mackay, Kristin from Iceland and Camille and couple Lou and Stefan all from England. Our guide, Johanna will take us to the border with Peru so we only have her for ten days. We’re all hoping the next guide is as fun and professional.

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