Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Secret Garden, Cotopaxi

October 25-27, 2011

There were 10 of us from the Secret Garden who decided to head up to Cotopaxi together Tuesday morning.

Florian - French guy who manages the hostel
Conor and Emer - Irish couple
Ryan - Irish guy
Anja - Dutch
Mack and Elliott - California and Oregon
Hayden and Josh - Australia and the UK

The drive from Quito to Cotopaxi takes about 2 hours, even though they're not that far apart. But to get up to the hostel the road is BAD and involves a shit ton of climbing mountains and my ears popped several times. So the going on that road is very slow.

We got to the hostel around noon, and were warmly welcomed by Alex and Peter, the couple who are currently up there volunteering. Lunch was served pretty shortly after that. Rice and beans dish that was quite tasty, but wasn't as good as the food was talked up to be there. I wasn't thrilled with the food I ate for the most part there, but at the same time it was again really nice to be in a hostel that provided free coffee and drinking water.

After lunch we were shown our cabin. An 8-person dorm. 5 of the 10 who came out together stayed there. There is no electricity out in the cabins. Light is provided by candles in each window, and it is heated at night by a fireplace that is in the center of the cabin. All in all it was very cozy and I got my stuff settled pretty quickly.

Most of our group had decided we wanted to hike out to the waterfall that afternoon. Despite the cold cold cold water, we were mostly all prepared to jump off the waterfall for the free beer that we get if we did so. Though, I would have done it even without the promise of a free beer!

Conor and Emer ready to brave a storm to jump off a waterfall!

However, the weather that afternoon didn't agree with us. Clouds came in, bringing with them a major storm. Rain, hail, thunder and lightning. It cut short all of the activities for the rest of the day, so everybody pretty much just chilled in the common room and out in the hammocks reading, writing, or talking quietly.

See? Can't even see Cotopaxi from the front door.

Mack (writing) is from San Francisco. Hayden (reading) from Perth, Australia.

I spent a lot of time writing in my journal. I also did a bunch of sketching. I felt like that place just fed my soul. It was more serene than anywhere else I have ever been. I know if I'd brought my laptop in I could have done an insane amount of writing. But just reading on my iPhone felt like cheating somehow. I'm glad I braved the rain to run out to my cabin to grab my journal and sketchbook.

I didn't get a great look around that first day due to the rain storm. This is what I woke up to Wednesday morning:

Here, have another view.

Since none of us got to walk up to the waterfall on Tuesday, it was something most of us still wanted to do. However, there were other activities to do as well. And since more than anything I wanted to go horseback riding, I decided at the last minute that I wouldn't join the crowd for the hike.

It's like... I know I am fat and out of shape. I'm the only fat/out-of-shape person I have encountered during my travels. No one else there would have had a problem with a several hour hike. I know I would have slowed them all down, and because we all needed to be back in time to go off for our other activities I decided to stay back and just relax in the morning and let my body be prepared for the horseback riding later on. So I chilled out in a hammock and read, it was marvelous.

Anja was the only other person who wanted to go horseback riding. So when everybody got back from their morning hike, she and I got ready for our day's adventure exploring the plains. With Peter as guide, we got going right around 10am.

From the start, it wasn't a good ride. The stirrups they had on my horse didn't fit my feet properly, and I never was able to get my feet decently secured in them. And I was wearing my hiking boots, so the angle that caused my ankles to get stuck was very painful and there was nothing I could do. Add in that both mine and Anja's horses weren't behaving very well and it was a recipe for disaster or near disaster.

When my horse took off in a gallop at one point she was very hard to rein in. I was terrified of falling off. I'd already gotten injured once this trip, I really didn't want a second fall! But as it turns out, it wouldn't be me to get knocked off her horse. Anja was lucky that she got dumped into a ditch... it was a softer fall than the road would have been and she was able to kind of roll down the hill rather than hit the ground squarely. Bumps and bruises were the worst of her injuries, though her side would ache for the rest of the time she and I traveled together. I understand how that feels.

To top it off, her horse took off after dumping her. Went running off down the road. Somebody came by and was able to catch the horse for us (guy who owns the horses, I later found out), and gave Anja a lift back to the hostel. Peter and I had to call it quits and ride back, too. Didn't even make it to the gate... maybe 45 minutes tops. Riding back I was extra careful and kept my horse constantly reined in so she wouldn't take off running. I could tell she wanted to.

When we got back, Anja and I decided we both could use a soak in the jacuzzi. At the highest point of the sprawling hostel they had a stunning roofed in jacuzzi with stunning views. I didn't want to get my camera wet, so no photos. But man... Anja and I soaked in that tub for about 2 hours. Til all of our aches eased up and we could move again. My poor ankles were solid bruises. We both took hot showers after that and chilled and relaxed some more while we ate lunch and waited for others to come back in.

The first group back were the Irish... Conor, Emer, and Ryan. This cracked me up... they come back and Ryan is all "We saw a dead guy coming back down the mountain!" He has a very thick Irish accent. I mean, all three of them do, but he's from Belfast and his accent was much stronger than the Dubliners.

"A dead guy? What the fuck?" I was completely shocked at how calm they all were.

"No, a dead guy!" Ryan replies to me.

"A what?"

"A guy!"

"Wait... spell this for me. What are you saying?"

"A dead guy. C-O-W."

"COW! A dead COW!"

Oh my god, I couldn't believe how hard I laughed at this. I think I am going to be asking every Irish person I meet for a while to say "C-O-W" for me, just to listen for the differences in accents.

Now the other group was back, and six of us decided to go up to the jacuzzi. Another hour and a half, playing with bath toys, telling stories, laughing with friends, and generally just having a grand time. I didn't want to get out, but I was quite prune-ish at this point and figured it was time I dried off and got back into some warm clothes. Another evening was spent hanging out reading, relaxing, and talking with friends.

I wrote the above section yesterday before my internet crapped out on me. There were several notes I wanted to add, but I have since forgotten. So instead here some of the dogs who live up at the hostel. Here are Milo and Mesh:

So as it turns out, a large group of us were all planning to head from Cotopaxi to Baños on Thursday. But a few people really wanted to still hike up to the glacier of the volcano, so they wouldn't be able to leave until mid-afternoon. Since I had no vested interest in arriving in Baños early, I told Ryan I'd take the bus down with him in the afternoon, while the others left in the morning. But then suddenly things got flipped, and the majority of the group chose to take it easy that morning and we were going to hire a car to drive us directly to Baños for $70. Split that 7 ways and it's a pretty decent price.

The funny part is that none of us had a place booked to stay in Baños, we were all just planning to wing it once we got there. But I'd gotten a recommendation from a place from a couple of people, so my group volunteered me to call the place Thursday morning to see if we could book everyone into it for the next two nights, so we could stick together. Plantas y Blanca... "Plants & White?" had room for 7 (Conor and Emer were going to look for some place quieter). And cheap! $7.50 for a dorm, and $11 for a private room. With reservation in hand, we were all set to go.

For this trip we lost Mack and Elliot and Florian, but we picked up Caitlin from Australia and Thomas from Switzerland (who up until then had been recovering from his climb to the summit of the volcano the day before). Also, Josh and Hayden decided to take the morning bus, so it was just going to be seven of us for the afternoon transport.

The morning was super quiet. I read, wrote in my journal, and played a couple games of Chess with Thomas. I won the first game, he won the second. We were both quite rusty.

Our transport was scheduled to arrive at 3. And the final group of hikers got back around 2:30. Just enough time to snatch lunch and a shower and get all packed.

Onward to Baños

Now... for the 10 of us coming from Quito to Cotopaxi, we had a big van with seats for everyone. I was expecting something similar for the ride to Baños. But no. It was a pick-up truck with a cover over the bed. Thomas and the other three girls sat in the cab. Conor, Ryan and I got the back of the truck. *laughs* At least we had a row of rucksacks to lean up against, otherwise it would have been quite miserable. And the driver gave us a couple of cushions to sit on, but any time we moved the cushions slid down, so we were constantly having to hoist ourselves up and have someone reach under us to pull the cushion back under our ass.

That's a fucking terrible picture of me, but I wanted you to see just how tightly squeezed we were back there! For a 3 hour drive though, we managed to have a lot of fun. Ryan kept us entertained with music and bad jokes. We all told stories. We wished we had bubbles (or "boobles", as Emer pronounces them) so we could blow them out the back window. We had a wave competition that Conor won in spades (wave at passing cars and pedestrians and see how many will wave back). Spending that much time with a couple of Irish guys, I have picked up several words that are now coming fairly naturally to me. Rucksack, jumper, and petrol. I refuse to call a sidewalk a footpath, though. It's a damn sidewalk!

Shortly after our drive started it started to rain, and the wind flap for the back window was still rolled up! So the guys had to quickly figure out how to get it unrolled, but then we couldn't secure it. So I just kept one of my feet on the corner and we kept ourselves mostly warm and dry for the drive. Before it got dark and we lost the ability to see, we did pass by what Conor described as "The world's most miserable parade."

We got to Baños right around 7pm. Got checked into the hostel just fine. Josh and Hayden had left us a note that they'd gone to the baths and would meet us up at the Terrace Cafe at 7:30. The way we got split up is that I got the private room, while everyone else was in the dorm. I'm not a night person, though, so it was nice to have my own quiet space for a few days.

After we all settled in, we went up to the cafe for a cerveza and waited for the others. Josh and Hayden had seen Conor and Emer, but they were still looking for a place and said to go to dinner without them. A guy at the hostel recommended an Italian place around the corner, so I left a note for Conor and Emer as to where we were and we all headed out.

My day ended shortly after dinner. A bunch of them wanted to get more beers and party some, but I was ready for bed. Anja was also pretty beat, and Hayden had Spanish class in the morning so he walked us girls back to the hostel and we called it a night.

I sent an e-mail to the Belgian girls I'd met in Quito who I had hopes of meeting up with on Friday to go canyoning with, and sleep came quickly. It had been a great couple of days.

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