|Jonny reaching the summit
Back down to city-level, there was just enough time to explore Quito's wonderful Old Town - a maze of cobbled streets with grand cathedrals, museums and plazas sprinkled liberally throughout - before hopping on a bus to Latacunga, 2 hours south.
|Old Boys in Quito Old Town
|Transport to Quilotoa
|On the lake in Quilotoa
Back Down to Earth
The city of Baños is one of Ecuador's primary tourist destinations and comes with everything that entails - unnecessary numbers of tourist agencies, pushy touts, crappy clubs and soulless pubs (with one or two exceptions). However, there is a reason for this over-exploitation: the surrounding peaks, valleys, waterfalls and thermal baths provide a wonderful antidote to the 'meh-ness' of the town itself.
|Prepared for a rainy night hike
On returning to Baños, we headed out for a final night on the town and many beers as a reward for Jonny tolerating all the physical activity I'd forced him to do (it definitely wasn't the traditional, relaxing holiday he might have been expecting...). Then it was back to Quito for his flight home, and I was alone again. The empty guttural feeling I mentioned in my last post that often occurs when you're suddenly solo following a period in constant company was there, but nullified somewhat by the single-minded focus I had developed for how to spend my last few day in the country..... now, where was that volcano that has been looking down, mocking me for the past couple of weeks....?
|First distant glimpse of Cotopaxi
|The gear (including my giant boots!)
|4500m Car Park
|Up to the glacier from Base Camp
On returning from the outdoor toilet, I joined a group of other climbers standing outside, transfixed by the mountain summit in the starlit distance. They all seemed to be attempting to 'stare down' the volcano, treating it like a sentient foe about to be tackled, rather than the inanimate object it really is. It may sound strange, but I can completely understand and it's hard not to get this feeling before a big climb - you have to give the mountain the respect it deserves, prepare physically and mentally and recognise yourself as an intruder in a foreign environment. Willing Cotopaxi to grant me safe access, it was time to get down to business.....
|Julian (guide extraordinare)
In basic terms, we only had 1100m to climb in order to reach the summit, but at this altitude, nothing happens quickly or easily. The pace was frustratingly, but necessarily, snail-like; ice pick thrust into the ground, one foot forward, breath in, other food forward, breath out, ice pick dislodged, repeat.... for 7 hours.
|Greg, early on in the climb
Full mental faculties were required whenever we reached one of the numerous glacial crevasses, though - our oxygen-deprived brains struggling to focus on Julian's demonstrations of how to leap across, digging in crampons and ice-axe on the other side to prevent falling back into the sheer abyss below. Fortunately, we were both able to summon sufficient concentration and energy to overcome these serious obstacles without mishap.
Around 5 hours into the climb, we still had a way to go and my head was starting to squeeze from the ever-increasing altitude. On raising this point to Julian, he instructed me not to focus on the discomfort, but to think about chicas instead (a very effective remedy, as it turned out). It was at this same stage that the climbers who had been ahead of us on the mountain since we departed from Base Camp suddenly appeared in front of us, heading back down. They weren't returning victorious from the summit, but rather the going had become too tough for a couple of the group and they'd all been forced to turn back. A disconcerting development in part, but this just made me more determined to succeed where they had failed.
|Greg & Julian on the summit
Getting back to Base Camp took only two hours, but it was increasingly uncomfortable going as the sun beat down harder and harder - we couldn't strip off too many layers because it was important to keep most skin covered, and various sections of the glacier were already visibly dripping away. It was quite stupefying to witness what we'd overcome the night before in the stark light of the early morning - I'm unsure if we'd have been so confident if the giant walls of sheer white and deadly crevasses had been so fully visible during ascent. Finally back at camp, we discovered that out of the 20+ tourists who'd set off with us the night before only 3 other people had successfully reached the top - something that illustrates how hard the climb really was and made us even more proud of what we'd achieved.
The last of the 18 litres drunk, and with a final, respectful glance up to Cotopaxi's now-conquered summit, I felt I could now turn my back on the mountain, and Ecuador as a whole. It was time to get on with my travels... but I know that from now on I'll always have one eye on the sky, looking for the next big peak to climb - onwards and upwards!!
LOADS more photos below (including some of my favourites from the whole trip). Click to enlarge....
|Quito Old Town
|Quito Old Town
|Sun through a stained-glass window
|On the roof of the Basilica in Quito
|Behind the clockface in the Basilica
|The route up Volcan Pichincha
|Come on Jonny!!
|Glimpse of Quito through the clouds from the top of Pichincha
|Me, on the summit of Pichincha
|In the back of the truck - Quilotoa Loop
|Local Quilotoa lady with baby
|Quilotoa youngster (with the lake in the background)
|Not a bad spot for your morning coffee - Laguna Quilotoa
|On the trek to Chugchilan
|Trekking - Quilotoa Loop
|Trekking - Quilotoa Loop
|On the valley floor - Quilotoa Loop
|Having a break (and posing for a photo)
|Trekking - Quilotoa Loop
|Local kids playing football - Quilotoa Loop
|Local kids running in for the lunch bell! Quilotoa Loop
|Baños to Puyo - Mountain Biking
|Waterfall on the biking route
|Jungle guide Richard with his favourite Spider Monkey
|Monkey Sanctuary - chillin'
|Monkey Sanctuary - smelling food in the kitchen
|Croc on the Jungle Trek
|Jonny getting some traditional indigenous face-painting
|Face paint fun! :)
|Richard, the Jungle guide
|Jonny & Richard jungle trekking
|Waterfall on the jungle trek
|Canoe ride back to the Jungle Lodge
|Survived a day in the jungle!!
|Me, nearly dying on the death swing...
|Candlelight and mozzie nets
|Cotopaxi and ancient lava flows
|View from Cotopaxi, just below the snow line
|View back down over Base Camp
|Cotopaxi shadow at sunrise
|On the Summit - made it!!! :)
|Vista from Cotopaxi summit (volcano erupting to the left)
|Back down at Base Camp, victorious....