Quito and Climbing Volcanos 🌋
I finally left Colombia and made the twenty two hour journey from Cali to Quito. Crossing the border was simple enough, just remember to get your exit stamp from the Colombian side and walk across the bridge to Ecuador and queue for the entry stamp. This can take some time depending on the time of day, I queued for an hour at lunch time.
Arriving in Tulcan you immediately see and feel how much more poorer this border town is, compared to Colombia. All the buildings are run down and there are a lot more street vendors. The seven hour bus to Quito was only $6, however the buses are much like the buildings here. They have seen better days and they are constantly stopping to pick up and drop off locals or food sellers during the journey.
On the road I am instantly taken in by the staggering scenery, the bright blue sky, against the grey rocky mountains that scale many 1000 of metres above you. Passing through Otavalo I see my first snow capped Volcano, ‘Volcán Imbabura’ towering over the town and the water from the lake bekow glistening in the evenings sun. Not much protection for the people of Otavalo if she was to ever blow her top, maybe it’s an extinct Volcano…
Arriving in Quito, it’s late and we haven’t booked a hostel, so I use my rough guide in iBooks for a recommendation . Bluehouse Hostel seems good enough, and after a $8 taxi ride we make it to a large house that would have once been owned by a rich family in the one of only two areas its safe to stay, centre-north.
Laura , Ronja – our new German traveller friend – and myself luckedout with a private room with an ensuite and balcony for the price of a dorm. Which we had for our entire four day stay. Bluehouse was a great place with a really chilled vibe, and mostly friendly staff.
I say “mostly”, because the miserable dwarf like woman, that just shouted was not nice. We nicknamed her ‘Orc’ . Breakfast of , fruit, porridge, toast and coffee is included in the $10 price and you even get a towel.
Not having wifi for 24 hours meant I hadn’t had a chance to see what the local guides were like in Ecuador. To my surprise, they were more attractive than I had imagined.
After getting the usual increase in messages, primarily because of being one of only a handful of gringos that seemingly use the same local guide app.
After sifting through, I reply to Danilo, a Brazilian who lives in San Fransisco but is on vacation for one day in Quito. Sounds mad right, 12 hour flight for just a day!!!
Anyway we agree to meet and see the city together, taking in the many colonial buildings and stunning Church’s and Cathedrals, like La Compañía de Jesús. We even stumble across a mass taking place inside the extravagantly gold decorated La Compañía. Interesting to see so many young families in the congregation, very different to the blue rinse brigade back home.
After what was probably my most expensive lunch on the trip so far at $20, we decide to try out one of the 6 best locations to see the whole of the city.
- El Panecillo, Old Town
- La Basílica, Old Town
- Parque Itchimbía, Old Town
- Guápulo, centre-north
- Parque Metropolitano, Northeast
- El Teleférico, Volcán Pichincha
The Basílica del Voto Nacional was the closest and it is hard to miss when exploring the City.
As Quito is the second highest seat of Government after La Paz at 2850m, it’s best to take your time when walking about. Poor Danilo was having a tough time walking up the hill to the Basílica.
Paying the $1.50 for entry, I was pleasantly surprised at how high you could climb to get the best view of the city. I imagined just taking the stairs to the first level, and that would be it. Oh no you walk across narrow wooden planks that cover the eaves of the inside roof, and up a few ladders to the top of one of the main turrets. It Reminded me of Tom Hanks being chased in the film ‘Angels and Demons’.
From the top, you can see and take in the expanse of the city that just goes on for as far as the eye can see, or until a steep mountain or Volcano gets in the way. Which I soon come to realise, there are a lot of in Ecuador. I bid Danilo farewell, and give him some tips for his trip to london in December. ‘Sink the Pink’ being a must.
The old town of Quito is small enough to do in one day, as most of the points of interest are there. However there are plenty of day trips to take advantage of to the surroundings areas, which can be booked at most hostels.
The closest Volcano to Quito, is Volcán Pichincha. Still an active Volcano last showering Quito with ash back in 1999, it has two summits and two posible climbs. Ruca being the easier and Guagua being the harder, but both reaching 4700m at its summit. Ruca can be accessed easily by the Teleférico, which takes you to 3947m/12,950ft – this would be my highest altitude yet.
After a twenty minute ride up on the Teleférico, the city gets smaller and further away, the cloud got thicker and the air thinner. To think I still had to climb another 700m was daunting, but the excitement of trying to achieve it drove my determination and I had Laura to keep me company who was equally as excited.
The advice is not to attempt the summit after 11am, otherwise you will be coming down in the dark as the suggested round trip time is 5-7 hours, depending on your fitness. Thankfully both of us are in pretty good shape and the climb was quite gradual, climbing ever higher with the clouds parting and forming around you all the time.
As we got higher, our pace got slower and the vegetation disappeared to just grey rock, it felt like we were walking across ‘Mordor’ with Frodo and Sam. This is when I learn that Laura and I are massive Lord of the Rings fans. As we get higher, the terrain is more difficult, with steeper climbing. One wrong foot and it’s goodby from me.
The cloud gets thicker and the temperature drops as we get to the top. No sooner had we made it, but we had to come straight back down due to a hale storm with hale stones the size of marbles falling from the black sky, and the rumble of thunder getting ever closer. We were not prepared to see out a storm 4700m high, where anything could happen.
A bit disappointed we couldn’t enjoy our achievement a little bit longer, we make the climb down on the advice of some pro climbing Germans. We managed to reach the summit in just over three hours and made the decent in under two hours. As a first time climber, I would definitely recommend Pichincha to get you ready for some of the higher peaks.
Still quite giddy from our achievement, that evening we hatch a plan to climb Cotopaxi the highest active Volcano in the world and take the four day Quilotoa Loop.
Stay tuned to see if I make the 5000m climb