Monthly Archives: May 2014

Getting High : Central Ecuador

We arrived after dark at the north entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. It had been a long day of driving.  Crossing the equator at the coast, we had climbed the steep winding roads all the way through the central highlands. To make it worse, we had taken a wrong turn that cost us a couple of hours.

In total darkness we pulled off the dirt road and found a relatively level spot to park for the night. We had started the day at sea level and were now at an elevation of about 3,600m (11,800 ft). After changing into warmer clothes, setting up the stove and popping the top, we were both gasping in the thin air. We were in bed soon after dinner.

Not knowing exactly where we had parked the night before, we opened the window in the morning and stared wide-eyed at the view from our bed.

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Unfortunately, the cold night and the low oxygen at this altitude gave the van a few troubles in the morning. It just wouldn’t start.  So while I made some EFI adjustments, Bec wandered off to take some photos in the morning light.

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With the van up and running again we headed into the national park and climbed the steep switchbacks up the side of the volcano, finally giving the van a break when we reached the carpark at 4,600m (15,000 ft).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can just see the refuge hut in the mid-left of this photo. The faint blue dot far below it is a car in the carpark. 

From the carpark we hiked up to the edge of the glacier.  I find it so amazing that a glacier can be sustained year round so close to the equator, this volcano is massive. Needless to say, it was cold up there. The edge of the glacier is at about 5,000m (16,400 ft), I think this is the highest we’ve ever been with our feet on solid ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe refuge was under construction and these beast of burden were carrying most of the supplies. 

After venturing up to the glacier we were both pretty wiped and had trouble staying awake in the warm sun as we cruised around the park exploring the tangled network of roads and trails. Every track held the promise of leading nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChoose your own adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoca leaf tea, supposedly this helps with the effects of altitude. Tastes alright too, kind of like green tea. 

Since arriving in Ecuador we’ve been really happy to get back to van life the way we like it.  By finding isolated campsites in beautiful wild places. This place was a real treat, it just might be the prettiest place that we’ve ever popped the top.

We camped in this hidden gully with only a small campfire and the changing moods of the mountain to entertain us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The perfect campsite, from any angle. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMorning light in the mountains. Tough to beat. 

From Cotopaxi we headed south and west again, passing through amazingly steep farmland and little indigenous farming villages. We really love the patchwork of the highland fields that look like a huge crumpled quilt lying over the land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Scoping out the road.  A bit slippery, but Oscar made it without hassle.  

We made it to Laguna Quilotoa in the early afternoon with plenty of time to spare for a wander along the crater rim.  We didn’t get far though, there’s something about this old lake filled volcano that just makes you want to stop and stare a while.

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With permission from the locals, we slept that night in the carpark at the edge of the crater and had another amazing Ecuadorian meal.  The meals are simple, but almost always come with a delicious hearty soup followed by a meat plate with rice, beans and salad.

Waking up to another chilly morning with another amazing sunrise, we made some brekkie in the van and hit the road once again heading for the coast.

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Posted from: Cuenca, Ecuador

From Ponchos to Playa : Northern Ecuador

“ECUADOOOOR”… for some reason we started yelling this as we crossed the border and snaked our way through the mountains of Ecuador. I guess we are pretty excited to be here. My feelings haven’t changed since, and I still have the urge to yell this regularly.

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Our friend Dayna (from the San Blas trip) was going to be in Otavalo on Saturday for the market. This was the push we needed to get out of Colombia. It was great to see Dayna again, and to spend all of our pocket money on blankets and ponchos. We regret not buying more goodies in Mexico, and vowed not to make the same mistake again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Best food ever $2 a plate from the cutest lady. Might have been fried blood and potatoes, ignorance is blissss!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA How much is too much?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe brown bus just got browner.

Loaded up with ponchos and blankets, it made no sense to head to the heat of the coast, but that is what we did. We wanted to get back in the water, and I had read that Mompiche has some good waves for learning. Mompiche itself is a little fishing/surf town, with an end of the road vibe. To me it is the perfect beach town, quiet and dusty with a little bit of style thrown in the mix. Bamboo seems to be the wood of choice, and it has been used to fashion a handful of beautiful houses and hostels which line the sandy streets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoor to the beach

The heat was a novelty again. We shed our excess layers of clothes and set up camp for a few days in the car park of a hostal.

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The surf was best at the point at low-tide, but it was breaking somewhere all day. Mark was out there at all tides, but in the heat of the day I hid in the shade and snapped some photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Waiting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Paddling with pelicans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALIttle mid-tide beach break

On the second day, the swell had dropped off so we walked around the point at mid-tide. I love seeing such dramatic changes in the water level, from high to low tide the waters edge must have retreated about 100m. After our surf that day we were both pretty tired, and happy to watch the sunset with a cold beer from the shore. 

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And so begins our zig zag through Ecuador. Time to head back to the mountains again.

Posted from: Playas, Ecuador.

 

Adios Colombia

It took us a few days to say our farewells to Colombia.  We knew it was time make a push for the border, but in typical brown bus fashion we didn’t take the most direct route.

After our usual morning ritual (breakfast, coffee, drop the top and repack the van) we headed up to the archeological park at San Agustín to check out the ancient stone statues.  The park is massive and covers a few different areas where burial sites, statues and carved bathing pools have been uncovered.  The highlight for us was meandering through the Bosque de las Estatuas (Forest of Statues).  The jungle here was alive with birds and wildlife and all sorts of crazy plants and flowers. We were the only people there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The number of different carvings found in this area is incredible, within the forest walk alone there was about 40 of them. Most of the statues here had been moved around over the years and have now been randomly situated throughout the jungle with a winding foot path connecting them. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent that afternoon in Mocoa, hiding from the torrential rain and resting up to prepare for our next big day of driving.  We had to cross back through the Andes to get to the border.

The Mocoa-Sibundoy Road is kind of renowned for being difficult and hazardous.  It has even been nicknamed El trampolin de la muerte (Trampoline of death). The dirt road switchbacks up and down through thick jungle and clings to the sides of mountains.  Many times we had to cross through creeks that rushed over the road and disappeared over the edge. In some spots it’s only wide enough for one vehicle with a sheer drop on the other side, so we had to reverse up to a wider spot to let trucks through. But, the views were pretty nice when we were able to snatch a glance.

All in all, the road was in pretty good condition and guard rails were in place for most of the drive so we didn’t feel like we were going to fall of the edge. Maybe this route is no longer worthy of it’s dire nickname, or perhaps we just caught it on a good day.

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After about three and half hours of winding rocky roads it felt good to be on the tarmac again. Finally emerging from the Sibundoy Valley we cruised down to Laguna de La Cocha.

There is a little village here with houses that line both sides of the river as it leads into the lake. Everyone was super friendly and it seems like they are all competing to make their houses and boats the prettiest. We couldn’t pick a winner.

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Trout is the local specialty here and almost every house or restaurant is selling it. We took a stroll to the lake and chatted to a local fisherman for a while, he had some tips but none of them helped us to catch any fish.  Nevermind though, we found a hotel that served delicious trout dinners and let us stay in the carpark for the night. It felt to good to have a little date night with a nice dinner and a crackling open fire.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We just had one last stop on our run to the border to check out the church at Las Lajas. The ‘miracle painting’ displayed on the rocks inside didn’t convince this skeptic, but each to their own. The church itself, which spans a deep canyon, is really impressive. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve had such an amazing time in this country. It has definitely surpassed all of our expectations.

Adios Colombia, it’s been great.

Posted from: Puerto Lopez, Ecuador