So better than BaÃ±os
Known as Mass of Fire in Quechua and depicted in many Tigua paintings due its cultural significance, Cotopaxi holds a special place in the heart of most serranos (Ecuadorians from the sierra). And after having just gazed at the peak of Cotopaxi for almost 3 months from the comfort of my terrace, it was truly life-reaffirming to be tearing up the flanks of Ecuador’s second highest volcano at 5789m above sea level (19,347 ft), last eruption in 1940.
Our tour group of about 15, after setting off south from Quito around 7am, had passed through the capital, taken the Pan-American highway, picked up more passengers, stopped three times for petrol, water, toilet, whizzed round the Cotopaxi National Park museum, stopped again to buy artisanal gloves, and at about 11am, we finally drove up the side of this active stratovolcano to a car park at 3000m. There the adventure began: scrabbling up through the volcanic gravel, wearing size 11 Chuck Norris Converse that I had borrowed from my friend Mark (not ideal, being two sizes too big and without any grip but as my Reebok had been stolen I had no other choice) on such a beautifully-clear day that we could see right across the valley to three other volcanoes, all part of the chain known as the Pacific Ring of Fire (I knew my A-Level geography would come in useful one day, thanks Mrs Conning). And I know it’s not a competition but I was quite proud that I was the first of our group to reach the refuge at 4800m. I was just so full of beans, and fresh air – what there was of it at such altitude – being out of the city.
We re-fuelled on hot chocolate and then continued up to where the snowline starts. Touching (and eating) an equatorial glacier, one of the few in the world, while standing on red volcanic stone at 5000m is damn cool. But the thrills were not over yet – we then got on our mountain bikes and set off from the car park back down the mountain. Zoooooooooooom!
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