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Posts Tagged ‘Pan-American Highway’

After a good night’s rest at the Hilton Colon, Quito, we started off on our journey to the Cotopaxi National Park on a Friday morning. With a slight struggle and few nudges we were able to leave the city and on to the Pan – American highway once again. I will do injustice to the efforts of the Ecuadorian administration if I do not mention the quality of the road surface that we encountered till now on the highway. It is indeed a pleasure to be on the road, with proper markings, crossings, directions and continuous developments. The colourful array of shops and

Fruits sellers on the Pan-Americano!

habitations on both sides enhanced with the Andean landscape make this highway very different from the monotonous drives on the motorways of Europe.

By now we were onto our third province of Ecuador, having already driven through Pichincha, Imbabura. Cotopaxi province is named after the volcano. After crossing the town of Lasso we hit a dirt track entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park – leaving the double peaks of the volcano Illinizas on the right. The path is currently undergoing up gradation and will be a metalled track till the main entrance of the park by the end of this year (2012). The local guide Maria joined us at this point and the ride for the next half an hour was an interesting drive through the cloud and the natural habitat that has sprung on the lava paths of the Cotopaxi. Our first stop was at 3600 metres from where walked for

Silhouettes - through the clouds

an hour through the forest of this park – an occasional humming bird and some rabbits crossed our path. The clouds came head on covering the ravines from our sight but the silhouettes gave us an idea of the topography. We hit a point at 3800 metres where the next ride was to the valley at the lake Limpio Pungo. The vegetation changes drastically and suddenly the clods seemed to vanish as we neared this glacial lake. Our trek around the lake took us through the foothills of the volcano Ruminahui – actually the climb to Ruminahui starts here.

Foothills of the Ruminahui

After an hour and a half, the clouds lifted briefly for a glimpse of the Cotopaxi – and awesome it was indeed. The scenery included groups of wild horses grazing with the Cotopaxi as a back ground!

Lago Limpio Pungo

Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times, which created the numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) around the volcano. Cotopaxi poses a high risk to the local population, their settlements and fields.

Cotopaxi’s most violent eruptions in historical times occurred in the years 1744, 1768, and 1877. There was a major eruption in 1903 through 1904, and some minor activity in 1942 as well as 1975 but it did not produce any major events. The main danger of a huge

Volcan Cotopaxi

eruption of Cotopaxi would be the flow of ice from its glacier. If there were to be a very large explosion, it would destroy most of the settlements within the valley in the suburban area of Quito (pop. more than 1,000,000). Another city which would be in great danger is Latacunga which is located in the south valley. In 1744 and 1768 an eruption destroyed the colonial town of Latacunga.

Wild horse grazing

Wild horse grazing

After the day well spent we headed for our night stop at Hacienda La Cienega, another very old property. A good night’s rest and we hit the road again on Saturday morning, south to the Chimborazo national park. We passed by the market towns of Salcedo and Ambato and stopped for some amazing deals on scarves, ponchos and sweaters. We entered our fourth Ecuadorian province – Chimborazo and hit the park around eleven. As we got the first glimpse of the Chimborazo we were reminded about its height and special position. The Chimborazo is the tallest Ecuadorian peak standing at 6310 metres at the tallest and is an extinct volcano. Chimborazo – is also the closest to the sun by virtue of it being on the equator (the centre of the Earth)- closer to the sun than

Vicunas graze in front of the Chimborazo

the Everest is! The arid landscape at its foothills is home to the vicunas and pumas. We passed these herds (?) and reached the Chimborazo base camp Estrella del Chimborazo. An amazing set up owned by the famous Ecuadorian climber Mario Cruz, this place provides us with a hot meal and a very warm welcome from its resident guard Whymper the German Shepherd.

Whymper

Whymper

We drove further south and hit the town of San Juan from where the community of Palacio Real came into sight. A detour brought us to this community of 80 families that farm and weave for a living. Fani and her son Fricson from the local community took us for a walk (roughly an hour) through the fields and provided us with a little history of the place as well as some insight into their lives. All this while in the background the mighty Chimborazo played its daily game of ‘hide and seek’ with the clouds.

We bade Fani and her son goodbye and moved on towards Riobamba – the capital of the Chimborazo province. Riobamba is a vibrant town of 160,000 people and an important base for commerce in this region. Strolling through the city on a Saturday afternoon as fun. Families, children, lovers and the retired took to the streets in hoards and gave it a festive feel. Live bands played in a few parks that we passed and the city pulsated with their beats!

Riobamba - the cenral square

Riobamba - the cenral square

Our day ended at the Hacienda Abraspungo, on the outskirts of the city. An early meal, some good Chilean wine and a cigar rounded off the day’s experience. Early start next morning – 5.30 am for Alausi and the train journey to the ‘Devil’s Nose’. Good night!

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