Cotopaxi was not intended to be the highlight of our trip to Ecuador. I mean, how could anything eclipse Galapagos?
In terms of stunning awe and splendour, Galapagos is difficult to rival, but in terms of adrenalin and freedom of spirit, biking down Cotopaxi volcano does a pretty good job.
Setting off uphill from 4500 metres
On reaching about 4500 metres in a 4×4, we set off uphill on foot for the last 300 metres or so in the lightly drizzling rain, choosing not to follow the longer and winding road (ie: easier- though that is a relative term) but to take the short cut up the deep gravel which rose steeply and directly to the refuge below the glacier.
Mirek got into his stride and walked up steadily and seemingly without effort. I had the guide with me and after awhile noticed I had to stop after taking about ten paces to rest and catch my breath. This slow process allowed me to take in the views of the surrounding barren hills and the uninviting looking glacier at the top submerged in clouds, behind which lay the volcano summit.
On reaching the refuge and taking some quick photos, we walked past the mountain hut and made our way up onto the snowline where we had to turn back after less than fifty metres as the snow got too deep and our light walking shoes didn’t approve.
Still, Mirek stayed there long enough to tramp out a heart shape in the soggy snow, much to the bewilderment of our guide. Why would a middle aged man bother to leave such a mark for his middle aged wife…
On coming back down the way we had ascended, we had a quick snack in the back of the 4×4 and discarded the much appreciated thick overalls they had lent us for the trek to the snowline and put on some knee pads and a helmet.
Fortunately we were the only bikers, and in fact one of very few cars parked there, so we felt relaxed about our preparations. Having read other people’s accounts of their cycling experience down that volcano road, I realise we were lucky not to come across much traffic coming in the opposite direction . After dutifully listening to some very useful advice, especially re which brake not to use too much… the bicycles were prepared for us and we set off.
Mirek went off piste with the main guide, essentially cutting across country and emerging at times after jumping into the road in front of me as I meandered my way down the gravel road at a leisurely pace with my right hand firmly glued to the brake and enjoying feeling like royalty. The 4×4 was cruising about 50 metres behind me, should I need assistance. Decadent.
At this point I should add that neither of us are very experienced mountain bike riders. Just the weekend variety. But we both made it all the way with no mishaps!
We covered some 30 kilometres over a partly hilly and rutted road which then leveled out to cross through grassy plains in which grazed lama and which displayed much of the local fauna and flora.
I dismounted at the Norte Pedregal control post while Mirek set off further along some very winding and uphill roads until the end of the route.
With somewhat aching muscles and a not unpleasurant feeling of exhaustion, we travelled back to Quito in anticipation of our next day’s departure for the Amazon.
Thank you Mirek for enticing me to go on that bike ride.