The date of Caoimhe's scheduled departure came and went, but Caoimhe didn't. She was having way too much fun traversing the globe with us. Although we had already packed so much into the two weeks we had together, the time had passed too quickly, so it seemed only right to more than double the length of her trip and continue on travelling.
We arrived into Quito on high alert, having met countless travelers along the way who had been mugged (some more than once) in Ecuador's capital city. Based on this, we were not intending on spending too long there, but were very pleasantly surprised by it’s beauty.
The huge city, divided into two very distinct areas, is located down in a valley surrounded by fabulous mountains. The churches, monasteries and well maintained plazas of the old town were enchanting to explore and the streets were bustling with people going about their everyday business.
We packed quite a lot into the few days we were here, basing ourselves in a beautiful hostel, 'The Secret Garden', which had a brilliant common area; a rooftop terrace overlooking the pretty city.
I had read about a monastery in the city, where nuns lived and
worked (making handcrafts) and was fascinated by the fact that they were only allowed to speak for one hour a day. I felt compelled to visit this convent and witness it for myself. So off we went in search of Santa Catalina's Monastery. The nuns here were aged between thirty six and ninety seven and lived in tiny private cells. They worked, prayed and didn't talk! We did a little tour of the monastery and then went on our merry little way to see what other weird and wonderful places we could find.
By now, Paulo, Caoimhe and myself included, have well established our dislike of heights, so why we decided to take a cable car on a hair-raising two and a half kilometer ride up the side of a volcano still baffles me. When we were half way up, the cable car started making funny noises and jammed to a halt, swaying in the wind. We were left dangling! Me, being the drama queen that I am, burst into tears and thought this was the end for us. Thankfully, as you can see, it wasn't and once we did make it to the top, the views were spectacular.
final little excursion around Quito took us to the hemispheric line, where we kept amused by hopping back and forth between the hemispheres - easily entertained! After spending a great few days in Quito (and not a mugging between the three of us), we thought it best to move on to our next destination, Cotopaxi National Park. We have spent a lot of time in big cities since arriving in South America and were so excited to get back out to the countryside.
Our home for the next few days was a huge old renovated farm house up in the mountains. It felt like a home away from home, with big comfy couches, an open fire and with barely another sinner there, we had the run of the place. Cotopaxi volcano was right on our doorstep, so we set our sights on climbing up five thousand of the the five thousand eight hundred meters towards the summit and mountain biking back down!
The hike up was really nice, not too tough at all and fabulous views all around. Luckily none of us were effected too badly by the altitude. After a delicious lunch in the climbers refuge, we got geared
up for our downhill descent. Our guide gave us two options for this activity; the first was an off-road dirt track on a very steep path for experienced riders and the second was a less testing route on a paved road. Of course Caoimhe and Paulo were the first in line for the advanced route and not wanting to feel left out, I tagged along. Making sure the helmet was securely fastened and the brakes were in working order, we started our descent. Paulo zoomed down the volcano at the speed of lightening and was soon completely out of sight, whereas Caoimhe and I started out a little more cautiously, with our hands firmly on the brakes.
Caoimhe soon started to pick up speed and motored on down. We spent a good forty minutes hurtling down but unfortunately I came to a crashing landing. When I tried to pull the brakes on a corner, the back wheel skidded from under me and before I knew it I was on the ground. Torn trousers, a bruised knee and some scrapes on my hands but nothing a little sympathy wouldn't cure. We'd had our fill of adrenaline for the day and spent
the evening in the jacuzzi in our guest house.
From Cotopaxi we made our way south to the small town with the unfortunate name of 'Banos', Spanish for toilets! This little town had so much to offer, set in a beautiful part of the country with mountains and volcanoes all around. We decided to explore the area on horse back and set off, the three amigos and our guide, up the mountains. I think we got the three horses that had been expelled from the Ecuadorian Equestrian Centre! Caoimhe's horse was a big bully who constantly tried to bite Paulo's horse and mine! Paulo's horse was visually stunning but didn't seem to have anything going on between the ears and mine was a stubborn little biddy to say the least.
However, even with these three testing animals, we still managed to climb mountains, cross streams, visit monuments and have a fun day out.
The following morning we rented dune buggies and drove out of town, past waterfalls, through tunnels and up mountains. The views were amazing and although we got drenched in the downpours throughout the morning, it didn't dampen the fun. Like all of our adventures, things didn't run
one hundred per cent to plan. When we were driving down from the volcano view point, poor Caoimhe skidded off the path, into a tree. Luckily there was no damage to either Caoimhe or the buggy but we did get a bit of a scare.
Driving through this stunning landscape, doing our own thing, gave us such a sense of freedom. It was exhilarating; we weren't done yet. We rented a dirt-bike so that we could go off road, down pathways we hadn't been before, to the canyons and over the river. Paulo drove and I sat on the back, taking it all in. Caoimhe decided to have a relaxing day and opted out of this activity. It was almost time to say goodbye to Caoimhe, for real this time, so we caught a bus to the coastal town of Montaña for her last few days. The little surfers, party town reminded us so much of Asia, with it's super relaxed vibe. We soaked up the sun, relaxed in hammocks and danced at pool parties until the time came for Caoimhe to go.
As she packed up to make her way back home, we packed up to head south to
Peru. It was so much fun having her here with us and we are sad to see her go.
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