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Published: June 20th 2008
The dry season arrives
I've complained in previous Ecuador blogs about how bad the weather has been, but on 1st June, almost like clockwork, the clouds cleared, the rain stopped and the sun made its long awaited appearance. The dry season in the mountains is supposed to start in June, but I didn't expect the changeover to be this precise.
This was excellent timing as we had chosen that day for our first summit attempt in Ecuador. We found ourselves in the market town of Otavalo, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Quito, and together with Trudy from Australia and Denis, our guide, originally from Ohio, but now living in Otavalo, we attempted to climb Fuya-Fuya, a 4365 metre volcano just south of town, overlooking the impressive Laguna Mojando.
There is no public transport to the laguna, hence our need for a guide. He charged us a very reasonable 10 dollars each (other agencies in town charge at least 25), and picked us up from our hostel at 9am. While 4365 metres is a fairly high altitude (and in our top 10 highest summits), the walk up was mostly straightforward and we reached the first summit after 1.5
hours. From here there were good views of the laguna, of the other volcanoes nearby, and even of Quito, far away in the distance.
Getting to the second and higher summit was a little more tricky, involving some scrambling and rock climbing on exposed parts of the rock face. We had no ropes or anything so one slip could have been, well, fatal. Denis and I went on to this summit, but the views weren't so good here as the clouds had returned. In Quechua, Fuya-Fuya means, appropriately, Cloudy-Cloudy! All in all it was a good morning's hiking, with enough scary moments near the top to make it memorable. The famous Otavalo market
What had initially attracted us to Otavalo was its market, one of the Ecuador's best known. There is a market here every day in Otavalo, but Saturday is the best day, as the whole main square and most of the surrounding streets are taken over by stalls. We travelled up on a Friday night, allowing us plenty of time to explore the market before the tour groups arrived from Quito. On the journey up from Quito we crossed the Equator, meaning we were back in
the northern hemisphere for the first time in almost 9 months. It felt good to be home!
We found a great hotel, Rincon del Vajero, near the main square, and after dinner, spent the evening in playing pool & scrabble, and lying in the hammocks. What party animals we are! I expected the market to be primarily a tourist affair, but there were far more locals there than gringos, especially in the early morning. Like all South Ameican markets, many stalls sold the same old souvenirs, but there was a good variety of produce on offer, such as guitars, hammocks and eye catching, very cheap Panama hats. This misnomer particularly rankles in Ecuador as "Panama Hats" should really be called Montecristi Hats; their origin is Ecuadorian and they have nothing to do with Panama other than the name and the fact they were initially exported via Panama.
Many of the locals, it seems, come to the market only to eat, drink and be merry! In one section, families were devouring whole pigs (possibly the finest sight in the market), while the men sat around drinking what looked like innocent enough blackberry juice, but which was in fact a
Panama Hats in Otavalo Market
The real name is Montecristi hats and they're from Ecuador, not Panama.
local alcoholic drink, chicha. The condors
We left the market before it got too crowded and set off on a hike to the Condor Park, a Dutch run rehabilitation centre for injured birds, located 5km outside town. While condors are the main attraction, the center contains many types of Ecuadorian birds. This was a nice hike taking us past small farms and villages, and of course, the ever friendly locals. We had seen plenty of condors all over South America, but always from afar, so this was a great chance to see these impressive and very large (average wingspan is 3 metres) birds up close. Though it did feel somewhat like a zoo, the centre seems to be doing great work and it was well worth the entrance fee. Volcan Imbabura
Reaching the top of Fuya Fuya had whetted our appetite for more climbing so before leaving the Otavalo region we attempted Imbabura, the 4630 metre volcano towering over the city. There are a couple of approaches to the summit; the one we choose was from La Esperanza, a tiny village on the north side of Imbabura. La Esperanza is tiny and has only one place to
Check out that wingspan
It's rare you get this close to a condor. Taken in Condor Park near Otavalo.
stay: the friendly Casa Aida, run by Aida, an old Ecuadorian lady, who has been renting rooms to travellers for almost 30 years.
While the accomodation was basic, Casa Aida was a great place. Aida made us feel like one of the family. Casa Aida was also the only restaurant in the village, but the meals were excellent. The mayor of Ibarra and his family were also there (I think he may be related to AIDA), and they made us feel so welcome, sharing lots of food with us and making us try all types of Ecuadorian snacks. None of them spoke English so it was another opportunity for us to practice Spanish.
We were up at 5am on summit day. Aida cooked us an excellent breakfast, including the best pancakes I've had since I moved away from New York 8 years ago. La Esperanza is still a long distance (and height) from the summit, so we were more than happy to take a lift up to the end of the road - 8km on and 400m higher than La Esperanza -from a friendly local man. He was full of stories, including one about a foreign couple -
Summit of Volcan Imbabura
I think we may only have reached the first summit, but at least it was a summit!
like you, he said - who had set off to climb Imbabura in April, had become confused in the fog up near the top, taken a wrong turn and ended up getting extremely lost. They had to stay two nights on the mountain before a search team and the army found them. I've no idea how much hyperbole was attached to this story but it wasn't what you wanted to hear before setting off!
We carried no map, and the only directions we had were from the guestbook in Casa Aida, so I hoped we'd have better luck than the aforementioned couple. Imbabura is notorious for being covered in clouds, but as we set off the summit was clear, giving us a good indication of where to go. There were excellent views of Ibarra along the way, and occasionally of Volcan Cayembe, a snow capped peak which passes over the Equator Line. Small clouds started forming in the opposite valley and it was interesting watching the clouds change from small wisps to large white blankets just below us. It was a long, steep hike, taking us 4 hours to reach the saddle below the summit, at which point we
Colours of Otavalo Market
If only Ecuador had been the last country on our trip before going home, we could have bought great presents for everyone.
were both exhausted. With the weather deteriorating we had to keep a careful note of the path, as it's easy lose your way in the fog.
The path from the saddle was steep and narrow, and climbing it involved plenty of scrambling. The high altitude was also starting to affect us and we needed plenty of deep breaths and rests. After much huffing and puffing we made it to the first summit, just above 4600 metres. We were still 45 minutes and 30 metres short of the second and main summit, but we decided to stop there as it was dangerous to go on, and besides, we needed time for the descent. We hiked down the same way to the trail head, walked the final 4 kilometres to La Esperanza, picked up our bags, waved goodbye to Aida and set off for Quito.
Tot: 2.615s; Tpl: 0.066s; cc: 33; qc: 118; dbt: 0.0813s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb