After more than two weeks in Quito, I was feeling a real need to get my legs moving and even a walk right across town to Parque La Carolina hadn’t given my muscles enough of a workout. A ramble around the crater lake of Cuicocha at the base of the inactive Cotocachi volcano seemed like a perfect opportunity to check my legs still worked. A bus and taxi ride later followed by an entrance fee to Cotacachi Cayapas National Park and we arrived at a ghost gathering of market stalls. Some travellers jumped onto the boat to take them around the lagoon but a couple of strong lads and myself headed off in search of the starting point for the five hour hike. Who needs a map?
The first hour or so was vicious with constant climbing and sections along the route which seemed to be purposely designed for respite. I quickly lost my breath on the steeper ascents, but rapidly regained normal breathing once I stopped momentarily. The lagoon sits at an altitude of 3,200 metres and we were getting a good height above it, although nowhere near the summit of Cotocachi itself. The sun was beating down and the air was thin, but the far reaching views across dry, craggy edges and across to the surrounding volcanoes were spectacular.
The next section of the walk took us around the back of the mountain along dug out pathways and away from the lagoon. Completely different in character, I loved this section because, despite not having the grand views, it provided such a contrast and you felt close to the plants and the rocks and the dirt. Finally winding around the right side of the mountain again, we picnicked above clouds as they wafted in towards and above the lagoon.
The final part was the most bizarre. In amongst trees and constant up and downhill scrambles, it was beautiful and brought more birdlife to our attention, but as we progressed it also brought us back to the reality of human life with the presence of fencing and horses andcows. By the time we got to the end of the pathway and had trudged along a dusty, dirt road for half an hour past local land workers walking in the opposite direction, we started to suspect that we had taken a wrong turn. But where? There had been no obvious split in the path. Maybe, after all, a map would have been useful. Arriving finally at a deserted restaurant, the owner offered to taxi us back to the bus and I got to sit up front and practise my Spanish a little with some small talk.
I still don’t know if we got lost. Another guy I talked to at the hostel did the same route. It just seems to be a most disappointing, strange ending to an otherwise stunning walk. The one thing it does provide though, I suppose, is a continuation of the diversity of landscapes and views. I would, however, love to know if there is another way.
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