Cotopaxi National Park
We set off at 8am as planned but immediately suffer a road diversion in the centre of Quito, so we end up going north, whereas we wish to drive south. However our new route takes us via the market area which is colourful and already busy doing business early this Sunday morning. Shortly afterwards we're able to turn south towards Cotopaxi National Park. Yet again the weather is wonderful today. The sun is shining and the "avenue of the volcanoes" - so called by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt - is looking magnificent. We can see Cotopaxi clearly from bottom to top. Hardly a cloud is in sight. This is a pretty rare occurrence.
We stop briefly in the town of Machachi. Here we pick up two local guides who are authorised to escort us into and through Cotopaxi National Park. Also joining us here is a local artist who paints scenes of Cotopaxi and local village life. The paintings are on small frames of sheep skin, and this style of souvenir originated in the nearby town of Tigua. Richard isn't sure whether the artist has joined us to sell his souvenirs or to get a free lift through the park - later it turns out it's a combination of both. However the pictures are good quality and inexpensive, and we therefore spend our tourist dollars with a local family rather than at a store owned by a big corporation - which is surely what quality tourism is all about?
Leaving tarmac roads we continue towards Cotopaxi National Park along a cobbled street, reminiscent of a Roman Road except there's a lot of curves and bends as we wind our way up to over 12,000 feet altitude. The farmland is lush and productive here and the views are tremendous. Before entering the park we stop and take a nice stroll along the road to view bird and plant life. It's so nice, in fact, that we have difficulty getting everyone back on board. Eventually we arrive at the park entrance and while we exchange our pre-arranged permits and do the paperwork, a long line forms outside the one toilet cubicle!
Once all are back on board, our next stop is a shallow glacier lake called Limpiopungo. Here we enjoy a very pleasant walk and spot Andean gulls and ducks nesting in the marshes. From Limpiopungo Lake we drive to the south exit of the park. The scenery is still stunning but sadly the clouds have now covered the top half of the Cotopaxi Volcano - which only goes to show how lucky we were earlier! On the way to the park exit we pass numerous mountain bikers who are taking part in a two-day race circumnavigating Cotopaxi. Aparently that's around 50-60 kms each day at altitudes up to 14,000 feet. No wonder they looked exhausted. As the cyclists peddle uphill, we're driving down. We exit the park and cross the Pan-American Highway to our lunch venue, the Hacienda La Cienega. This hacienda is one of Ecuador's oldest colonial buildings, still belonging to the descendants of the Marquis of Maenxa of the 17th century. The hacienda now features a number of bedrooms for overnight stays, a restaurant, and impressive gardens and courtyards. After another "light lunch" - just three courses plus drinks, all complimented by an excellent Ecuadorian music group - we then explore the gardens and spot numerous hummingbirds.
It's been a good day but it's not over yet. Back at our Quito accommodation, the Patio Andaluz Hotel, we do a little packing in readiness for tomorrow's departure and then enjoy a buffet dinner. However, Richard has arranged some surprise entertainment - a troupe of traditional Ecuadorian dancers. Their performance is well received. Mind you, so too is tonight's signature dessert - a chocolate cake! Someone, who shall remain nameless (one of the perks of writing the blog) enjoys two helpings.