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Above the Clouds

 

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Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

Flying to Quito from Cuenca and then to Lima, I figured today would hold little travel interest. I was wrong. As we sharply lifted up from the runway in Cuenca, I could see the mountains in the distance and realized we needed to reach high altitude quickly. It was a cloudy day and as the plane jiggled and shook in the cloud turbulence, I waited for it to pierce through the clouds and reach the sunny sky. We did. As I looked out the window, I saw mountains also piercing through the clouds close to the plane and realized we were skimming close to the Andes. The plane continued its upward climb and I thought we had passed by the mountains. Several minutes later, I was amazed because right by the plane was a majestic snow capped mountain, Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest at almost 21,000 feet. What a sight! Several minutes later, Antisana, Ecuador’s fourth tallest at over 18,000 feet appeared with its snow capped top, and finally, Cotopaxi, the second highest at over 19,000 feet appeared. These three snow capped mountains are on or very near the equator and so the snow capped tops are unique and amazing. What a beautiful flight!

As we approached Quito, I noticed that the plane was not in a steep descent, but more of a glide slowly downward. That was because as the plane descended, the ground below ascended. In fact, as we approached the Quito aeropuerto, the ground seemed far below and then, immediately, the plane was making a smooth as glass landing. The airport is on a high hill.

Thankfully, the Quito airport is brand new and sleek and modern. That is good since we have a six hour layover before heading to Lima, Peru. I told Kathy I wanted a hamburger for lunch and the airport has a Johnnie Rockets. Cheeseburger-$18; fries-$7; shake-$8. Nope! Looked around and found an Ecuadorian steakhouse. Cheeseburger-$7 and that includes fries and a salad; carafe of Sangria-$6. Lets see, $33 or $13. Easy choice and the steakhouse has free wifi and a wonderful fresh air balcony overlooking the Andes to boot. This won’t be as difficult a layover as I imagined. WEG

P. S. I did let Kathy have some of the sangria–along with her vegetarian plate. After all, it is a long layover.

Raw Beauty

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Wayne and Kathy Graumann below Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador, May 28, 2017

In all of our world travels, we have not had a day like today. Our long day was spent exploring Cotopaxi National Park. Mighty Cotopaxi, at 19,342 feet, is the second highest active volcano in the world. As such, climbing on the glacier to the top is forbidden. However, we were able to get to about 14,000 feet, close to the base of the ice. Doing so, however, was an ordeal, well worth the energy expended. The drive out of Quito was great with views of the Andes everywhere. It was a bright and clear day. As we began to climb higher towards Cotopaxi, we traversed changing ecological climates. First, were the eucalyptus trees; then, the pine with various pampas grasses; then, succulents and desert-like plants with no trees; then, wind-swept plains with yellow, then purple, and then orange flowers; and finally, nothing but volcanic landscape. The conical snow-covered peak of Cotopaxi was in clear view, a blessing not always available to visitors. As our day tour bus ascended higher, many cars were stalled out and most were turning around. The road consisted of hairpin turns on volcanic sand and rock with gulleys and ruts everywhere. We were told to hold onto our seats or we could be shaken out. Our guide mused that we were receiving a “Cotopaxi massage!” Once we arrived at the final stop up the volcano, we were given the opportunity to climb another 500 feet higher to a look-out point, the Jose Rivas Shelter.

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Wildflowers in Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador

Kathy and I were the seniors on this day tour; most were in their 20’s and 30’s, but we were game. We donned our sock hats and sun glasses, jackets and gloves. But when we stepped out of the bus, the wind was so strong we were almost blown over. Our tour guide said the gusts reached 60 mph.  However, never to say never, we trudged upward. The wind was picking up volcanic sand and pebbles and hurling them into our faces. Some people were knocked down. About 1/5 of the way up, we said, “Done!” Going back was harder than going up, since we could not lean into the wind, so small sideways step by step we went down. Some of the younguns eventually came back as well. Once back in the bus, we realized how out of breath we were. Sand was caked to our faces and grit was in our mouths, but we were out of the wind. Yet, mighty Cotopaxi remained in clear view! It is an experience we will never forget!

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Kathy Graumann, resting on the ascent to the Cotopaxi Volcano Shelter, May 28, 2017

On this day, we were able to look down the Avenue of the Volcanoes and see four volcanoes in clear view. Our guide said this is almost never to occur.  As we stopped on the way down at Limpiopungo Lagoon, a clear mountain lake, we had clear views of the majesty of raw beauty all around us.

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Wayne Graumann at Limpiopungo Lagoon, Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador, May 28, 2017

As we left, we saw herds of wild horses and, amazingly, a large mountain fox, Zorro, trotted close to our bus. As foxes are quite reclusive, our guide declared, “We had a perfect day.” I agreed. Descending further, we entered a mountain climbers’ lodging establishment where we were treated to a delicious mountain trout dinner.

After almost ten hours of exploring, we arrived back at our hotel, content that we are still adventurous and enjoying the adventure, while also eager to relax and clean off the dirt. WEG