Cycling down Cotopaxi

I am sitting on a rooftop deck at our hostel in Banos, listening to marching bands, fireworks, and car alarms.  It is a beautiful evening in a lively city. As I look down from my 4th storey perch, I am struck by the narrow streets (single lane) and wide sidewalks — the cars are definitely at a disadvantage here!  Cam, Kaia and Jake are out walking around, checking out the sights and action.  It all revolves around “la virgen de la agua santa” and there will surely be a blog post soon about our time here.  However, in an effort to keep things more or less chronological, I will describe the day we spent on Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world!  (or second highest if you count Llullaillaco in Chile which hasn’t erupted since 1877).

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We could not see the summit, but read that it is at 5897m (19 347ft)
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Here is Cotopaxi on a clear day -- yes, snow at the Equator!

After hearing about this cycling trip from some other travellers at our Quito hostel, we signed up to mountain bike for the day with “The Biking Dutchman”.  We suited up (bringing many layers in preparation for being as high as 4500m).  Taking public transit to the meeting place was an experience in itself:  buses were frequent but absolutely PACKED.  So much so that we couldn’t get on about the first 6 or so that went by.  We considered getting a taxi, but ended up squeezing onto a bus and getting to “The Magic Bean” only a few minutes late.  There, we met Jan (the biking Dutchman) and our fellow cyclists.  Jan landed in Quito 26 years ago after traveling the world for 4 1/2 years.  He met his Ecuadorian wife, started a family, and made a business out of doing what he loves to do — ride a bike!  We were lucky to have him as our driver and guide, since he doesn’t personally guide so many of the trips anymore.  Jan drove us south through Quito, pointing out that the city is built in a valley — it has grown to be 70km long and only 5km wide.  While driving up the side of Cotopaxi, I asked Jan what was meant by the term “active” volcano.  He explained that Cotopaxi has had a lot of minor activity and is overdue for a larger eruption which historically has occurred about every 120 years.
As we approached the parking lot at 4600m, Cam said to the kids, “No one in our family has ever been to this altitude before.”  And, once in the parking lot, the 50m uphill walk to the sign had us all puffing in the thinner air.  Jan has acclimatized to the higher altitude over the past few decades, but said that he has not managed to summit the volcano due to altitude symptoms (his excuse being that the Dutch live at 5m below sea level!) 
Our group of 12 was quickly outfitted with bikes, gloves and helmets, and briefed on the route:  first 7km on a bumpy, switchbacking road (same one we had driven up), and then regroup for some single and double-track riding on the high open plains.  The most important skill we needed to master was braking.  So, it was all downhill from there…

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The Landrover was specially equipped to carry many bikes.
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Jan, the biking Dutchman, demonstrates the important skill of how to brake properly.
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This is as clear as the mountain got for us -- we could see the snow level.
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Heading off through the clouds.
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The first 7km looked something like this.
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Jake, coming around a switchback, followed by Cam (in red) and Kaia (in purple).
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Good thing we bought Ecuadorian hats at the market on Sunday!

The tracks on the open plains were great (and not as bumpy as the road!)

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OK, I guess it was a bit foggy!
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But it cleared up and we got some great views.
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Even saw some wild horses.
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Kaia was wearing the helmet-cam for some GoPro footage.
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There were dramatic clouds at ground level.

We had a nice lunch, packed up the bikes, and drove to another location for another 20km of downhill fun.

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Lunch and ginger tea at a ranger station.
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Our best view of Cotopaxi's peak. But we did get a pretty good view of a condor (one of only 17 remaining in the area).
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Finishing the day, back down at about 3000m altitude.
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...and the bikes go back on the well-designed roof rack.

We’ve since had some days of great hiking in the mountains, our day in Banos, and are now looking forward to a trip to the Galapagos!  We fly there on the 21st and will board the Floreana on the 23rd for a week of cruising and exploring various islands.  There will be a lull in our blog posts during that time, and definitely lots to report about once we get back to the mainland. 
Yvonne

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