Apologies in advance if there are a lot of volcano photos in this blog but Cotopaxi and the surrounding area was just so impressive. We left the thermal springs and drove to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. The road there was good and even when we turned off the Pan American highway we continued on a good new tar road. At the entrance to the park we had to fill in a lot of details, passport number, age etc and I had to sign a form saying I was responsible for my children....and my wife. Strange, I thought I was for the former anyway! However there was no charge to get in and the camping was free too. We were really hoping we would be able to see the volcano but when we arrived it was pretty cloudy and the forecast was for clouds and rain. The park is set up around Volcan Cotopaxi which at 5,897m is the second highest active volcano in the world. You can climb it but what with having the children, and me now being responsible for them, I decided against it, or at least that's my excuse. We drove up to Laguna Limpiopungo which is at nearly 4000m. From there we could catch glimpses of the volcano through the clouds. We took the lovely walk around the lake and were glad to see no one was suffering any effects from the altitude.
There are 2 campsites near the lake and we had lunch at one.
Looking at the map we could see you could drive further up to just below a refugio ( the mountain hut where the climbers stay before making summit attempts).
When we reached the "car park" we could again catch glimpses of the volcano but we could also see the glaciers in between the clouds which kept rolling in.
The road up had been good and whilst we still felt fine the truck was struggling for power in the thin air. Not surprising really as we had reached 4,625m. We did not stay long as I was worried the engine may not start but once started we did not need much power as it was downhill all the way to our campsite for the night which was only at 3,850m!
We went to bed hoping the volcano would be clear in the morning. At just before 6, Gilly jumped out of bed to check (really rare for her to be up first) and to our delight she shouted it is clear, completely clear!
Despite it been only 2 degrees we jumped up and spent the next hour enjoying the view with hot cups of tea which we shared with 2 Canadian cyclists who were camping in a tent nearby.
The views of Cotopaxi were stunning.
We could also see over to Volcan Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador at 6310m. You could tell how clear it was as the volcano was over 75km away.
Eventually Alisha and Lucy pulled us away from the view as they were hungry. The porridge we had bought the previous week came in really handy at this altitude!
As it was clear, we decided to delay school until the afternoon and head off on a hike towards Volcan Ruminahui, a relative baby at only 4721m. The scenery on the hike was magnificent and we had spectacular views back to Volcan Cotopaxi.
I was so proud of Alisha and Lucy who hiked for 4 hours without moaning and managed to reach a height of 4250m. They both talked the whole way up and I think by the time we got back our ears were more tired than their legs!
When we returned to the truck the clouds had rolled in so after a hearty lunch it was time for schooling. We had definitely done things in the right order as during schooling there was an almighty thunderstorm with lightening and hailstones.
When it finished the clouds cleared to show us that the volcano was covered in snow.
As evening approached we were again able to see the volcano in all it's beauty with the sun melting the fresh snow that had laid on it only a few hours previously. Definitely four seasons in one day.
That night it was clear and in the cold night air we were able to see the stars brilliantly as there was no artificial light to be seen. We were again fortunate to wake up to beautiful clear sky. Although by eight o'clock the clouds had started to roll in. Just as we were about to leave the French family that we have bumped into a number of times turned up. We had a good chat with them before heading off into Quito.
Driving into big cities is never much fun and we were a little worried about driving into Quito as we only had a vague idea of where we were going to park and it was right in the middle of the modern, well off part of the city. When we turned up at the parking place we were too big but the helpful parking attendant said there was another place we could park nearby in between the Marriott and McDonald's. This was a great find as the location was fantastic and even though we were on a main road as they put us at the back of the car park it was pretty quiet.
We spent the afternoon wandering round shopping centres and catching up on things. We were surprised at how modern Quito felt and it had all the amenities you would expect of a modern city. We went into Mariscal Sucre which was an area full of bars playing loud music and was surprised at how busy it was at 6.30 on a Thursday. We think it must have been end of term for the University students. We decided against eating there as it was too noisy and instead settled for a nice Ecuadorian meal of lamb stew at one of the local restaurants.
The next day we caught a taxi into the old town. Quito is set in a bowl and surrounded by hills but even in the city the roads go up and down. We spent the day walking around the lovely plazas, seeing churches and monasteries and the other sights.
We went into the cathedral on Plaza Grande and could not stop laughing. The floor was covered in floor boards and all of them creaked very loudly when you walked on them. No chance of sneaking in late to mass there without been noticed.
During the nights in Quito it rained really hard and thunder rattled and echoed around the mountains. However on our last morning it was nice and clear so we took the Teleferiqo up the mountain to get some great views over the city.