Andean Highs & Lows

Picking up on our crime-stopping adventure

IMG_0276…The handcuffed thief and I hopped on the cop’s bike and off to the station we went.  Ecuadorian paddy wagons only have two wheels, and sitting on the back of that bike was the scariest part of the whole sordid affair.  The police were pleasant and helpful, and eventually I figured out that to press charges would take 3-4 hours – more than I was willing to give.  The police and I agreed that he needed a good scare and I left it to them to find a non-bureaucratic means of pointing him in a more positive direction.  IMG_4165

After the excitement I left the policia and hoofed past a gaggle of working girls to the tourist quarter where to my relief I found my bicycle still secured where I’d left it. I biked north to return the bike, then – guard still raised – strided deliberately back to our apartment, but Sue and the boys hadn’t returned, and they had the keys.  I was able to pick up our apartment’s wifi signal from across the street so let them know I’d be up the hill at the Basilica del Voto Nacional – a looming cathedral of modern concrete poured in neoclassical gothic design.  Instead of gargoyles, roof water gushes forth from the cement mouths of turtles and iguanas.  IMG_0300

Killing time I circled the church then paid the entry fees and climbed through the roof and up the ladders to the basilica’s northern tower for some good gloomy city views.  Leaving the church I bumped into Sue and Ben, who was very excited to hear about my adventures at the police station.  I brought them back to the basilica to repeat the views and climbing exercise, then home for a little rest before Sue and I left to toast the day’s adventures over some pesto.

IMG_0324Monday our driver Miguel picked us up for an early departure to nearby Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s most accessible volcano, and at 19,000 much higher than any Sierra summit.  The highways here have come a long way since my 1993 visit – broad and freshly paved, IMG_0325once out of congested Quito the travel goes quickly and we’d arrived at the park’s boundary by 9AM.  After checking in and a break at the visitor’s center we continued our ascent, slowing down as the paved road
gave way smooth and then washboard dirt.  We parked at the 15,000’ snow line and hiked a steep mil through an oreo-cookie mix of crusty black pumice and creamy slush to Refugio Jose Rivas. 16,000’ is a terrestrial
record for us boys (Sue’s had summited another equatorial monster – 20,000’ Kilimanjaro).  Lacking ice axes, crampons and acclimatization we stopped here and IMG_0321we welcomed the refuge’s hot chocolate and warm cheese empanadas.  
The descent was easier and we stopped for a brief stroll at pretty little Laguna IMG_0364Limpiopungo, a haven for birds, bugs and frogs.  The drive back was pleasant but altitude headaches dogged us for a few hours afterwards.  Sue’s lingered longer so I gave her a night off and took the boys out for a meaty dinner at a local cafe across from San Blas plaza.

IMG_0376For our last day in Quito Sue had arranged a tour north to Otavalo and surrounding sites.  It was a good call – the lower elevation helped her height hangover, and the warmer, sunnier climate lifted our moods.  En route we stopped at the equator for a brief lecture and bi-hemispherical photo-opp, visited a biscuit factory (delicious!), and boated about islands in a collapsed volcano crater (like a miniature crater Lake).  We arrived in Otavalo mid-day and toured the famed central market,IMG_0407 very quiet on this Tuesday.  Max upgraded his Panama hat and picked up a colorful hackey sack; sue scored scarfs.  I just enjoyed strolling the market and sunny streets with an ice cream cone and the boys.  I wished I’d traded a night or two in Quito for Otavalo’s warmth.  

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We had time for one more stop in the leatherworking ex-pat community of Cotacachi.  I picked up a simple wallet and wifi before boarding the bus for a sleepy ride back to Quito.  The boys were gassed so Sue and I had a simple meal out and brought home a few extra slices of pizza.  Tomorrow is a big day:  Galapagos!


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