Quito and Volcano Valley

¡Quito! The highest capital in the world at 2800m. Plus it’s hilly so I definitely felt the breathlessness when I was wandering around the beautiful and extensive historic centre. Also at night I felt a chill and of course nowhere has any heating. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; one of the first as is proudly stated everywhere.

 

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A small part of Quito stretches out into the distance. The city is laid out a bit unusually in that it’s constrained by the valley it sits in so, it has naturally adopted a long and narrow shape. I think I read that the city is 50 km long. It rained every day very heavily as these dark clouds would suggest
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Colourful market stalls selling exotic fruits (exotic from my point of view, probably extremely mundane to Ecuadorians; everything is relative)
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A walking tour of the old town was a good way to get a large amount of info in a short space of time
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There are a huge number of churches in the old town. This is a relatively modern basilica which occupies a commanding view over the historic centre
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The most unusual aspect of the basilica was that the gargoyles are not scary-looking monsters but native animals; anteaters in this case
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And monkeys here
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Quito lies in a valley as I mentioned. The surrounding peaks and volcanoes are high and offer an easy (everything is relative) acclimatisation day hike (or any other type of hike for that matter) from the city. Even though it was a misty and cloudy day I climbed a volcano called Rucu Pinchincha which is a whopping 4700m high. P.s. what you see here is not actually the peak, that is obscured in mist/fog
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…and looked like this when we finally got there… :/
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Anyway, Quito is lovely and has a lot of plazas. Black and white because, you know, that’s fancy.
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Next great idea of mine was to try to climb Iliniza Norte, an extinct volcano over 5000m. I arrived at this hut, the Neuvos Horizontes at 4700m. I checked and there was no one inside. It slowly dawned on me that the guy rambling on in Spanish which I clearly didn’t understand, when I was at the rangers office lower down, was the hut guardian and he was telling me something to the effect of “you can go up and fend for yourself but I’m sure as hell not going up only for you!”  This explains why he gave me a box of matches…
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I really felt the need to take a selfie to record the exact face of misery. I had bucket loads of hot tea at least (thanks for the matches mate :/ ) and some dry granola for dinner (I was in no mood for cooking crappy pasta). I was freezing cold and alone at 4700m but still I found those blankets which kept me from freezing to death, nice.
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On the plus side I went for a walk around sunset and it was spectacular. I wasn’t cold thanks to walking and there being no wind. Thankfully the clouds cleared and offered me some fantastic views. On the right is Cotopaxi, a beautiful, beautiful volcano. Every cloud…etc.
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Close-up of Cotopaxi. So I woke the next morning after a long night of shivering and tried to climb Iliniza Norte but it was snowing and conditions were not safe so I descended defeated. To add insult to injury it was raining at lower elevations. A pretty much disastrous 2 days but the main objective of acclimatisation was more or less achieved
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The highest mountain on earth….due to a technicality. If you measure from the centre of the earth then Chimborazo is higher than Everest as it lies near the equator and the earth is an ‘oblate spheroid’ (which means it bulges in the middle). Although saying it’s the highest mountain on earth in this way is a bit like saying I’m the tallest person on earth if I stand on a ladder and we all measure height from the floor…although it is pretty cool that it’s therefore supposedly the point on the earth closest to the sun. It is also an easy 6000m peak (everything is relative) and you can leave from Quito, summit and be back in the capital within 36 hours; where else can you do something like that?!
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Part of the reason way it can be climbed so easily from the city (assuming proper acclimatisation to the high altitude) is that you don’t sleep….instead you climb through the night. You can try to sleep from 5pm to 10pm, then get up and have dinner but it doesn’t work like that. This photo was taken just after we started at 11pm
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The way up was steep and the snow was fresh and deep. It was seriously tough. The shadow of the volcano was cool
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I made it! Kinda. There are actually two summits, I climbed the slightly lower one called Veintimilla at 6267m above sea level and the second is the Whymper summit 38m higher (6385 km from the earth’s core, clearly the reference point we should all be using) but would have added 2 hours more to the day which as I started at 11pm and reached the summit at 6.30am climbing through the night (without any sleep) I was reluctant to add more time for a small increase in height.
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Sunrise above the clouds! My guide and I were the only people on the mountain which was cool in itself. Try having that in Europe
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A photo from later in the day when we where driving down (I slept the 4 hours back to the city, thanks for driving guide!). If you look closely (look past the avalanches) you can pick out the route that we took, I mean the route that we, and no one else, took! Hint: look at the bottom left and follow to the right and then it zigzags
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The single lonely path up. God that was hell and never-ending. Erm…no it was character building and whatnot
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Back to Quito after Chimborazo and time to leave Quito. On the way out I had to go to the equator, yes the yellow line is the equator, and stand with one foot in each hemisphere. Actually the equator is apparently a strip about 5km wide and is constantly changing position. But it’s nice that they have a monument
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As I said the Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World as it’s called because equator is ecuador in Spanish) was on my way out of the city so I took my backpack and crossed from south to north. A nice image to encapsulate my travels 🙂

Next up: Mindo to the coast

 

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