Photos from India

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Baños, Ecuador

Well, it´s Sunday night in Cuzco and I am getting on a bus tonight at 10:00, heading for Cococabana, Bolivia which is on lake Titica. It is supposed to be a beautiful city that sits on the eastern shore of the lake thus having amazing sunsets over the largest lake in South America. Along with being the largest lake, it is also the highest navigable lake in the world. From what I hear, they used to bring steamships up to the lake in pieces on Donkeys. Everyone I have spoken to here says that it is amazing to be on a lake that is surrounded by towering snow covered mountains! I can´t wait to get up there.
So, I know I haven´t posted anything in about two weeks, but to be honest, I have been too busy having too much fun! South America is absoloutely incredible. Most of the cities have a charm like many of the ones in Europe. Although most buildings are somewhat Colonial, they are all very old, made mostly of stone, have balconies projecting everywhere, and all have spanish tile roofs. In every town I visit, there are amazing cathedrals and beautiful parks everywhere. Combine that with being extremely affordable, this continent is perfect for travelling!
I guess I left off on my last entry with the Galapagos islands. After a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts disappeared from my laundry due to some extremely strange circumstances (namely the guy at the hostel I gave my clothes to getting drunk and fired), I headed south of Quito to a town called Baños. Baños was an amazing small city with few cars, no crime and lots of activities around it. The main attraction was the volcano that has been continuously erupting for over 10 years. As I was planning on climbing up another Volcano, Cotopaxi, I planned to do a lot of hiking on my own while I was there and get as high as I could to adjust to the altitude. Appareantly, many other travelers had tried to climb Cotopaxi (about 20,000´) and became extremely sick because of the altitude. I wasn´t about to let that happen after paying a guide to take me up the mountain. So, basically in Baños, I spent one day hiking up one ridge of the volcano to as far as you could go before there is a big drop off and the beginning of the ¨danger zone¨. I hiked the entire time in the rain, gaining a good 4,000´ and did not see another hiker the entire day. Unfortunately, since it was raining, I didn´t see the volcano or much of anything either. That night led to dinner with a few people from the hostel and a bottle of vodka being purchased around 11:00 that night. The vodka definitely slowed me down the next day, but the day still turned out to be amazing. I boarded an open air bus and visited about six different waterfalls south of town. I am hoping that the photos I took there with my slr camera turn out to be some of the best from the entire trip. We will have to see when I return home.
Upon returning to town, the sky was clearing and I rounded up a group of people to hike up to a lookout for the volcano. We were able to watch the volcano spit smoke and ash up into the air until the sun finally set. Not a bad day, looking at waterfalls and wathcing volcanos erupt! The next day, I set out early on what looked like might become a beautiful day to hike up to the abandoned refuge on the other side of the volcano. Upon beginning my hike, I quickly watched my hopes of a beautiful day of hiking and photographs of a volcano errupting fade away. The refuge I was hiking to was mostly destroyed during an erruption about 10 years ago and was supposed to not only be the closest you could get to the top, but also would give you the best views of the eruptions. It is kind of ironic to be hiking up to something like a volcano, just hoping for a big erruption! I don´t know what I would have done if the thing had started spitting lava out down the hill at me! Anyway, as I was saying about the weather, it quickly started raining and continued until I returned to town around 3:00 that afternoon. Again, it was a great day of hiking, minus the rain of course. No photos, no people and very tired legs having gone up to 12,500´.
When I returned to town, I found that my trip to Cotopaxi had been cancelled. Appareantly no one had summited the entire week due to warmer than average weather and lots of rain. To explain further, the entire top of this thing is covered in ice. You hike up to a hut, play around with ice axes and crampons on the glacier for a bit, take a nap and then awake to begin your climb at midnight. The last six hours is all in snow and ice, using ice axes and crampons so needless to say, warm weather and rain don´t help the conditions. Oh well, I guess that left a day of canyoning.
I spent that afternoon trying to organize a trip canyoning. It is actually just rapelling, only you are rapelling down waterfalls. The problem down here is that the market for everything is oversaturated. It´s like someone sees that someone else is earning a living doing something and they open up the same shop next door. None of the outfitters had any trips going out the next day and would only take me by myself if I wanted to pay an additional 10 dollars. Not that 10 dollars is a lot of money, it is just the principal down here since everything is so cheap. Anyway, the next morning I was in a shop trying to organize a trip when two other people came in and wanted to do the same trip. I was in luck and this also dropped my price from 30 to 25 dollars! Not bad for a day of rapelling down waterfalls! Now, I think I mentioned this whole canyoning thing in a previous post, saying that the tallest waterfall was like 1200´. I misunderstood, it was actually only 140´. Still pretty high. I wasn´t sure what to expect of the day and was definitely worried a bit about the safety of it, but the guide knew what he was doing, always having an extra rope on my for safety and then the one that I controlled. By no means was the rapelling scary, in fact, after stepping over the first ledge, a smile came to my face and I just kept smiling and laughing the whole time enjoying every minute of it. I could have spent a week dropping down these waterfalls. The first two we went down weren´t very high, maybe between 30 and 45 feet each. We were able to go off each a couple of times before going over the big one. At the bottom of the two smaller ones, you just jumped off the rocks and landed in a pool of water! Anyway, the big one landed on a bunch of rocks, but it was by far the best. Two decents later and I did not want to leave! But like each town I visit, it was time to go.
I headed back to Quito the next day since I had a flight the next evening. At breakfast on the day of my flight, I started talking to a couple of guys and we decided to head up the volcano I mentioned in Quito a couple of weeks ago. This time, the weather was much better, although storms did come in on the summit as we finished the decent. Having adjusted to the altitude better now, and being in terrifed of missing my flight, I summited the volcano and returned to the beginning of the trail in under 4 hours. Not bad, knocking almost two hours off my previous time! That´s pretty tough, hiking from 12,000´ almost 16,000´in that short of a trip. Fortunately, I was able to make my flight on time and had a miserable night sleeping in the airport in Lima, awaiting a 6 a.m. flight to Cuzco!

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