Equator Gringos

January 29, 2008

Yet Another Survival-Epic-Adventure-Vacation

Filed under: Ecuador — lstollin @ 9:24 pm

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday (finally getting around to writing this after turning in my grades today), our friends Victor and Erin visited. Victor’s from France, though we met him in Austin years ago. In fact, he’s the one who introduced us to Andrea, our reason for moving to Quito (her home town)! Andrea’s now married to Keith (with daughter Emilia in tow), and Victor’s dead serious with Erin. Two years ago we all camped, hiked and climbed together at beautiful Lake Tahoe, California. This year Erin and Victor got a flight to Quito on pretty short notice and voila as Victor would say, we were all together again.

resized-elaltar44.jpgWe bought hundreds of dollars of groceries, and headed out for El Altar, considered the most beautiful mountain in Ecuador (click here for the slide show of the trip). Our plan was to hike to it (1.5 days), camp at the lake in the crater (sounds beautiful, eh?) for three nights, then hike back out. We had hired mules and a cook, to make it a little more cush. The problem was, the weather didn’t cooperate. It was cold and drizzly, but even worse, the recent rains — combined with the grape-stomping prowess of the mules — rendered the track a sucking mousse of mud anywhere from a few inches to over a foot deep. The mental and physical challenge of the trail (uphill nearly all the way, at altitude, and did I mention the mud?) left us with little time or energy to enjoy the incredible scenery. The whole slog from the cars to the cabins at the base of the mountain, which turned out to be just ten km (6.2 miles measured by GPS), took us eight hours to negotiate. Erin was not feeling well and turned back, and Victor (our strongest mountaineer) with her. We got beautiful views of three of El Altar’s nine separate summits, spent the night in the cabins, and turned around the next day, so unfortunately we never went up into the crater nor actually saw the whole mountain.

resized-tungurahuaeruptioncrop.jpgWe had returned with 90% of our food, and still had four days to kill. We were wet, filthy, tired, cranky, and cold. After a brief powwow, we headed to Baños (Bath in English, from the hot springs there. Click here for an entry on our previous visit to this great town). On the drive toward Baños we got a big thrill when we saw, with our own eyes, Volcán Tungurahua erupting (intermittent alternating burps of white steam and black ash — you may have seen this on the news. Spanish sidenote: the Spanish word for burp is erupto). In Baños no one was worried about the volcanic activity happening practically above their heads. We chilled out in a hotel with queen beds near a waterfall, took long showers, ate at great restaurants, and generally thawed out in the semitropical valley. Those of us with energy to burn went on a day hike and rappelled down waterfalls (sorry, no pictures). Finally, at New Year’s we followed Ecuadorian tradition by burning the Año Viejo, the Old Year anthropomorphized as an old man, an effigy stuffed with wood chips we bought at the market.

When it was all said and done, Keith summed it up perfectly: there aren’t many people you can spend a whole week with and not be sick of them. That may sound like faint praise to some, but the fact is we all feel blessed to have such great friends who are so easy to travel and spend time with.



  1. Great Post! I am always look for a great trip to take with my son. This one I will put down on my list and really try to do it this year. Thanks for info!

    Comment by Norm - California River Rafting — January 30, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  2. Just wanted to let you both know that Morgan is a semi-finalist in a national publications competition for the category of sprts writing! She goes to WVU on March 19-20 to compete in the finals!

    Hope all is well!

    Love to both!

    Paula Mae

    Comment by Paula Mae — February 14, 2008 @ 9:24 am

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