Views and Gouging In Cotopaxi

The bus from Baños drops me on the Panamericana. I have no idea where to go.  My guidebook is of no use, as has often been the case on this trip. Destination, central square of Machachi, where I can catch a camioneta (pickup truck taxi) or a bus to a lodge near the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. I turn onto a random street.  When I start seeing more people, I assume I chose properly. 15 minutes later, I see the center of town.

I randomly pick a restaurant. And quickly discover I have chosen well. The husband helps me bring my bags inside. The wife greets me with a big smile. Two cute young kids play in the corner. For $3 I order grilled chicken with salad and fries, and a soda.  Again.  Sigh. Such is life in Ecuador. Options are limited.  I talk with the husband and wife; they don’t get many extranjeros in their restaurant. I ask about the time for the next bus, he sends his daughter down the street to find out for me.

Next ride is in one hour. I say my goodbyes, grateful for friendly Ecuadorians. I decide to take a taxi and negotiate a price of $15. The information from the hotel said it should be “about” $12, but as I will soon discover, the hotel is wrong about many things. Felipe and I talk the whole way. He is learning English, and we spend the ride practicing Spanish and English. Like most Ecuadorians, he is a bit in awe when I tell him I lived in Alaska for a couple of years.

The ride is long, the road rough, but the views are beautiful. Finally, we arrive.  First impressions are positive.  The building looks beautiful from the outside.  I am excited.

I discover they don’t have my reservation, despite the fact that I have an email from them. My requested room type is sold out. After being asked to wait for an hour, I am put in a higher quality room for the first night.

I go for a 3 mile run on one of their trails. Difficult at 11,000 feet, made more difficult by having to run through constant horse and cow manure. Not fun in my minimalist 5 fingers.  Still, it’s an enjoyable quick run.

Besides a desire to see one of Ecuador’s main sights for a few days before continuing classes, one of my goals in coming here was relaxation. Reading, hanging out. Unfortunately all the furniture is incredibly uncomfortable. It’s almost as if it was designed for an airport. Hammock chairs outside are almost inviting, but the smell of wood smoke and horse manure ruins the experience.

Next morning. I rent a mountain bike to explore the park. I ride the park’s dirt road, not knowing what to expect. Due to living in Alaska, I haven’t been on a bike in 3 years. I had – almost – forgotten how much I love it. The mountain looms ever closer. Cotopaxi is an active, glaciated volcano, reaching 19,347 feet. Big.  The scenery is fantastic.

In two hours, I see only two trucks. I leave my bike at a trailhead, and hike a short distance in to a natural spring. Soon I am joined by 5 young men from Quito, out for an adventure. They are delighted to talk with me, and seem amazed that I rode a bike 15 kilometers.

We say our goodbyes. I ride a little further in, stopping occasionally for photos. The mountain looms large. The view changes constantly, with clouds moving around the mountain. Finally, I turn around. I have a long way to return, and I am running out of water. And, I know I will be sore tomorrow. My body is no longer used to a bike seat.

I return to the entrance station, then take a different route back to the lodge. I stop for a time in a tiny village. A young man is eager to practice his limited English. I make my way back to the lodge, a final steep 1 mile climb.

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Room change. I am moved to the room type I requested.  Immediate shock.  The website made the rooms sound like basic hostel dorm rooms. These ‘rooms’ are simply rows of wicker dividers with a curtain for a door. No security, no privacy. For $30. About triple what it should be, even taking into account that it’s near a national park. Moreover, the floor is heated by a wood stove that belches smoke. My eyes burn all night.

The staff turns out the lights at 10pm, ‘for the peaceful sleep of all guests.’ Unfortunately, the staff talks loudly for nearly 2 hours more. I am awakened at 5.30am by staff starting the new day.

I am not impressed.

After breakfast, I go for a 4 mile walk, enjoying the views of Cotopaxi and other mountains. I climb a small ridgeline with spectacular 360 degree views.

One day earlier than planned, I check out. My planned 3 night stay of peaceful relaxation in a remote location has turned into a frustrating, expensive learning experience.

Asi es la vida.

I take the bus back to Machachi.  30 minutes, $.55.

Destination. Otavalo. But first, I stop again at the same reataurant, where I am once again greeted warmly.

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