We were staying in an apartment in the old town not far from Plaza Santo Domingo and our Cotopaxi tour was leaving from Plaza Fosh at 7:00 am. Rather than risking getting lost in the dark again we planned to take a taxi. We set off at 5:45 am giving ourselves time to find a taxi and ended up flagging one down right outside our front door. All the tour guides warn against being on the streets in Quito when it’s dark, we did not go out late at night but we were out in the early morning and the evening up until about 8:00 pm. We never had any issues. We were careful about where we went and followed the theory that if no one else is around you should not be either.
We arrived too early and the tour left a little late, but we were soon on our way to Cotopaxi. We were traveling in a small bus operated by Gulliver. They own the Hacienda Hosteria PapaGayo on the way to Cotopaxi so our first scheduled stop was there to pick up more passengers. On the way the bus got a flat on the freeway. The driver managed to pull over without getting us killed, he turned around and said “un moment por favour” he and the guide then got out and changed the tire, on the road, in traffic. They did phone a friend who arrived in a separate car with his family in tow. One of the passengers stood behind the bus and waved the passing cars into the inside lane. In most places in Ecuador passing buses will stop pretty well anywhere if you wave them down so the waving intended to prevent the driver and friends from being killed by a passing car also resulted in several busses stopping to offer to pick us up. The speed with which they completed the life threatening tire change was impressive. I think they may have done it before!
We drove through the Avenue of the Volcanoes which has excellent views of several volcanoes when it’s clear. It was cloudy so we did not see a thing.
Our destination was the South entrance of Cotopaxi National Park (the road there is in better condition than the North entrance). As we passed through a small village we were stopped by “bandits” of a special type. A group of children dressed up in the sort of costumes we see in Canada for Halloween were stopping all the cars and demanding money to pass.
This appeared to be a New Year’s Eve thing as there was lots of laughing going on. We encountered a few other groups of bandits on the way some of whom had ropes across the road the adults helping out.
Our guide spoke excellent English and gave a good explanation of the park and the area as we drove up to the parking lot below the refuge.
From there we walked very slowly to the refuge which is at 4800m. Hot chocolate and a bun were available outside the refuge for $2.
The weather was cold, windy and cloudy so we could not see the peak. It was decided that we would not continue to the toe of the glacier as there would be no view. We had warm clothes but some of the group were definitely unprepared for snow and wind.
We went back down to the parking lot got out our bikes (which we were amused to discover were Trek 3 series) and prepared to ride down the road. We ended up passing out our extra layers to other members of the group for the ride down.
We rode down the same road we drove up. It was in reasonable shape and the suspension on the bikes made a huge difference but the washboard still provided a free massage for all. The van can down the volcano behind us and was actually having more issues with the road than the bikes were. We got a few glimpses of Cotopaxi through the cloud on the way down and also saw wild horses.
The ride ended at Limpiopungo Lagoon from there we drove back to the hosteria for a lunch of spinach soup (served with popcorn which you put on top of your soup), pasta, lemon grass tea and a very rich chocolate cake. The hosteria was an old colonial farm which looked like it would have been a pleasant place to stay. The road to and from the hosteria was obviously built for horses not buses. We discovered as much when we encountered a bus coming the other way. The tour guide leapt out and the two buses did manage to pass but it was definitely a pull your side mirrors in kind of maneuver!
As we headed back to Quito, we saw another New Year’s Eve activity starting to unfold. Men dressed in drag, skimpy black dresses or lingerie with high heels and very large breasts (there had been plastic sets available in the stalls over the past few days) “widows ” with baby dolls. They were stopping cars flaunting their womanly features and asking for money. This continued later in the night and the later it got the drunker and louder they got. Everyone including the drivers and on lookers found it very funny.
When we returned to Quito at 5:00 pm New Year’s celebration were in full swing in the new town. Thousands of people were in the streets, and there were food vendors and plastic boobies (not the bird kind this time everywhere).
We gave up on our attempts to catch a cab when we accidentally ended up at a bus station we recognized. The bus was so crowded we made a deal that if only one of us managed to get out the door at our stop the other would just get off at the next stop and walk back!
After a bite to eat we set out in our neighbourhood to check out the celebrations. The street was full of people and most houses and businesses had their puppets set up outside with testimonials around their necks. Everyone was in on it including the local police and fire department.
There was a DJ set up on the street and the local widows were in full swing. Stopping every car that tried to come down the street. They were actually lap dancing for the drivers and a big crowd was watching and laughing. We walked down to the Plaza Grande expecting to find a party but there was nothing going on. The party was clearly right outside our door.
With some regret we actually did not stay up to see the puppets burn. We had a 6:25 am flight to catch and a 3:00 am taxi booked to catch it. We did watch the fireworks which came from all over the city and lasted for at least 45 minutes at midnight from the apartment.