Returning from the Jungle, we caught the next possible bus from Lago Agrio for Quito. As we set off a guy stood up making some long winded speech in Spanish. The Austrian guys told us he was warning everyone about the dangers of smuggling drugs. However, this safety warning suddenly turned into him handing out packets of biscuits for a dollar each. I guess the message was don't do drugs, eat my biscuits instead!
We had only been on the bus for about 15minutes when we stopped and pretty much everyone got off! We couldn't believe they had caught the bus for such a short journey! Surely there would have been a more regular local bus they could have caught? Then a soldier with a very big gun came on the bus. He took one look at us and asked us to get off the bus. The Austrian guys found this hilarious and said their goodbyes and goodlucks to us! The soldier then looked at them and said "everyone off the bus". It appeared to be an ID and drug search, but they didn't search the bus and only had a quick look through the local people's bags. If I was a local, smuggling drugs, I would have left my drug bag on the bus! We had to get in a separate queue and show our passports. Once everyone had been 'checked' we could get back on the bus. Kris watched a film in Spanish again whilst Emma dozed. A couple of hours in we stopped again and everyone got off again! This time it was a police narcotics ID and drugs check. They were even worse than the army and didn't check the bus or hardly anyones bag! We finally arrived back in Quito at 11.30 and got straight in a taxi to our trusty Vibes hostel. As it was Friday night the hostel bar was in full swing with drunken singing to 80's tunes. But tired from our trip we could only head to bed. It so typical that the two big party nights in our hostel were the nights we arrived jet lagged and after being smelly and tired from the Amazon trip. It's been pretty quiet every other night!
The next morning we got talking to an old Australian guy that was in the bunk below Emma (we were in a 5 bed mixed dorm). He had come in really drunk early that morning, and continued to tell us numerous stories that all had the same theme of him getting completely wasted! He was even booked to do the inca trail but got too drunk the night before, got in at 5am, and decided not to go. He lost all the money he had paid for the trip (over £300) and simply said "me, alcohol and smoke machines don't mix"!
Over breakfast we were told that the guy at the hostel had only reserved a room for us for one night, and not the two we had asked for! After protesting and with no other choice we headed out to find another hostel. Luckily our area was full of them, so we didn't have too much trouble. We spent the rest of the day researching into volcano trips around Quito, and planning the our next few weeks. We finally decided to do the two day mountain biking trip only to find we'd previously been given the wrong information. Well decision made, we have to go one the one day trip, only problem was we had to wait for Monday!
Determined not to waste another day we headed up the El TelefériQo (cable car) to the top of Pichincha Volcano, an active volcano 8km from Quito. It last erupted on 2008, often has ash eruptions, but they still seemed to think a cable car was a good idea! There was also a theme park up there and a big empty shopping mall. Crazy! I don't know when the mall shut, maybe 2008.
The El TelefériQo is one of the highest cable cars in the world, rising from 3,117 metres to 3,945 metres. At the top we decided to have a walk along the volcano edge, walking higher than the cable car. This is always more tiring than it sounds at high altitudes! Also, although Pichincha is an active volcano you would never know, as the climate it Quito, so close to the equator and rainforest, means it has picturesque green fields, it didn't really feel any different to standing on Cleeve Hill (Emma's parents: even Kris is using that as a reference location now, and he didn't even know where it was!) Well apart from the 30% less air!
The cable car takes about eight minutes and only on the way down did we appreciate how steep it was! Back down at a mere 2,800 metres we headed back to the hostel to complete the America blogs for all you lucky people. A big thank you to Kris's dad for uploading our photos for us!
Sundays in Quito are dead! All shops shut, nearly every restaurant is shut and definitely all bars as its illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays.
The only thing we had to do was ask the non-English speaking receptionist, 'we are checking out at 6.30 tomorrow to go on a trip and could we leave our luggage here all day?'. Kris tried in Espanyol but failed so we took him to the computer where we had pre-written a the translated message in Spanish (as a back up plan), using google translate. It worked.
We checked out of our room early and arrived at the meeting point for our Cotopaxi mountain biking trip just before 7am. We waited with out guide and a Swiss guy for the 3 other people that had booked on the trip until nearly 7.30 and then left. So it would be just the 3 of us and our guide Fernando. Unfortunately the Swiss guy said he was a keen mountain biker, which we were dreading!
The drive to Cotopaxi was amazing! It was so clear that you could see all 8 of the volcanoes that the Panamerican Highway bypasses. The highway runs along the valley with mountain ranges (this is the Andes after all) and volcanoes on both sides. This is why this part of the highway is known as 'avenue of the Volcanoes'.
Most of the volcanoes looked like hills but a few others including Cotopaxi had the classic cone shape like the ones we had seen in Indonesia. Some are dormant, I think about 3 are active, Cotopaxi being one of them! Due to it's perfect cone like shape and snow capped top Cotopaxi definitely stood out from the other volcanoes. It was an amazing approach, but we failed to take a picture while it looked like this as by the time we arrived it had clouded over. The guide said its the clearest day he had seen in months.
Cotopaxi is an active volcano, but not just any active volcano, it's actually the worlds highest! It stands at 5,897 metres. However, it's prominence only 2,400 metres, it's just that this whole damn area is so high!! It last erupted in 1877 at which point the lahars (volcanic flows) travelled more than 100 km into the Pacific Ocean! The jeep took us to the car park on the side of the mountain, which is where our bike ride would start at 4500 metres! We were only about 500 metres from the snow and glacier (which is one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world). We tested out our bikes, at which point it soon became clear to Fernando that Emma was a complete novice, as she clicked up and down the front and back gears not really knowing what she was doing! He then explained the breaks, gears and how to handle the bike over bumps as if we were children. Although to be fair it was needed and came in very handy. He also thankfully informed us that the brakes are on opposite sides. Confused as to why Ecuador would choose this ridiculous idea, he then told us that it was the UK that has brakes on the opposite sides to the rest of the world! As a country, we can be so bloody stubborn!
Master class over with it was time to descend the first very steep 7km. The Swiss shot of, Kris also sped away after some initial cautious riding. Emma's hands were much firmer on the breaks, as the gravely path and tight corners often made it feel like the bike was going to slip from under you. At one point the Swiss guy even passed us as he decided he wanted to cycle part of the way back up the hill, only to cycle back down again! The worse part of the track was what Fernando called the washboard - Continuous hard rippled bumps that made the whole bike vibrate and your vision blur! You just had to make sure you held the bike steady and literally ride it out!
At the bottom the easy part was over. We had just descended 700metres, over 7km in 8minutes! The rest of the ride would actually require peddling. The paths were pretty difficult, sandy,rocky and with huge cracks and diverts. Cycling along this terrain, and especially up hill, at 3800 metres where you have nearly 50% less air was pretty hard! Emma was always at the back, with Fernando leading the way. Every so often he'd stop so we could regroup and catch our breath. The only problem being that as soon as Emma caught up we would cycle off again, meaning she never really got a break! Despite this we both really enjoyed cycling in such a beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes and wild horses, not a single other person in sight.
We stopped for an amazing home cooked lunch of quiche, pasta and chocolate brownies by some Inca ruins. From here we had an amazing view of the valley. We got back in the jeep to pick up another track that started by Lagunade Limpiopungo. We continued to cycle up and down hill, on slightly easier terrain this time, until we reached our final high speed (well medium to high for Emma) descent! We had then completed our 30km bike ride down the highest volcano in the world, and it was pretty awsome!
The ride back to Quito was quite a quiet one as we all began dozing off in the car. We had completed our bike ride in pretty good time, so arrived back in Quito early. This wasn't good for us as we then had time to kill until our 9pm nightbus to Cuenca. So we watched the Manchester derby (of course all the Ecuadorians supported Manchester United), had dinner in an Irish bar (yes they even have Irish bars here in Quito!) and had a few drinks in our bar as they serve 3 large bottles of Pilsner beer for only $4 (£2.45). It'd be rude not to take them up on it!
So finally we were leaving Quito! We didn't plan to stay so long, but there are just so many good trips to do from Quito, and the town itself has definitely been a nice introduction to South America