Posted by: robinson2000 | February 12, 2011

The Avenue of Volcanoes

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9th-12th February – We said goodbye to Quito as it faded away in our rear view mirror. We had decided to spend some time in the sister hostel of the Secret Garden located in Cotopaxi, a remote area of Ecuador famous for its towering peaks and is appropriately named the Avenue of the Volcanoes. We hopped on a 4×4 jeep which we shared with a Dutch girl and within a couple of hours along a bumpy road we arrived. The hostel was in the middle of nowhere and featured open fires in every room, a Jacuzzi, all meals included and free use of mountain bikes. Unfortunately Rice was still battling with a stomach bug which left him incapacitated for most of the stay.

We took it easy that afternoon as the hostel is at high altitude (3500m) which leaves you short of breath if you’re not acclimatised properly. We opted for a short walk to a waterfall followed by some fishing. The waterfall was nice enough except the water was freezing cold so none of the group ventured in. Once we had warmed up back at the hostel, Spice and I grabbed a small rod and some grubs and headed off across the marshy bogs towards a spot where we could apparently catch trout. We’re still not sure if we found the right spot as we caught absolutely nothing but it was fun trying and we were accompanied by the hostels randy Dalmatian who tried to mount me every time I bent over.

The following day Rice was feeling a little better so we decided to take a couple of mountain bikes to a local trout farm where we were surely guaranteed to catch a fish. We set off after lunch for what we thought would be a pretty easy and quick 6km to the farm. Unfortunately the roads in the area are in an awful condition, full of crater sized holes and broken cobbles which make riding over them pretty challenging. Spice who has not ridden a bike since diapers turned back after a couple of km’s and Rice who was in a weakened state somehow managed to make it, even through the cold rain. We were greeted at the farm by a friendly man who gave us a couple of makeshift rods and a ball of dough to use as bait. Within a couple of minutes of casting we were already feeling the fish bite and after another minute I had hooked my first beast. As I dragged it onto land it suddenly hit me that I had no idea what to do with it. Were we supposed to do the humane act and put them back in or were we supposed to batter them senseless and feast on their carcases? We went for the latter option and in a scene from a horror movie I witnessed Rice brain the trout with a massive rock! It took three attempts to finally flay the monster. Luckily for the fish the owner saw how we killed the unlucky trout and brought us a container in which to store our catches. Instead of braining them we were supposed to let them suffocate to death in the container. Far more humane! We ended up with 2 fish each and paid a mere $8 for the privilege. On the bumpy ride home the only thing I could feel, apart from my bruised privates, was the fish that the owner had kindly bagged up for us squirming against my back as they slowly suffocated. Rice who had braved the elements and ridden 12km was absolutely spent when we returned and headed straight to bed with a bad case of the shivers.

The main attraction to the area is the 5897 metre high snow capped active volcano that looms over the skyline & attracts hundreds of mountaineers every year. When I say active, the last time it erupted was in 1904 so we were quite safe. We opted out of the 2 day hike up to the summit but instead took a jeep to base camp which was at 4800m. From there we trekked up another 300-400 metres through thick snow fields to the bottom of the glacier. The temperature was freezing & coupled with the incredibly high altitude (over 5000 metres, higher than any mountain in Europe) left us gasping for air after every few steps. We triumphantly reached the glacier after an hour but couldn’t stay for long as the elements were closing in. Spicer who was wearing his Dads expensive Karrimor hiking shoe’s complained incessantly that his feet were numb and when he removed his boots at base camp he found loads of ice packed around his foot that had slipped down his boot. The climb was excellent even thou it was pretty tough going at points through the knee deep snow but coming down was easy as you let gravity do the driving. After we had drunk a cup of hot chocolate and watched Spicer cry in pain as his feet came back to life, we took the mountain bikes from the roof of the jeep and bombed down the mountainside through the fog. We dropped down from 4800m to 3200m in no time but once the ground levelled out we still had a few miles to ride until we were picked up by the jeep. About a mile from the rendezvous point my bike finally decided to throw in the towel as my crank shaft sheared off completely leaving me with only one pedal and a small walk back to the jeep.

During our time up Volcano Cotopaxi, Rice had finally decided to seek medical attention and had caught a taxi to the nearest medical practise in Machachi which was about an hour away. After much waiting and failing to receive any medical attention at the General Hospital he found a private clinic that saw him immediately and fixed him up with a ton of drugs. He had barely eaten anything in 5 days due to the stomach cramps that we think he contracted from a parasite that lives in the local water supply. He had stupidly mixed some with his rum when we had run out of Coke in Mindo late one night and lived to regret it.

Cotopaxi is an excellent place to visit if you like trekking and vast expanses of open countryside. The Cotopaxi volcano is the main tourist attraction with its perfect cone and is well worth seeing even if you don’t fancy climbing it. Next stop Banos.


  1. […] From Quito we headed southeast a short distance to the mountainous area of Cotopaxi. The road leading to the hostel was very bumpy and I was still sickly, and getting slowly worse. The hostel – The Secret Garden (again) was very nice and the staff were all very friendly but my time in Cotopaxi was mostly confined to my bed. For a more exciting account see here. […]

    • Hi Ben,
      We’re enjoying our time in India. At present we are in Shimla and have been dodging heavy downpours. Out in jeeps to see . the temples and Himalayas. Snow and rain on the top. off back to Delhi tomorrow by 2 trains and then it’ll be time to board the Palace on Wheels for a week. With a camel ride, elephant ride,boat trip and a cultural show. Will be back in UK 23rd Feb.
      Take care,
      Dotty and Mick x

      • Hi Dotty & Mick

        Glad your enjoying India. I remember Shimla well and i think it was rainy and misty for most of my time there. Dad´s been forwarding some of your emails and photo´s. I visited Viceroy Palace and was thoroughly unimpressed by it but the mist did give it a strange feel to the place. Did you walk up the main hill in Shimla. I think there´s a church on top of it and there was a sign saying how fit you were depending on how long it took you to walk up. Anyways enjoy the rest of your trip and try not to get any nasty bugs from the food.

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