This weekend my adventures in Ecuador truly began. I went with my Andianismo (mountaineering) class to the town of Otavalo, which is about a two-hour bus ride north of Quito to camp and climb Fuya Fuya.
The bus ride to Otavalo was only the first taste of breathtaking views which would render my camera useless. We passed through valleys and hills, the town of Tumbaco and lots of farms on our way to Otavalo, and I swear I saw every naturally occurring shade of green.
Ecuador is called “mega diverse” because of all the different climates one encounters here- jungle, sierra, coastal, and everything in between. Otavalo is definitely everything in between. When I was chatting later with a volunteer worker who joined our hiking group, we both noticed how the vegetation seemed to be simultaneously from the desert, the Pacific Northwest (she was from Oregon), the tropics, and the Rockies. I am not exaggerating when I say I saw cacti, palm trees, sierra brush, and hibiscus all along the same stretch of road.
Once we arrived in Otavalo, we took some time to get lunch and explore the market. Otavalo’s market is well-known for indigenous goods and cheap souvenirs; one can find anything from alpaca wool goods (blankets are $10-16 depending on your bartering skills), cotton textiles (I bought a shirt for $6 and may have overpaid, but it was still worth it), hemp and silver jewelry, or even local artwork.
After consulting one of the vendors, she showed us to an out-of-the-way place for lunch. The restaurant was about the size of a normal living room, with about six plastic tables surrounded by matching plastic chairs. Since there was no menu, the only server informed us lunch included soup, pineapple juice, and entrée for $1.50. The soup was typically Ecuadorean- a watery, creamy base with potatoes, carrots and a beef bone. The entrée was a choice of chicken or lengua with rice and a small salad.
Lengua, for those of you without a Spanish dictionary is tongue. When one of the girls in our group confirmed with the server that it was indeed a tongue, he answered yes, it’s cow tongue, as if that made it any more appetizing.
I had the chicken, and one brave girl in our group decided to go for the lengua. We all tried it and the consensus was that it was like a beef clam. It had a very tough, rubbery consistency, much like an overcooked clam, and really did feel like a tongue (from this experience I don’t recommend ever swapping spit with a cow).
After lunch we went to the Peguche waterfalls. The hike began on a cobblestone road with a great view of Imbabura, a 4,621 meter peak east of the falls (according to the Let’s Go guide-book I found in my room). Then we turned on a small dirt path through the woods which twisted across very narrow bridges up to a wider path. We saw the big waterfall and continued to a smaller one with a swimming hole. After splashing around in the cold water of the falls, we trekked back down to a small plaza where we were going to get in a camioneta (open-air truck) to our campsite.
Since there were over 20 of us, plus gear packed in the camioneta, we didn’t have much choice but to stand for the hour-long ride. Even so, the truck ride was one of the highlights of the weekend, as we bumped along another cobblestone road we could see even more beautiful green valleys.
We camped in the crater of a volcano called Mojanda right under Fuya Fuya, the 4,283 meter mountain we would be climbing. In the crater was a pristine lake, and all around it were the mountain walls of the volcano, both rocky and green at the same time.
I could probably write an entire blog entry devoted to the sky up at Mojanda. The winds are so strong up high that watching the clouds is like watching a sped-up video of the sky. They would swirl and flirt with the tops of mountains like cotton candy being stirred by some unseen hand. At night, the sky cleared up and we could see more stars than I ever knew existed.
The next morning we were up before seven to begin our hike up Fuya Fuya. According to the markers, the hike was a little less than two kilometers, and was steep but not difficult. The views from the top were unbelievable. To one side we could clearly see the caldera of the volcano, and to the other sides were nearly endless green mountains and valleys. We could even see the sprawling city of Quito from the top.
Until this weekend, it hadn’t sunk in that I was actually in a different country with so much to do and explore. I had been so caught up in fear and anxiety before I left that I hadn’t thought about how much there would be to do and see. Once I was in Quito I was so caught up in school, visa and computer problems, and homesickness to appreciate the adventure that had already begun. Being above the clouds on top of Fuya Fuya was one of those experiences that where you realize your place in the world. I felt so small, and there’s so much world out there that I’ve only just begun to see.
Here is a video i made upon returning to Mississippi and learning to use FinalCutPro, enjoy!