By Danette Benton
Quito, Ecuador was supposed to be a place that we flew into to get to our journey for the Galapagos Islands, just a stopping point before proceeding further. I usually book a couple of extra days on the front side and back side of a trip when I have to do that, because I usually find things to do in the stopping off place. It also gives me a chance to acclimate to climate, altitude, etc.
Quito was a gem on the way to someplace amazing. I researched a few things before I arrived. I found out there was some nice hiking in the area. I saw a little article about the Mindo Cloud Forest. I heard about a market north of town and that most of the world’s roses were grown there.
We stayed at the Hilton Colon in Quito. It was very nice, and the staff were very friendly and helpful. This was the hotel we would connect at for our G Adventures tour to the Galapagos, so I felt like it made it easy to just stay there. There were always roses in the lobby. In the market, you can buy 25 roses for a dollar.
Once we dropped our bags off at the room, we made our way to the concierge’s desk. He gave us brochures for tours. I am not a fan of tours. I asked him if he could get us a private driver who spoke English. The difference between a private driver and two of us taking a tour was $20 per day. He told us to come back in the morning around 8 AM and he would have a driver waiting for us. We ate dinner at the hotel and called it a night.
The next morning, we had breakfast and made our way to the lobby. The concierge introduced us to our driver, Luis Saltos. Luis was amazing! He asked us what we wanted to do and see. We told him we would like to photograph Cotopaxi and asked him to tell us what we should see. He told us we would head for Cotopaxi first. Our first day’s journey began.
We drove about two hours South of Quito. Luis stopped at a few places he thought would have good views and allowed us to take pictures. He then drove us into the Cotopaxi National Park. Cotapaxi is an active volcano. The name means “neck of the moon.”
He went inside to find us a guide (park rules), and Julie and I shopped at some of the booths that were set up inside. We realized very quickly that we were dressed for the Galapagos, not a hike in the mountains. I had layered with a couple of lightweight jackets, but as we drove upward it was considerably colder. We purchased some alpaca scarves, a beanie, and an alpaca poncho. We were ready to hike.
Luis found his way back to us with a guide in tow. Her name was Paulina. She was dressed like the women dress in the mountains—poncho, felt hat, and colorful clothing. She was so very sweet. She told us the day was cloudy, but with some luck, we might get a glimpse of the summit at Cotopaxi. I told her I believed we would have a good day. She said I had very good energy.
We drove up a little road that was worn like a washboard. Paulina said this was the massage and there was no extra charge for that. She explained about the trees. The crying trees came from Chile. The other pines came from the U.S.
We stopped in the car and she said we had arrived at “the magic area.”
On one side of the road were feral horses. Behind them was Ruminahui. It is a dormant volcano. The name means “stone face.” On our right was Cotopaxi. Lots of clouds were covering the snowcapped summit. It was cold and windy and magnificent.
We took pictures of the horses, then sat and waited. Waited for the heavens to part and a bit of sun to come out. Most people don’t understand that the biggest part of photography is waiting. Waiting for the light to get right. Waiting for an animal or wildlife to show up. Waiting for wildlife to look your way or run by you. It is in these moments that you just soak up the moment.
After a bit, the sun peaked through and we were able to see the snow capped summit. On an overcast day, this was going to be our best shot. She said summertime was better for those days. We shrugged our shoulders and smiled. We were there for the best time of year for the Galapagos, and anything extra as far as a photograph was concerned was icing on the cake. We were happy. Happy to be in this amazing place. We had good energy!
We hiked all over the side of the mountain. Once we finished, Paulina took us down to the lagoon. Limpiopungo (clean entrance gate)—on a clear day, that is when you will get the reflection of Cotopaxi in the lagoon. These are the pictures I have seen in magazines. This day was not a clear day and not cooperating for that shot.
I told Paulina, what I really wanted was a shot of a llama beside the mountains. She said, “My mama has a llama. We will go meet him.” We travelled back down the narrow road and sure enough we ended up at her mama’s house and met the llama.
She said, “He does not spit.” Julie and I walked up to him, and I was talking baby talk. He was very curious and put his nose and lips right up to mine. I fell in love with this llama!
We bid farewell to Paulina. Luis said he would take us to the Equator next.
Read more about Danette Benton’s adventures at passportgal.com.