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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
We move parallel to the border and are constantly enticed by wafting sulfur from the numerous nearby hot springs in and around the little town of Tofiño. We stop at a deserted ‘concrete pool’ resort-like setup in an extremely beautiful valley. We camp, soak, hike and soak many times and Vince and I think it’s pretty amusing when we hike past a survey marker showing we’re officially back in Colombia. Friendly military guys on the road back to town check our passports to make sure we are all legit.
We move south, winding our way through numerous green valleys dotted with lush farmland. I catch a glimpse of an enormous snow-capped mountain in the distance and am jumping about with excitement and eagerness. Over the next few days we camp on the shores of Yahuarcocha Lake after driving around the racetrack that circles it, then on a lookout high above Laguna San Pablo, a beautiful spot that Vince is very proud to find.
We make a stop at Parque Nacional El Condor and wander around the impressive collection of eagles, owls, hawks, condors and other birds of prey. The mountainous backdrop when the keeper lets a couple of birds fly around is jaw-dropping and the sight of a condor fully extending it’s wings is hard to digest.
The city of Otavaldo hosts Ecuador’s biggest local market and we’re up early on Saturday morning to squeeze as much out of it as possible. We first make our way to the animal market on the edge of town, an amazing mix of people and every animal you can think of crammed into a tight space, with people and animals alike trying to make as much noise as possible. Deals are happening left and right with everything from chickens and guinea pigs to goats and donkeys being traded faster than I can keep up. I thoroughly enjoy sitting at a small local stall for breakfast where we strike up a conversation with some Colombians who have come to checkout the prices.
We next wander down into the center of town to market central where almost every woman is wearing an extremely colorful traditional dress. Photos of people in Ecuador are a touchy subject, so my camera stays in my bag for the day. The market is so huge the stalls are overflowing out in all directions from the central square with half the streets in the city closed to traffic. There are clothes, trinkets, hats, blankets and more in all sorts of beautiful shapes, sizes and colors to admire. As is usual with these markets bargaining is the order of the day and before long the items on each table all start to blend together and look more or less identical. I’m happy to see that almost every item I look at clearly says “Made in Ecuador”, even if they are obviously made in bulk on machinery. The streets are packed and there is real excitement in the air. It’s obvious many people from outlying communities make the journey into town just for the market and they are having as much fun as I am, laughing and smiling in the warm sun.
After the excitement of the market we’re looking to get away a little and drive up to Lagunas de Mojanda, a huge lake sitting at 3,700 meters. The heavy Land Rover can’t climb a steep, muddy hill so I continue to explore the area on my own while Vince and Marie retreat to our camp site for the night, on the shore of a smaller lake in a beautiful valley.
In the morning I push hard and hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya at 4,250 meters in only an hour and a half – a decision I strongly regret only an hour later. Back at the Jeep at around 3,700 I feel fine, but by the time I drive down into town I have a headache more intense than any I’ve experienced in my life. I seriously think about being sick and both Vince and Marie can’t believe how pale I am.
Aspirin is supposed to help by increasing circulation, so I drink a couple down and catch a short nap in front seat of the Jeep, making me feel about a thousand times better.
A few hours later I’ve almost forgotten all about it.
I’ll have to be careful next time I hike at high altitude.
To finish off our time around the beautiful Otavaldo region, we head up to Laguna Cuicocha in the Reserva Ecológica Citacachi-Cayapas. The guys at the entrance gate seem to change their price a few times before we pay $5 for all three of us to enter the park and camp for the night on a beautiful perch high above the lake. The lake sits in the crater of the inactive Volcán Cotacachi and in the morning we hike the 5 hour loop around the rim – an extremely beautiful walk that includes a huge variety of ecosystems and breathtaking views.
Wow, this place is stunning! I can’t wait for whatever is next.