Imbabura, Otavalo, Paramo del Angel, Cayambe-Coca, Pappalacta
The guide for our trekking tours collected us at the hotel in Quito and we drove North to the province of Imbabura, stopping first at Quito. Here there is a famous market now open every day mostly for tourists. We arrived at the very impressive Hacienda Pinsaqui in time for lunch. The rooms are huge about 30 square meters single and 60 double, but they all have two double beds and two armchairs per person in them. All are different and furnished in an antique style like a finca I once stayed in on La Palma but much grander. There are also enormous reception rooms with vast fireplaces, unfortunately not lit as much as they might be. It is rather cold here on the equator since we are at 2600 m. We took a short walk in the afternoon along part of the crater rim of an extinct volcano with the Lake Cuicocha in the middle. There were many strange plants which greatly interested us. We are all becoming botanists. There was a welcome drink in the evening with a group playing guitars and flutes. See the internet at www.haciendapinsaqui.com.
Our route North continued to the small town of El Angel and after a short stop on to the Polylepis Lodge at 3500m in the Paramo del Angel. The walk today was a longer than the previous day and took place mostly in thick mist, giving it an wierd atmosphere. The vegetation was in places like some I had seen on Kilimanjaro where there are senecia trees, with thick trunks surmounted by a bunch of broad leaves. Lunch was not in the lodge but back in El Angel, after which we returned to the Hacienda Pinsaqui for entertainment by a local group of musicians before dinner.
Returning South we spent a long time again at the Otavalo market on Saturday, but that is the proper market day and it is most interesting to see the local people buying and selling their wares including live animals. Our departure from Otavalo was delayed due to a repair to our jeep, but we eventually reached Guayllabamba and then crossed a 4064m pass. Unfortunately the view of the volcano Antisana (5758m) disappeared in the cloud when were stopped at the top. Down the other side the main attraction of the next hotel, the Hosteria Thermes de Pappalacta, was as the name suggests its hot springs. Each small group of rooms has its own private pool in which one can sit in the hot water, which was very welcome in the cool clammy weather.
The Antisana was visible from the hotel before breakfast, when we again took a bath in the hot pools, but it disappears by 8.00am. The walk in the Cayambe-Coca protected area took us past three lakes, Laguna Banos, Laguna Anteojos and Laguana Parcacocha, at heights between 3700m and 4000m. The plants are still the main source of interest, with lots of tall grasses of various heights and colours, but the snow covered mountains remained hidden since it was so cloudy. However heavy rain did not start again until we arrived back at the jeep.
The next morning there was another cloudy walk in a higher part of the park reached from the pass road on which we had come. Then we drove down to the Hacienda Cienega near Lasso in the valley (still at 3000m.) and enjoyed lunch in hot sunshine before it again started raining. The guide at first said that the weather was so bad on Cotopaxi that it would be better not to camp but stay in a lodge nearby, but then the chief guide, whom we had not met before, arrived and informed us that we should camp on Cotopaxi in order to continue our altitude acclimatization for Chimborazo.