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  • Sue Stipek

Ecuador to Galapagos: Part Two - Chilcabamba

Cotopaxi from the Lodge

We hired an Uber to drive us to the lodge I had booked, just outside the Cotopaxi National Park. The fare was very reasonable for the hour and half drive, which Google Maps showed as going by way of expressway through the town of Machachi. However, Uber directed the driver on a more direct route, but it ran along the side of the mountain on poorly maintained cobblestone. Ruts were everywhere and at one point I thought we were going to have to get out of the car and push. It was a smalll vehicle and it seemed that the driver hadn't known what he was in for. We drove past several small hamlets that were precariously perched along the narrow road and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Altitude was 11,200 ft. but I didn't really feel any problems since we had acclimated at 9,300 ft for 4 days in Quito.

The Chilcabamba Lodge Reception

When we finally reached the lodge they were able to check us in early as it was only 2 in the afternoon. The scenery was spectacular in all directions - 360 degrees of volcanos, but Cotopaxi was the most awe inspiring with its snowcovered peak spitting out some smoke. It was a good thing that they had a restaurant on the premises as we were not about to go out that road if we didn't have to.

The guest lounge.

The lodge was nestled in between several ranchs raising mostly cattle. The restaurant was excellent and by the time we left, they were experiementing with vegan recipes for me, to my delight.

I'd give the room 5 stars as well. It was well appointed with a large bathroom, shower, king-size bed, complimentary wool andean ponchos to use, a terrace and a wood-burning stove. The stove was the only heat for the room. They came in the afternoon each day to start the fire and there was ample wood provided, we just needed to keep it going as long as we wanted. The comforters on the bed provided plenty of warmth for the night.

It was a small lodge with only 13 rooms, a warm guest lounge for a game of UNO or to meet other guests from all over the world. There was an outdoor firepit overlooking Cotopaxi, in addition to the restaurant.

We met a lovely woman from Germany who was having a long adventure of her own, having come from 3 weeks in the Amazon. It was delightful to talk to so many people we met on this trip. Covid had been difficult for everyone, so they were now coming out to travel again and it felt so good.

As the lodge was close to the National Park, we shared a guide up to Cotopaxi with our new German friend. The road in the park ends at about 15,000 ft from where you can hike to Refugio Jose Rivas - a shelter that was built in the 70's for climbers who will accend to the peak of the volcano at 5897 meters or 19,347 ft. The volcano is still active, but only spits a little steam currently. The last eruption was 1877. As I am afraid of heights, the hike up to the Refugio was not for me so Larry and I returned to the parking lot and sat in awe of the magnificent views around us.

When Anna and our guide returned from the Refugio, we decended down to about 12,000 ft. to Lake Limpiopungo for a hike and stopped at the interpretive visitors center. Though our guide spoke little English, we were able to gleen a good amount about the park.

A gaucho tending to his herd below Cotopaxi.

All in all, the 4 day visit to the Chilcabamba Lodge and Cotopaxi was a great part of the Ecuadorian trip. We also ventured one day into the town of Machachi located the other way from the Lodge, just off the Panamerican Highway. It was Sunday and we had read that they had a Sunday market in town. That has now been replaced with a modern indoor shopping mall - with small stalls instead of international retailers. It was not very interesting to us, but that Sunday was also the second game for Ecuador of the 2022 World Cup. Having won their first game in Qatar, hopes were very high. As we walked the town there were cheers coming from the bars and streets. We stopped and watched the final victory goal in a small Chinese restaurant over a late lunch as the staff jumped for joy like the rest of the country. Leaving the restaurant we were greeted by a small wedding parade and the tossing of rose petals as it worked its way to the Cathedral in the center square. Gauchos and Andean dancers marched to a full brass band as the bride and groom were delivered to the church for their ceremony.

The wedding parade in Machachi

I still am awed by the pictures we got of Cotopaxi, looming over the lodge. Our trip back to the Quito airport for a flight to Galápagos' was on the same road we had taken to the Lodge. Thankfully the driver had a truck this time and knew the way.

Sue attempting to hike to 15,000 ft.

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