Enough of the dedicated pursuit to practicing for old age, we’re in Latacunga for one main purpose; not surprisingly, a volcano. Volcano Cotopaxi (5897m) is the iconic heart of Ecuador and the highest active volcano in the world, and we’re going to have a crack at summiting it. A weird little fact: When it comes to being the furthest point from the centre of the earth or the closest to the sun, what’s your guess? Everest? Well no, it’s Chimborazo (6310m), very nearby to here in little old Ecuador. It seems the bulge in the earth gives these mountains some claim as the highest in the world, but altitude above sea level is the feature that thins the air and creates the hostile environments. So as Everest and the himalayas remain the mountaineering crown for testing human limits but for us little weekend walkers, Cotopaxi remains exciting, challenging and not without its fair share of romance.
Latacunga by all reports is a bit of a functional town, without a lot of aesthetic appeal. Luckily enough we’re coincidentally in town for La Mama Negra festival. Now before I continue I have to declare the most socially inappropriate festival of all time. The origins are noble, it’s related to uprising, liberation and independence from the Spanish, all good right? that is all fine and dandy but lets just have a look at it from an outsiders point of view. The whole thing seems to eb a pantomime with 5 main cast members, dignitaries, military, a tranny crossdresser and La Mama herself. The first thing we see of the festival is a big overweight man in drag with black-face makeup holding a douche, yes, a douche. As if the racist presentation isn’t enough she’s also the patron saint of anal hygiene.
On our first night we wander into town and through surprisingly beautiful parks and squares, Latacunga is a not the climbing hovel of a nest it appeared to be. And a lucky strike, we stumble on what seems to be an opening ceremony for the festival. We find numerous brass bands, a shitload of military pageantry and officialdom out the wazoo, yes this festival crosses social awkwardness all the way to civil propriety. This should be fun.
Latacunga also maintains the good Ecuadorian trend of decent food, nothing flash, but heavenly unprocessed food, halelujah! Sadly on the coffee front, we have a great advertisement for drinking tea. The streets of latacunga are maintaining the first impressions of Ecuador that we were lucky to be greeted by in Otolavo. Possibly the most refreshing and appealing aspect of Ecuador is the balance between humble tradition and a graceful sophistication.
And not surprisingly, we head off to another Volcano, these things are seriously addictive. But before it’s a visit to a small village market that attracts vendors from throughout this high altitude valley. The market starts at 4am and finished at 10am, not one for me clearly. This market is humming with activity, a hive of industrious trade. The colours boom, the traditional dress captivates and the sense of authenticity simply drips from every sight and sound.
Quilotoa is another extinct volcano with a lake not too dissimilar to Cuicocha. As if the trip itself wasn’t awesome enough in itself, this was an important acclimatisation exercise for our go at Cotopaxi, best training location ever, Cranbrook stairs can kiss my you-know-what. The crater of Quilotoa is at a whopping 4000m and we take an important walk from the crater rim down to the lake. I’ll simply never quite get over a volcano crater, so aggressive, leaving little to the imagination about the violence and power it represents. This lake plummets a massive further 250m down, simply fodder for imagination beyond compare. Apparently in the thin air the walk up is about an hour or so but we smash it in 35 minutes. Bring on Cotopaxi, i’m gonna call it now, Cotopaxi is as good as smashed!