Cuenca, Chimborazo, and Other Adventures in the Andes

So we took a road trip to Cuenca, a beautiful colonial, yet modern city to the south.  From Quito, it’s about an 8-10 hour drive, but we broke it up in stages while trying to enjoy some of the scenery and other unique parts of the country.  We planned to take the train from Riobamba to the famed Nariz del Diablo, where the nearly century’s old train maneuvers over a course of setbacks to climb a portion of the mountain of the same name.  Unfortunately, though the train has been improved over time, the tracks have apparently been left to rot.  Coupled with the recent rain, our train ride became a series of initially interesting derailments, to a more annoying, almost never ending series of derailments.  Taking a long train ride in the Andes is really lovely, but when your train is hours late and the weather turns cloudy and rainy, it becomes decidedly un-fun.  Having missed our opportunity to get to the Nariz del Diablo, we were fortunately rescued by our driver who had taken our car and planned to meet us on the way to Cuenca.  Leaving the train behind (we may try again in the future) we headed to Cuenca, watching a classic Mel Brooks comedy in the car along the way.  Savvy film aficionados may catch a reference to the movie in the video below.  Send me an email if you figure it out! (roddy@moscosos.net)

We woke up to a lovely day in Cuenca and enjoyed walking around this beautiful city.  It is quite different from Quito, smaller but also nicely laid out and with its own sense of charm.  We spent most of our time walking, though we took a quick stroll through a museum and a few shops here and there.  Being Carnaval time in Ecuador, our strolls through the city had to be done carefully as to avoid the steady attack of water balloon toting kids (and adults) trying to get us soaking wet.  In the days preceding Easter, it is a popular custom to get your fellow neighbor as wet as possible as a method of “purification” though the tradition is not said to be rooted in baptism.  The preferred method of delivery is clearly the water balloon, but we saw plenty of squirt guns and regular buckets used to get people wet as well.  Given that the city is laden with rooftop balconies, the biggest threat was from the sky.  Ethan took a direct hit in the leg once, though the rest of us were pretty lucky.  It’s all in good fun though and we saw lots of soaking wet people having a great time.

We finished our day in Cuenca with a ride through the city in an open air double-decker bus.  That was fun and included beautiful views in and around the city.  I highly recommend that view of Cuenca.  But one must heed the warning to “duck” when the bus goes just below various trees and cables.  That was truly wild.  The other drawback of being in a double-decker open air bus is that during Carnaval, you are the best water balloon target in the world!  That was fun in a different way.

The next day we headed to El Cajas national park and some beautiful natural lagoons/glacier lakes just outside Cuenca.  It really was beautiful and we had a lovely time hiking around the area.  There are a few good shots below of the park which stretches over a very large area.  After our time there, we headed back to Riobamba to spend the night before leaving early to do some hiking on the “highest” spot on planet Earth — Mount Chimborazo.

Chimborazo is largest mountain in Ecuador and though smaller than a few other mountains in the Andes and the Himalayas of course, its location near the equator coupled with the fact that the Earth is not a perfect sphere (bulges quite a bit in the middle actually) the summit of “Chimbo” is the closet you can get to space from the ground.  As a result, the sun is hotter here then anywhere else in the world.  You actually weigh less on the equator as well which has an impact on the atmosphere.  We got lucky with the weather that day, and enjoyed some beautiful views of the mountain.  We even built a snow man near the Refugio Whymper which is at 16,732 feet.  We left Chimbo behind and headed back toward Quito spending the night in Latacunga before one last adventure.

The next morning we headed for Lake Quilotoa, a beautiful emerald green crater lake with a large, steep caldera surrounding it.  It was amazing to see and quite striking.  We walked around for an hour, but needed to head home shortly thereafter.  There are paths that lead down to the bottom and even a place where you can take a boat ride, but we needed much more time for that.  We do plan to return at some point to spend more time in this amazing place.

It was a great trip and one to remember for sure.  I’ve added a few additional photos of Mount Cotopaxi from a weekend visit that happened right before the Cuenca trip.  Again, we were very lucky with the weather and had some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.  If your future travels bring you to the Andes someday, be sure to check out these mountains up close if you can.

Looking Up at Cotopaxi — the Rock Face is “Snowless” Because of Heat
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Ethan Demonstrates the Pressure Effects of Going to High Altitude — Check Out the Poofed Out Bag of Doritos
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The Gang on Cotopazi with Mount. Antisana in the Background
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Cotopaxi at Sunset
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Chimborazo the Morning of Our Train Ride
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Chimborazo in the Distance with the Train Engineers on Top
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During the First Derailment, the Gang Gets us Back on Track
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Ethan Takes a Look Up Top During One of Our Unplanned Stops
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The Cathedral in Cuenca
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The Main Plaza in Cuenca
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A Couple of Kids Prepare for a Church Service
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The Gang Alongside One of Cuenca’s Three Rivers
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A Few Rooftop Carnival Revelers Get Ready for a Water Balloon Attack
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Our Doubledecker Bus in Cuenca — Highly Recommended
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Another View of the Cathedral from the Bus
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A Moscoso Connection — My Family is from Cuenca
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Cuenca at Night
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Hanging Out at El Cajas National Park
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Chimborazo from the Road to the Refugio
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Thumbs Up!
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Vickie at Refugio Whymper – 5,100 Meters
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A Wider Shot — There’s Meghan on that Large Rock (Bottom Right)
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The Summit of Chimborazo
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Lake Quiletoa — Large and Beautiful
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Awwwww….
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Video — Click Play Twice