I had arranged to return to Otavalo today to join Deborah on a hike around Laguna Cuicocha. She had spent the afternoon Sunday at Cotacachi shopping for leather goods and yesterday with Amy and Phil, a couple we had met at the Casa Sol, visiting a town called Pimampiro and a nearby waterfall. Amy has a 'fairtrade' store in Saranac, New York, and has a relationship with weavers in the small town, and went to pick up the work she had ordered six months ago.
After sending Maya off on her school bus, I jumped into a cab and was at the Carcelen bus station by 8. As I walked toward the waiting buses, several men were urging me to buy my two dollar ticket at their kiosk before getting on the bus. I did not know which one to choose, so bought from the booth closest to me. I was pleased to get on the bus, but perhaps it was the wrong bus, because few other passengers joined me, and our ride to Otavalo was a desperate attempt to gather more travelers without success. The ride was uneventful, but the view was beautiful, with Cayambe visible in the distance, the sun shining brightly, and the usual ride through Guayabamba, Tabacundo, Cayambe, and past Lago San Pablo to Otavalo.
Debra, Amy and Phil were waiting at the bus terminal, (after an obligatory stop at the pie shop for mora and banana pie). We piled into a taxi for the 20 minute ride to Cuicocha. They had met a taxi driver yesterday, who drove them to Pimpampiro and back, so he was waiting to take care of them today. We arrived at Cuicocha before any tourists had arrived, checked with the park ranger who reassured us that the trail was well marked and safe (our guide books warned us about attacks on tourists, but according to the park employee, nothing had happened for years, our hike would be uneventful, and he advised us to carry lots of water).
Cuicocha is a crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. I have visited it with the students several times, always wanting to hike around it. Today was a wonderful day for hiking, neither too hot or too cold, neither too sunny nor rainy, although clouds threatened at a distance all day. The first part of the hike was uphill, with a stunning view of the lake to our left and Imbabura to our right. Cotacachi was directly in front of us, but obscured by clouds until the very end of the day. I had hoped to see many birds, but despite being audible they were rarely visible during our hike. I did see a few small hummingbirds, but they disappeared quickly from view. We were promised a possible condor sighting, but none appeared. Spectacled bears once roamed the area, but have retreated deeper into the wilderness as their habitat is encroached upon. Perhaps we saw bear scat during our hike, but it could have been wishful thinking.
Pine Tree Ridge
We hiked the ridge for some time, but once at the highest point, the path changed and led us away from the lake into narrow tunnel like roads, which reminded me of the Yumbo roads we had seen in Pululahua and Rumipamba. The tunnels were extensive, and appeared to have been used for years and years so they may in fact have been of yumbo origin. The vegetation kept changing, suggesting several 'microclimates', from paramo to cloud forest to open meadows, to a pine forest (the latter most likely not native). There were many orchids and other colourful flowers at every turn, and I imagine if we had stopped for any length of time, we would have seen the hummingbirds feeding. We had arranged to meet our taxi driver Guillermo at 4, so we sped along, stopping only briefly to eat our pie and nuts, and to admire the spectacular views of the lake or Cotacachi or Imbabura, or look more closely at the flowers, so many of which on closer examination turned out to be orchids.
Our guide book suggested four to six hours for the hike, but I think to truly enjoy the experience (by stopping and watching and listening more), starting a little earlier and taking a little more time would have made the hike even better. As it was, we walked a little more than five hours. The last part is along a bumpy dirt road, with incredible views of the volcano (Cotacachi) as it finally appeared through the mist. We climbed into the back of the truck for the last couple of kilometers, so that we would not be too late to meet Guillermo and our ride back to Otavalo.
When Deborah and I arrived at the bus station, we were told there were no more buses to Quito, and to flag one down on the Panamerican highway, which is what we did, despite misgivings, and caught an 'Aerobus' from Ibarra, which flew through the night and landed in Quito in good time.
Deborah moved to the 'Finlandia' Hotel a few doors from our apartment (her husband Werner is joining her tomorrow), and Rebecca flew in from Salt Lake City to occupy our guest room for the next few weeks. Eric drove in from Yanayacu to give his lecture at Catolica tomorrow (and make it to our salsa class!), and picked Maya up from school to get her to ballet class in time, while I was traveling on the bus from Otavalo. I was not sure all my plans would work out today, but there were no mishaps, and everything came together. Whew!