Friday, November 23, 2012

Mindo Cloud Forrest, Ecuador 11-20-2012

Getting there:
Transportation is incrdeibly cheap in Ecuador and the two hour bus ride from Quito to Mindo was only $2.50.  I wanted to get out of city a bit, so this was the perfect solution.  I boarded the bus and was expecting a very obvious endpoint in Mindo.  Turns out that I missed the stop (it was a random stop on the side of the highway) by two minutes.  The bus driver told me to get off the bus.  So there I was, in the middle of a random town, with my Gringo Spanish skills and a strong need to find a way to get to Mindo.  I was able to walk to the Police station, ask them to hire me cab and $8 later, I was in my destination.

Low Budget:
I was only planning to stay for a day, but after some of the transportaiton shenanagins, I decided to stay the night.  I looked into my wallet and realized I had only enough cash for a few meals, a place to stay and a bus ride back.  I had to ball on a budget.

Tarabita Cable Car and Waterfalls:
I went to the local tour operator and basically asked what I could do with my five dollar budget.  This meant I had to walk instead of take transport and I was limited to mostly hiking.  GREAT! I said.  It sounded perfect.  She wasnt too happy though that she had to dish out tourist information without the potential for a commision.  I walked up the hill an hour to get to the cable car, took a tour over the jungle canopy, landed on the other side and explored the hiking trails and waterfalls.  It was just what I needed.
Caskaffesu Hostel Story:
Susan and her Husband Lewis run the place.  Susan is Americana and Lewis in form Ecuador.  They met while she was in the peace core and eventually opened up the hostel.  A lot happened in between including Lewis travling through Europe to perform music, the two of them living together in Chicago, Susan working nights as a nurse to come up with the money to buy the land and then waiting for the hostel and restaurant to be built.

The Deal:
I went to this hostel because I had the vibe for it and it turned out to be a great decision.  Although they were not feeling my negotiations with the overnight room cost, they did broker me a deal. They own a coffee plantation that is a 30 minute drive from the town center.  They told me that they would feed me free breakfast in exchange for me working for them in the plantation.  I had no idea what the work entailed, but I heard the words FREE FOOD and I was sold.

The Plantation:
Susan knocked on my door and woke me up at 6 am.  We had breakfast and then headed out to the plantation in their pickup truck.
I have only drinken coffee one time in my life and I had no idea how it was made (i.e. even in a coffee maker) let alone the harvesting process.  Here is what I learned:

The coffee starts as a flower
The flower pedals call off and it turns into a mini pod
The pod grows bigger with an external fruit and once it is ripe, it is picked
The fruit is peeled away and the inside bean is left to dry.  From this process the codde is then sent to a local plant that speed dries the beans, roasts them, peels the shell, then packaged for export.
  It is not as romantic as the entire process being performed in house, but it was still pretty cool.
I essentially got to weed the coffee platns as I learned about the entire process.
It is also very common to have banana trees in coffee plantations because they feed off each other.  Most coffe also needs to be grown along the Equatorial line. 
Coffe Lore:
She told me the story of the coffee bean-I think I forgot most of the details, so this may not be fully accurate.  The orginal bean was in Africa and some guys animal ate it and got really hyper.  He then ate it and got hyper too.  He then gave it to a monk in the middle east who liked the feeling of energy and put it in water for tea.  It tasted terrible and he was upset, so hey threw the beans in the fire.  They smelled really good being roasted and he put the rosated beans in the hot water and violla...Coffee

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cotopaxi in a day 11-18-2012

The Plan:
Since I was not enjoying sleeping at the higher altitudes, we came up with a good plan for Cotopaxi. Instead of climbing it in two days like normal, we would sleep at a fancy lodge at 13,000 feet, drive up to the parking lot at 11pm and climb it in one day from the parking.

The Mountain:
Cotopaxi is not a difficult mountain to climb but it is very high. It is 19,347 feet high. It is a beautiful perfectly shaped volcano.

The Lodge:
The lodge was called tambopaxi and it was pretty plush. It was warm, had excellent views of the climb and was a quick car ride to the base of the mountain. We went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 11pm ready for action.

The Climb:
Most people that climb Cotopaxi start the climb very quickly and then loose steam towards the top. We did the opposite. We started very slow, took our time and ended up passing most parties on the way up. The route is mostly packed snow with a few crevasse passes. One of the crevasses had a broken snow bridge, so we needed to climb inside and back out the other side.

The Summit:
The summit was amazing. You could see the crater of the Volcano smoking. We took some pictures, exchanged some high fives and admired the perfect weather and the great views.

Special Thanks:
I brought a cliff bar and mountain house to the top and enjoyed them at the hut as a post climb treat.

The Descent:
The descent went quickly. However it was very scary to watch other parties descend. One mar was so exhausted that he kept falling on the slope and his guide was traveling behind him roped and had to self arrest to keep him from sliding off the mountain. Highly dangerous and stupid.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Illiniza Norte and Sur 11-15 to 11-16-2012

Illiniza Norte and Sur 
November 15th and 16th

The Plan:
We were attempting to climb Illiniza Norte and Sur for acclimitization. The plan was to climb Norte as we approached on the 15th and Sur in the monring of the 16th.  However, poor weather lead us to decide to climb both on the 16th.

November 15th:

Approach and the hut:
Juliana drove (I can't drive stick shift) to the base of the mountain and we packed up to the hut at 15,416. Our plans were to climb Norte that day but the weather was very bad and visibility was low, so we decided the next day we would try for a double summit. Wake up at 3:30 am, leave by 4:00 am and attempt Sur then Norte in a big day. We had some food in the hut then attempted to sleep. I had some trouble acclimatizing and was unable to sleep well at the altitude.

November 16, 2012

Illiniza Sur:
We woke up at 3:30 am and made some mountain house breakfast. It was blueberry, granola and milk. It was really good and gave us a good boost in the morning. Even Juliana enjoyed it and she thinks all freeze dried food is gringo food. We made our way across heavy fog to the base of the route and began climbing. We soloed some easy but snowy low fifth class rock and continued onto the glacier.
Illiniza Sur
Breakfast Mountain House

Breakfast Prepared

Slab Avalanche Risk:
We heard whoomphing after each step and Juliana decided to dig a snow pit to investigate. We dug out a small pit and finger tested. A three finger deep consolidated layer sat atop a sugary layer followed by another three finger deep layer separated from the rock by ice. She stomped above the pit and the entire slab separated. We decided not to take the risk and descended as the sun was rising. We had beautiful views of Cotopaxi.
The broken slab we tested
Rappelling Down

Cotopaxi at sunrise

Illiniza Norte:
We hiked back down to the hut. I wasn't feeling so well and was very nauseous from lac of sleep and the quick move from sleeping at 7,500 feet in Cumbaya (where Juliana lives) to 15,416 feet at the hut. But we decided to still attempt Norte. We headed out and climbed a variation to the normal route by staying further east and staying within the rock band.

It was good climbing but as we got higher, I felt more and more nauseous. Five minutes before the summit, I couldn't hold it in any more and vomited. I felt a littl e better, tagged the summit, the descend to the hut the to the car.

It was really good climbing and a lot of fun despite the minor acute mountain sickness. We made a good decision to bail on Illiniza Sur and the summit of Norte was perfect with amazing weather.

After the climb, we drove to Papallacta hot springs and met some friends to soak and relax!