If I haven’t posted in a while, it’s not because any sort of civil unrest in Quito has kept me from my computer - I’m just proving to be kind of a lazy blogger. But I can report that everything seems to have more or less calmed down here post-police riots. For a while there were a lot of soldiers on the streets, but now the chapas are mostly back in place, whistling obnoxiously at me and doing little to prevent crime as always.
A couple weekends ago a couple friends from the office and I took the opportunity to take our first post-coup attempt vacation, and shipped off to Cotopaxi (reportedly the tallest active volcano in the world, about two hours outside of Quito), for what we thought would be a lot of rest and relaxation surrounded by the glory of nature. The glory of nature part we got right: craggy and capped with snow, Cotopaxi loomed over sloping green farmland and forest, making me feel like I was back in the Italian alps. After a long truck-ride over narrow, roughly cobbled roads, we finally arrived at our remote hostel, The Secret Garden (called “secret” for good reason), where we were greeted by pairs of friendly dalamations and dachsunds. The hostel didn’t exactly have electricity, but the thick wooden beams supporting the walls, the fireplace plastered with colorful broken tiles, and the glass-ceiling outdoor toilet made it so charming that we weren’t too bothered.
One of the hostel workers offered to take us on a short hike to a nearby waterfall shortly after we arrived. We readily agreed, deciding that a tranquil nature walk would be the perfect pre-supper activity. This was before I had learned what has since been proven to me on several occasions: outdoor activities in Ecuador are never tranquil.
The hike was actually involved two hours scrambling up a rocky, muddy stream, since the forest was too thick for us to walk on the ground surrounding it. Having grown up in the mountains, I had done some creek-hikes before, but nothing like this. Several times we found ourselves climbing along what basically ammounted to cliffsides that towered around ten feet above the shallow, rock-laden water below, clinging desprately to the slick rock and cursing ourselves, the guide, and the country in general. When we finally reached the waterfall, we felt like we had narrowly escaped death several times in the past hour. The waterfall was pretty but it didn’t, in my opinion, “vale la pena” (wasn’t worth the trouble).
We returned to the hostel sore, muddy, and bug-bitten, just in time for dinner, which was eaten by candlelight with all the other hostel guests at a long mahagony table. The hostel has its own extensive garden and procured all of its dairy, meat and eggs from neighboring farms, so the food - chicken simmered in a mushroom sauce, a steamed broccoli dish, creamy mashed potatoes, and a cobbler made with a mysterious but tasty red fruit - was fresh and delicious. We retired to our dorm (blazingly heated by a woodstove) sore and tired but content.
Along with most of the other hostel guests, we woke up early the next morning to take a horseback riding trip offered by the hostel. We walked out to the paddock in time to see a man riding bareback herding serveral horses across the sun-streaked fields - an picture right ouf of a romantic cowboy movie. Allison, Rachel and I were all a little sore after yesterday’s waterfall trek, so we thought sitting on a horse for the morning instead of hiking would give bodies a welcomed break. Nope.
Fortunately for everyone, the other hostel guests along for the ride, while unexperienced, were a bit on the young and thrill-seeking side, so didn’t seem too concerned when they were tossed aboard firey little paso-fino crosses that seemed unable to move slower than a gallop. The prissy English rider in me wasn’t too crazy about not having a helmet or having to ride with a rawhide bridle and a clunky saddle equipped with wooden stirrups resembling clogs. I relaxed a little once I realized that, unlike the majority of the other riders, I actually had full control of my horse; even though he didn’t like it much, I was able to keep him at a walk when I wanted to. I’m not going to say tearing at breakneck speed up wide mountain paths with golden swathes of grass waving around me and peaks rising majestically in the horizon didn’t fufill some sort of guilty cowgirl fantasty I think all properly schooled English riders secretly harbor; but being frequently caught in bitter, vicious Andean winds that made even the horses stagger, and spending six full hours in that horendous wooden saddle, ended up taking its toll.
I’m not sure whether to blame the waterfall hike or the riding, but two weeks after the Cotopaxi trip, I am still hobbling around Quito with a painful, swollen knee, Rachel has been to a chiropractor twice for back pain, and Allison has made an appointment as well. I swear, all of us thought we were in decent shape to begin with, so having had our asses so thoroughly kicked by a little weekend trip is pretty humiliating to say the least. Still, it was probably the most fun I’ve had since coming to Ecuador. As long as I don’t end up at the airport on crutches in a couple months, vale la pena.