July 10 – 11
The bus ride from Cuenca to Riobamba was 6 hours, but it felt like it was taking forever. When we bought the tickets we asked if the bus was direct and the guy said yes, but it made tons of stops and picked up random people on the side of the road. Either the dude was lying or we misunderstood. It felt like we were crawling. Ugh. Eventually we made it tho and Ethan found us a hostel right across from the bus station.
We checked in and headed out for a snack since it was pretty late for a real dinner. We ended up at KFC (don’t hate) because my stomach wasn’t feeling great and I didn’t want to risk eating random street food. French fries and popcorn chicken. Haha. After that we went to bed eager to make the trek to Chimborazo Volcano in the morning. The volcano is 20,564ft at its summit and since that is wholly out of our reach, we decided to attempt the hike up to the refuges (camps) at about 16,000ft. Chimborazo is technically the highest point on earth since it’s almost directly on the equator and the earth is fatter around its middle. It’s the closest you can get to outer space while still standing on the ground. Sweet!
We got up at 6:15 so we could get up there as soon as possible. We also had no idea what time the bus left so we figured the earlier the better. We found a bus that left at 7:30 and the ride took about an hour. I fell asleep and woke to Ethan poking me and saying we’re almost there. We hopped off the bus and were hit with the most powerful winds I’ve ever felt I think. It was insane. And freezing cold. I had two long sleeve shirts on, a light puffy jacket, a hat and my raincoat and was still freezing. The wind was not messing around.
They had dropped us at the entrance so immediately this little lady greets us and is speaking Spanish so I can’t understand anything she says except “car.” She shows us where to check in and then walks back out with us still just going on, but I have no clue what she is saying. Another car pulled up and I asked if they spoke English and luckily one of them did. Turns out the lady was asking if we wanted a ride to the top for $20 and she would wait and then bring us back down. We politely declined and started our journey. Thank you random lady for translating!
It was pretty cloudy when we got off the bus but as soon as we entered the clouds cleared and we got our first view of the mountain. I think we were both stunned speechless. It’s absolutely breathtaking and seems to just appear out of nowhere. Covered in snow and ice and rock it was like the Everest of Ecuador. We were both surprised and excited to get closer – if we could!
About 5 minutes into walking along the road straight into the biting wind, I had major regrets. We were also at a higher altitude than we’ve been since we were in Peru and I could not breathe. Every step was difficult. We trudged on and on and could barely see from all the dust the wind was kicking up and we couldn’t hear each other. It was miserable. We decided maybe we should get a ride, but the few cars that passed weren’t interested, so we kept walking. Eventually the road turned and our backs were to the wind. Praise Jesus. The going was still tough though. My chest felt tight and we had to stop a lot so I could catch my breath. The landscape is pretty barren with a few shrubs here and there. I squatted behind them to get some relief from the wind.
The road then makes some sharp switch backs, so we cut through them on a rough path that was a bit steeper. We saw some vicuñas in this area, which are like small llamas and we took every opportunity to stop and watch them. They look like a mix between an antelope and a llama. So cute. At this point we were a bit sheltered from the wind by a ridge and it got a little easier. We could at least hear each other. I was still moving at a snail’s pace though and wondered if I could make it. Once we got up over the hill that we set as our destination though, we could see the first camp and that was a big mental boost. We walked along the road the rest of the way, which was only slightly easier.
After three long hours, we finally made it! YES! And we were pleasantly surprised that the camp had a kitchen serving hot food and clean, indoor toilets. We got two empanadas ($1.50 each) and tea and I felt like a human again. I could feel the hot tea make it’s way down my throat, warm my belly and wake up my frozen extremities. It was bliss. The camp had an energy of excited anticipation that was contagious. At the base of the mountain you can see the path that people take to get to the snowy summit and it was really inspirational. A couple of guys were talking with their guide about their plan to hike up part way and then back down to ready themselves for their summit hike. I was like “I would never” while Ethan was saying “I want to go!”
After our snack and after we could feel our fingers again, we headed out behind the camp building to the little monument in front of which lay a bunch of headstones. A powerful reminder that the mountain can be a dangerous place despite how beautiful it looks. Ethan left me by the monument and headed up to the next camp building which was another 20 minutes of walking uphill. I was beat even after our snack and a break. Gotta know your limits! I camped out behind the stone structure so it blocked the wind. There were 6 people (who looked like tiny ants from my vantage point) making their way down from the summit and I watched their slow and painstaking decent for a while until I needed to shift my butt around. Upon shifting I had set myself down on what I thought was a pebble so I reached under my butt only to find something very sticky. It was gum. Or some kind of candy. Arghhhhh! *$@-@/$7*%😤 I was so mad. I did my best to scrape off what I could and the only things I could think were “why did I wear my favorite pants? Why didn’t I bring more pants!?!?” When I finally calmed down and shifted myself away from the mess, I settled back against the monument and fell asleep. Nothing to be done about the sticky crust forming on my favorite yoga pants at that moment. *sigh*
Ethan came bounding down the trail a few minutes later and I told him about my blunder. He just laughed and said I should’ve gone with him. He made it all the way up the the snow line. Crazy man. We got a donut at the shop before we made the hike back down which was much easier. We didn’t really have a set way to get back to Riobamba, but had heard that it’s common to hitch hike. I hoped a bus would come by, but two weird guys with a huge tire in their trunk stopped first. We were standing their with a guy who spoke English and Spanish luckily and he needed a ride too. He confirmed that the dudes were headed back to town for us and then he got out after like 10 minutes. Well, this should be interesting.
The guys tried talking to us, but I didn’t understand a word of it. It took about 30 minutes to get back to town and I’m assuming since we couldn’t understand each other he just decided to drop us as soon as we got to town. He asked for money (that I did understand) and we gave him $3. We were still 2 miles from our hostel, but most of it was downhill. Toward the end though I wished we had just got a cab ride. We made it though and went straight to this restaurant we had seen near KFC that looked really good.
The food was delicious and, of course, after refueling Ethan wanted to go downtown to see a few things before it got dark. We got in a cab and even though I was using my best Spanish he still did not understand where we wanted to go. So he just started driving and kept looking at Ethan for directions. As luck would have it though there was some big hubub down so a bunch of roads were closed and traffic was awful. When we finally reached a point near our destination, we told him to stop. The fare was $1.50 and all we had was a $5. Do you think this dude had change?? Nope. Why would he? So he is clearly annoyed, but he takes our $5 to go get change and comes back with a bottle of water that probably cost the same as our fare. Ayeeee. We got our change then made a small loop through town to see a cathedral, the main square and some other church. The clouds had cleared so at one point we could see the mountain looming in the distance. Very neat. The big hubub was some kind of parade (on a Tuesday evening?!? Yep!) so we walked along the parade route all the way back to the hostel. Of course we had to stop for frozen yogurt first. Duh.