I finally left Quito heading to the south. I needed to get to Terminal Terrestre (the main bus station). It was on the other side of the city, so the public transportation with all the baggage I have was off the question. I took a cab and when I told the driver I needed to get on the bus to Latacunga he took me to a different bus station which was even further than Terminal Terrestre. I took at least one hour to get through the city in really bad traffic. I was worrying how much I would have to pay. It was only $11 though. A pretty sweet price for one hour in a cab. And it was totally worth it because the other terminal was much better than Terminal Terrestre which is known for thefts and pick-pocketing. This bus station was combined with a shopping centre and like 100 times better than Florenc. When you wanted to go to the platforms you had to show a ticket, so they didn't let all the "street workers" in. The price of the bus was even sweeter. Latacunga is 90 km from Quito and it took 1.5 hour and I paid $1.5. It was a surprisingly luxurious bus, not as good as the buses of Student Agency, but on the level of American Greyhound.
Latacunga is a pretty big city (population 92,000) and it's very busy, too. Shops and stalls are everywhere. Especially mobile phone shops. Ecuadorians must love mobile phones. I got a single room in Tiana hostel. Rooms are pretty cold because there is no heating, isolation and all doors are facing outside. On the other hand, personell is very helpful with everything you ask them for/about and they organize tours to the mountains.
I chose a tour to the north face of Cotopaxi volcano. And I must say it was a good decision. It's definitely one of my highlights on this journey. Our guide was Ferdando Tovar and if you ever go to Latacunga look for him and his agency. He was very relaxed and a lot of fun. Other people on the tour were a girl and a guy from Brazil and Fernando's friend. The tour was $40 (transportation, lunch, and a guide included). We had to pay additional $10 as an entrance fee to the park.
First we stopped in a kind of visitors centre where he explained us what animals live in the park (there was a stuffed condor with 2m spread and he told us it was just a baby, grown condors have spread up to 4 m), showed us the most important parts of the park etc. The most important part is Cotopaxi volcano. That's where we were heading to. He took us on his jeep to a parking lot at the foot of Cotopaxi. Then we had to walk. It was a pretty difficult walk. It was already over 4000 m and the slope was just gravel which slid down under our boots and made walking extra hard. We shared our sorrows with a group of Belgians who started at the same time. When we finally reached the refuge, which serves as a base for climbing Cotopaxi, I found out we were already at 4,810 m. We were going to have lunch when I met a group of Slovaks who came to the refuge to stay over night and climb Cotopaxi early in the morning. Lunch was btw great. They served (besides normal food) fruit I have never seen. One of them was really hard to break and had seeds inside which looked like caviar.
When we were done with lunch we continued to the glacier. It was over 4800 m and I still breathed quite well. When we reached the glacier and the highest point of our trip I asked our guide how high we were. He said it was about 5000 m and our GPS proved it – 5001 meters above the sea level (16,407 ft for those who still use senseless imperial units)! Before I went to Ecuador the highest point I'd ever been at had been 3015 m and after 4 days here I lifted it up to 5000! If I come here next time I will try to climb either Cotopaxi or Chimborazo. Chimborazo is actually the highest point of the Earth because it's the furthest point from the Earth centre. It lies almost on the equator which is further from the centre than the latitude where the Himalaya lies. I felt really good at 5000 and just after 4 days of acclimatization. But they say the breaking point is at 5500 m where people give up the most.
Me and two Brazilians at 5000 m above the sea level.
Today, I put my shorts on first time. It's strange but Ecuadorians don't wear shorts at all. I have seen nobody with shorts since I arrived to Quito. And I was asked several times today where I had pants. They thought it would be too cold for shorts up there. I made it up to 5000 and back only in shorts though.
Frankly, I still don't know where to go tomorrow. I was playing with an idea I would stay here one more day, but I have to move to the south. Options are Riobamba, Cuenca, and Loja.