September 1, 2015
Thankfully, we made it to Cotopaxi in one piece--I wasn't so sure we would after our terrifying flight. The turbulence had us bumping all over the place, thanks to the incredibly high mountains surrounding the Quito airport. The pilot was actually unable to land the plane on the first attempt beacuse the turbuelence was too great We were so close to landing that we could see the landing strip, but he pulled up last minute and the entire cabin was freaking out. He circled around several times before trying again. Both Scott and the Ecuadorian sitting next to me hand their barf bags out and ready while I gripped the seat in front of me so hard my knuckles were white, but to our relief the plane landed safeully with a big round of applause from the cabin.
Scott noticed immediately how expensive things were in the airport.From the Quito airport, The ATM gave USD in $5 denominations--from $5 to $100. The transaction fee was $6. We drove to Cotopaxi, stopping for lunch along the way. In addition to the airport prices the prices on the lunch and the prices at our Lodge, we are realizing that Ecuador is much more expensive than Colombia. Even though Ecuador official uses the USD they return change using some of their own currency. They return change using pieces of their old currency that looks similar to the US equivolent.
As we neared Cotopaxi, our tour guide handed all of us surgical masks. She reccomended that we wear the masks to prevent the inhalation of ash, as Cotopaxi, largest active volcano in the world has been errupting for the last several weeks. A thin gray layer of ash coats everything here. As a safety precaution, The Cotopaxi National park has been closed--which changed our plans a bit as the tour group was intended to mountain bike through the park.
The Lodge where we are staying is absolutely beautiful-0set back off the main road amongst farmland and nestled on the side of the mountains. It's incredibly peaceful and quiet at the Lodge. The property has cows, dogs, sheep, and alpacas. The tempurate is cold, especially at night! but our rooms come with heaters (small as they are). I guess the cold shouldn't come as a surpirse as we are over 10,000 feet above sea level.
September 2, 2015
We had an interesting converstaion at breakfast this morning with Carmen, our tour guide, and a fellow tour memeber from the Netherlands. We learned that Colombia has the largest middle class in South America, and it is growing. Other countries in South America have a larger disparity between the poor and the upper class. Carmen also talked about schooling in Colombia, she went to a private school and they are exepensive and competitive, much like in the states.
Three activites were proposed for the day: a walking tour, mountain biking, and horseback riding. We decided to go mountain biking. We paid $35 dollars for a guided tour (renting the bike alone would have costed $10per). The four of us set off to ride up to the top of a mountain with our guide. We ended up walking a great deal of it. We summited at 3,700m (12,000+ feet). We basically just walked to the top and then rode down a mother gravel road down...the guide was mostly useless. I was pretty upset that we paid an extra $50 (between the two of us) for the guide. Scott popped both his front and rear tires during the whole ordeal. The top one popped when he was at the top taking a picture (he wasn't even on the bike) and the back tire (of another bike) popped sometime during his ride town. Although the adventure was fun Scott refused to pay full price and after the help of two translators he managed to get the hotel to drop the price in half.
Our guide, Jeraldo, despite being useless as a guide, was a very nice guy. He talked at great length about the erupting volcano and how the locals near the base of the volcano refused to leave their homes. He said that some people were taking advantage of the locals' predicament by offering the ones that wanted to leave only 15 cents to the dollars for their cows and sheep. He said that sometimes the volcano throws off ash and then goes dormant, but other times it erupts fully and that there is no way to really tell.
We spent some time looking into other destination in Ecuador and have decided to stay in Quito for several days and take a private Spanish course.