On 5th June, having spent a few extra nights in Quito (turbo tinkering), we set off south towards Cotapaxi. Thankfully the weather was improving and clouds disappearing. Our overnight stop on the way was at Cascadas Condor Machay on the Rio Pita, to catch up with friends and check out the waterfalls the following morning. The falls were well worth the walk.
From there, we drove on to Cotapaxi National Park, entering in the north. We stuffed the van with firewood (for later) and set off on the less used track to Laguna Santa Domingo. Less used for good reason - it was a fun lesson in technical driving through a pyroclastic field, with the loss of one of the two remaining hubcaps. The views of Cotapaxi and the surrounding countryside were pretty special. We spent a cold night camping within the park, although the campfire wasn't as warming as we'd hoped. The fog in the morning was a good signal to move on.
We drove through the mountains on the Quilotoa Loop and judging by most of the track, I'm fairly sure we were meant to have walked it! However, late afternoon we arrived at Quilotoa volcano and the next morning was a hike down into the crater to its huge laguna. A steep descent of 1,200ft (365m) altitude. Great walk/slide down, but the ascent was a bit of a bitch - should've taken the horses back up!
The following day we set off for Chimborazo, a volcano we'd previously mountain biked on, but not really seen due to cloud. Our mapping system sent us on a very windy secondary route out of Ambato. This route turned out to be one of the best driving treats so far - a winding journey through an amazing narrow canyon of the Rio Ambato with Chimborazo appearing at the end. We camped in the park at 14,600ft (4,444m) - and according to Mr Marcus Tuck (www.tuckstruck.net), we were over 400m further from the centre of the earth than we would have been stood on the top of Everest! ...and at the closest point to the moon on earth. Useful facts from geek friends! ;-))
The following morning, we bumped into Margaux and Séverine and after a quick trip for coffee at 15,750ft (4,800m), we all headed to Salinas de Bolívar in search of cheese - Swiss Cheese no less! A cheese fondue in town followed by a night in the yard of a cheese factory and the following morning was a Cheese Fest for birthday girl Séverine, with fresh unpasteurised milk, fresh from the cow. Salinas is certainly worth a detour if you're after a good cheese hit! Not only was the cheese factory a first for us, so was the lady who fixed our latest punture! Not a man in sight - there or any of the tyre places we came across in town - the women have the monopoly!
Over all, Ecuador has been a lot colder than expected, but we have spent a lot of time at altitude....