Day 6 - Thu May 24, 2007 – Lasso, Saquisili, Cotopaxi volcano – Bob: 248, Kathy: 242

Today we ate a hasty breakfast of bacon and eggs. The bacon was great; some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. The coffee was also outstanding.

We went outside and took a bunch of photos of the hacienda and surrounding flower gardens.

Our guide was ready to go exactly at 8:00am. We got in the company SUV and took off down the road.

Near the hacienda, he pointed out enormous greenhouses and told us they were all for roses, which is the big cash crop in Ecuador. I’d like to walk over to see them, but there might not be enough time.

Next, he drove us to the nearby small town of Saquisili (pronounced something like “Sock a Sealy”) where we visited the Thursday markets. First we went to the animal market where people were bustling all over the place, buying and selling animals: cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and even a few alpacas.

We saw a lady who was pushing a pig that was much bigger than she was!

We saw a guy who was combing his pig's hair to make him more attractive for sale!

We saw another guy who was selling fried pig-heads. I couldn't believe it. I wondered who in their right mind would buy a pig's head?

Well, they were selling like hotcakes!

The people were interesting to watch,

but most of them didn’t want their picture taken. So I spent a lot of time with my camera at my chest, pointing and clicking hundreds of times, blindly, with the blind hope that I got a good photo or two.

We also took lots of photos of boxes of smaller animals for sale: chickens,

guinea pigs,

rabbits and more.

Next, we drove to the vegetable market which was much the same, except there were truckloads of produce; everything from bananas to alfalfa to all kinds of fresh fruit.

The oddest thing about the vegetable market was a man who was selling glasses of fresh goat’s milk, straight from the goat to the glass. He carried his glass and led his goat around the market by a rope.

From there, we drove to the handicraft market where we made our first purchase: a gourd that was engraved. There were lots of goods for sale, but most of it was practical goods for the locals: hardware, rugs, clothes, shoes and such.

There was even furniture for sale.

There was some crossover: For example, there were chickens and rabbits at the handicraft market.

I joked to Kathy that this is where they get those boneless chickens you see in the grocery store.

The oddest thing there was a row of men—yes, men—mending clothes with their sewing machines.

Today’s markets were really geared toward the local people, so we didn’t buy much.

But at least it was authentic, not artificial. On Saturday we’re going to the Otavalo market, which is supposedly huge and more geared toward crafts and tourist things. I’m really looking forward to it.

We left Saquisili and, after picking up some junk food, we drove to the large park (“Parque Nacional Cotopaxi”) that contains some local volcanoes, including the beautifully formed Cotopaxi for which the park is named.

We paid our prerequisite ten dollars per person to get in and our guide showed us a map of the park.

He asked us if we’d rather hike around the lake or around the volcano. I said the volcano, so he drove us past a scenic washed-out road that had deep fishers

and volcanic rocks that were full of air bubbles and therefore really light.

Soon we found ourselves at the lake (the guide either ignored me or didn't understand me).

At the lake, there was a bus with school children who were on a field trip. The volcano was wearing a shroud of clouds, so we couldn’t get a good photo of it. We decided to walk around the lake and stop half-way for lunch, and if the clouds moved away, we’d take our photos. And so we began our walk without the guide.

As we walked, we saw a huge bird soar overhead from the volcano. We could see it was very big and it was extremely high in the sky. In a matter of two minutes, it covered the distance from the volcano to the other side of the lake (many miles). We were convinced it was a condor. Unfortunately, my camera was too shaky in the cold brisk wind to capture it.

We walked and walked around the lake, which was more like a marsh than a real lake like we have in Minnesota. Eventually we came across a group of three wild horses. We were surprised at how close the horses allowed us to get before they moved away. We spent a lot of time taking photos of them.

We continued walking around the bays of lakes for more than an hour. On the other side of the lake, we could see our guide’s car and he was following our progress. I asked Kathy for our binoculars to see what the guide was doing. Much to our horror, the binoculars were gone. Kathy had dropped them on our walk.

We had walked so long, I was tempted to leave the binoculars behind. But they were a good pair of binoculars and I wanted them for next week in the Galapagos. Reluctantly, we turned around and started backtracking. Eventually, fifteen minutes later, we found them lying on the ground on the path where we had walked. We gratefully collected them and put them in the backpack, but

now we had a dilemma: We were halfway around the lake. The terrain behind us was familiar, but it was at least another hour of hiking to get back to the guide. The terrain ahead of us was unfamiliar and it looked like a big marsh, so we didn’t know how much skirting we’d have to do to get around the lake and back to the road. Our guide settled it for us. We waved our hands to indicate “Which way is shortest?” He waved back to go back the way we came.

When we got back to his SUV, we told him about having to go back for the binoculars. He told us that we had gotten almost all the way around the lake, and if we had kept walking, we would have only been fifteen more minutes. If only we hadn’t needed to backtrack for the binoculars!

By then the volcano was almost out of the clouds. We got into the SUV and our guide drove us up near the top of the volcano. As we approached the mountain from the North, the clouds became less and less until we had a good clear view, so we stopped a few times and took some photos.

When we got to the top we had a choice: hike up to the glacier / snow line or not. Since it was cold and the air was very thin and we had already spent several hours hiking, we decided not to hike to the top. Instead we walked around the area, walked up a bit and walked to a precipice, taking photos all along the way.

It was cool to see the switchback roads that led up to the top of the volcano from above.

Then we got back in the SUV and headed down the volcano as the clouds closed back in around us.

We drove back down the mountain until we reached a wooded area. The clouds continued to thicken. Our guide pulled over to the side of the road and in broken English, he pointed to the side of the road and suggested we follow a trail. He said it would only take twenty minutes.

As Kathy and I discussed the prospect, there was a loud clap of thunder. Then another. Then I saw something small fall from the sky. Both Kathy and the guide urged me to take the trail. This is the same Kathy who whined about being inside the church in Quito when it was the middle of a thunderstorm. There was another loud clap of thunder and something else fell from the sky. Our guide gave us the Spanish word but we were quick to translate to English: the word was “hail.” Small chunks of ice were falling on us from the sky.

Kathy’s eyes beaconed. Reluctantly, I agreed to brave the lightning and hail and we headed down the trail as the guide got back into his truck and sped off.

The trail was beautiful. We were walking on the border between two worlds: To our left was a huge desert, filled with cactus and other strange spiny plants, with the volcano’s arm embracing it.

To our right was a beautiful forest with tall dark pine trees.

Enamored, we took photos and kept walking. The hail became less and we felt a few drops of rain.

Eventually we came upon a precipice on the left side. It was a very deep canyon that reminded me of the Grand Canyon on a somewhat smaller scale. It was very beautiful and we took lots of photos.

After walking about twenty minutes, we came across a building and in the parking lot was our driver.

We got inside just as the rain started falling harder. By the time we got back to the highway, it was raining steadily.

Our driver picked up a hitchhiker, a worker from the volcano park. He drove back into Lasso to a market where we dropped off our hitchhiker and bought four beers for later. Then he drove us back to the Hacienda.

After dropping our bags, we grabbed some things from the bedroom and headed to one of the “Great Rooms” where a warm fire was burning in the fireplace. We sat down on the sofa and began sipping our beer from the market. I began writing in this travelogue while Kathy enjoyed the fire and took care of some arrangements for tomorrow. She was trying to arrange transportation to our next city: Otavalo. She spoke to a woman from the hacienda who told her that we had two options: hire a car and driver for $93.00 or take the same bus we rode yesterday for about $7.00, with a transfer at the Quito bus station. We decided to save the money.

After a while, a young couple asked to join us. They were from Holland and we sat and chatted for over an hour and a half.

Next, we went to dinner and I ordered the same steak as last night. It was good, but I think last night’s was somehow better.

The couple from Holland sat in the table next to ours and I asked them about the ghost. Supposedly there is a ghost residing at this hacienda. They told me they read about it on the Internet and that it resides in room eleven. I told them I'd like to find the room and see the ghost.stamping cards homemade They said they didn't want to go anywhere near the ghost. They asked, “Do you believe in ghosts? Aren't you afraid of them?”

I answered something like, “Well, I used to be a ghost buster. I used to be in a student group called the Minnesota Society for Parapsychological Research or MSPR.”

So have you actually seen a ghost then?” they asked.

Then I admitted, “Well, actually, I'm the author of two books about out-of-body experiences, based on experience, so I guess in a way, you could say that I am a ghost. My curiosity has always overridden common sense. I'm the kind of guy who would walk right inside a flying saucer if I saw one. But mostly what I saw with MSPR was a lot of hysterical people. I tried to educate them about ghosts and poltergeists and how fear makes the problem worse.”

After dinner, Kathy and I went looking for room eleven. After a long time, we decided it must be the unmarked room two doors down from a room labeled “9.” I didn’t see or sense any ghosts there though. Finally we gave up and went back to our room to pack.