November 3, 2007 – Beginnings in the Equatorial Andes

Our trek beings through a lush rai

"Guinea Pig" Lake and Life at the Hacienda

Our arrival in Quito, the green, hilly capitol of Ecuador at 2800 meters (9,200 feet) above sea level, was smooth and we are very excited to be underway. Typical of a Berg Adventures climb, team members arrived from a surprising number of departure cities and by routes that literally circled the globe.

Claire left her job site in Tanzania only a couple days ago. Her only stop on the way to Ecuador was a brief layover in Canada to enjoy trick-or-treating with her niece and to buy a new backpack.

Martin and Ann flew in from Brisbane, Australia. Their journey included an unplanned overnight in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, where they waited for fog to clear at the Quito airport.

Dafna and Andy arrived from Houston. Michel’s trip to Ecuador began with a five-hour drive from his home in New Brunswick to the Quebec City airport. From there he flew to New York and continued south to Ecuador.

Michel taking in the viewsOnce we were all together, we drove into the mountainous terrain north of Quito. The views from the highway got better the further we traveled. Although the air is thin due to altitude and temperatures are cool in the evenings, the vegetation here is lush and rich. We stopped frequently for group photos and to admire the Andean landscape.

Saturday was our first full day together. We arrived at the famous Otavalo Market, one of the most colorful of all South American markets. The handicraft items we purchased were inexpensive, though the best value was photographing the beautiful smiles of the women who tended stalls in the market.

We also visited weavers at a gallery that had been a favorite of Leila’s when she was here. Dafna commented that her husband Reuben would love seeing the weaving being done. (In fact, he is likely to have that opportunity since he will be among the group joining us in Ecuador a few weeks from now for our November 16 journey to the Galapagos Islands.)

On Sunday we did our first hike. It was great to stretch of legs after our days of flying. The route took us around a beautiful mountain lake call Cuicocha. (“Cui” is the Andean word for “Guinea Pig.”) We were struck by the beauty of the water and the high forest surrounding the lake. We began on a trailhead at an elevation of 3,000 feet (about 900 meters) and soon found that we’d climbed 1,600 feet (500 meters) to a viewpoint overlooking the lake and the surrounding countryside.

Ann Glynn is going to be with the climbers for the first six days of this trip. She has her own guide and vehicle, so can travel independently during the day. She and her guide Wilson drove today while the rest of us hiked around the lake, meeting us several times along the trail. From our high viewpoint, we could see a boat crossing the water to reach one of the scenic islands in the middle of the lake. We had radio contact with Wilson and knew that Ann was on that boat far below us!

We walked 12.5 kilometers (about six miles) in all, and felt we’d done some good introductory climbing on the steep forest trails around the lake. The hike had also been highlighted by beautiful first-growth Andean forest all around us, and by our sighting of a giant condor circling overhead.

In the evening we met Ann back at the lovely 16th century hacienda that has been converted into a beautiful hotel. After showering we relaxed by roaring fires that the staff had built in the fireplaces in our rooms, and agreed that this is a very civilized way to acclimatize!

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