Cotopaxi & Secret Garden

                     Cotopaxi is often shrouded in clouds

The closest town to Secret Garden, and the mighty mountain, is Machachi, about an hour south of Quito. There it’s a slow 45 minutes on a prehistoric stone road to the ‘best hostel in Ecuador.’ It’s surrounded by cherry farmland and cows, along with 3 Llamas out front. A dead volcano rises up behind the cluster of buildings, which is the main lodge, some cabinas, 2 dorms, and the owner’s cush pad above the rest. The staff here was super friendly and helpful, and the volunteers were from Australia and England, spending a few weeks here on the ramble while traveling the continent. A big Brit, Eddie, led a 45 minute hike up a close gorge to a couple of 10 meter waterfalls along with a beaut Dalmation, Milo and an energetic Dachsund, Daisy. The top section was sporty and slippery, scaling some rocks with lots of exposure and vertical.

Rubber boots are handy for this terrific hike up behind the Secret Garden

The communal meals were simple but hearty, and there was unlimited coffee, tea, and water. Many of the guests were here to climb or at least get close to Cotopaxi, directly to the west but constantly covered by clouds.There was even a gas heated hot tub, which I enjoyed with 4 nubile college chicks from Boulder, Colorado. The dorm had a wood stove, which got toasty that night. It may not be in a class by itself, as the saying goes, but it sure don’t take long to call roll.  Superior, and a great vibe.

        Secret Garden Hostel, a couple of bus hours south of Quito

Next morn was an early breakfast and loading into a van bound for Coto. The trip took an hour and a half, and the big parking lot was filling up on a Sunday. This was already 4000 + meters in altitude, and everybody piled out and began slogging up the pumice. The refugio, the climbers hut, was the goal, about 500 meters up, and Mully was bent in two, using two walking sticks to yank himself up the hill, a gruesome sight. Eventually, he made it to the shelter, and I followed the drivers wife as she led the way another 200 meters to the bottom of the glacier. The snow and ice looked ultra thick and intimidating, and I would not look forward to scaling that even with crampons and an ice axe. The clouds lifted, the rain and corn snow stopped, and the landscape was multicolored red, black, white and every shade of grey.

          Views from the slopes of Cotopaxi are eye popping

The trip down was easier for sure, and the views almost reached the other side of the big valley and SG. The last morning the clouds briefly shifted and Coto revealed herself in full, with a snowcap that seemed Everestesque, an amazing sight. $35 a night got 3 squares and a cush place to flop, and most of the outings cost the same…Of course, as time marches on prices keep going up. But no matter the number it’s a fine stop on the road to Utopia.

                         Ready to take the cool plunge

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