After 45 minutes on the horse I was done, my whole body hurt, but we still had another two hours to go. We were riding through the surrounding foothills of the Cotopaxi Volcano, encircled by the peaks of long extinct volcanoes. I tried to focus on the expansive views and not the “noble steed” that had decided early on not to follow any of my directions. Two hours later I nearly collapsed as I got off the horse and instantly thought of the Ecuadorian moonshine that we drank before the ride, that would definitely help ease my sore muscles.
Horseback riding filled the last of our five days in mainland Ecuador before we made our way to the Galapagos, each day before it was just as exciting, and exhausting, as the last. Before horseback riding we drove through the graffiti-lined streets of the capital and wound through the highways of the Andes as we explored Quito and the surrounding volcanoes. The time on the mainland was meant as a stopover before our time in the Galapagos but it turned out to be just as action packed as Darwin’s islands.
On our first day we rode a gondola from Quito (9,350 ft) to the summit of the Pichincha Volcano (13,300 ft) and after walking for an hour quickly discovered what 13,000 feet really means for your lungs.
Our second day was filled with what we first thought was tacky tourist crap but ended up being fascinating and mind-boggling. It started with the impressive headquarters of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which sits on the equator line several miles south of Quito. We then made our way to the Intiñan Solar Museum, which started out as corny as ever but quickly became fascinating. We watched as our tour guide performed an experiment: north of the equator the Coriolis Effect causes water going down a drain to rotate clockwise, while south of the equator water flows counter-clockwise down the drain. What I didn’t know was that directly on the equator it doesn’t rotate at all, it simply flows straight down. Amazingly enough the Coriolis Effect happens even if you’re standing only ten feet from the middle of the earth. (For those of you that don’t believe me, I have video to prove it.)
Next we hiked 1,000 feet down to the crater lake of Quilatoa (12,800 ft), and struggled our way back up. We stopped every 30 seconds or so to catch our breath again as local children ran circles around us while guiding mules that carried less motivated travelers back up to the volcano’s summit.
Our second to last day we spent exploring the crowded streets of Quito’s Old Town, getting a taste for what the city looked like during the Spanish colonial days.
Before roughing out the horseback riding on the final day we made our way through local markets selling local produce and knockoff shoes (Yans, not Vans; Adibas, not Adidas).
My sister is about to break out into the ass-less chap industry...
We made our way back to Quito on bumpy, cobblestone roads while we talked about the eleven days in the Galapagos that were two short plane rides away the next morning.