A shy volcano. After leaving the Amazon jungle we headed back into volcano country. No, believe it or not, we are volcano seekers. It may seem that way, like storm chasers or something crazy like that. But no, there are just simply a lot of volcanoes in Ecuador. That being said, we made it to the region of Cotopaxi National Park where the recently active and second largest volcano (almost 20,000 feet) in Ecuador, Cotopaxi, resides. Let’s rewind. Did I say recently active? Yes I did. The last activity was in August of 2015. This makes Cotopaxi one of the tallest and most active volcanoes in the world. While you might think that this monster of a volcano looks rugged and jagged, is it actually a really beautiful cone shape, rounded and snow capped with glaciers. Because of the altitude Cotopaxi is covered with clouds a majority of the time. We even overheard some people calling it a “shy” volcano. Because we didn’t really get a full glimpse of Cotopaxi, I guess we would agree that it was “shy”, besides that whole eruption business.
The hacienda. Like I mentioned, we were in the Cotopaxi National Park region, but staying at a comfortably safe distance away from the volcano on an Ecuadorian hacienda called El Porvenir. Porvenir means “future”. We met the effervescent and charismatic, Jorge Perez (General Manager of Hacienda El Porvenir and owner of Tierra del Volcán), who’s family has owned the hacienda for many generations. He quite literally put the El Porvenir namesake into action when he opened the hacienda to guests in 1999. Built with the traditional Andean construction and many of the original furnishings from Jorge’s family, this place is like cozying up at your grandmother’s house. The locals include Chagras, who are Ecuadorian cowboys, in charge of the cattle and livestock of the land. We got to experience a bit of this culture on horseback as we explored the land around the hacienda. We were even outfitted like Chagras, which made the experience even better. Not being a big fan of horseback riding (I know, weird), I still really enjoyed this experience as it was an incredible way to see the area around the hacienda and catch a little glimpse of Cotopaxi.
Preserving Páramos. One important thing to note about Jorge is his passion for conserving not only his families land, but also the entire highland ecosystem around Cotopaxi called Páramos. Via his company, Tierra del Volcán, he has been instrumental in encouraging other private landowners to follow suite in establishing conservation easements on their land. This is important because it protects the land from slash and burn agricultural techniques and overgrazing, which can be very damaging to the area. Additionally landowners have started voluntarily contributing land to a private reserve to be used for more sustainable agricultural practices and ecotourism. Jorge and his team have also placed their efforts into the local schools, educating local children about sustainability and environmental issues. Last, but not least, El Porvenir has started re-forestation efforts by planting trees around the hacienda. This is no easy feat as growing trees at altitude can take twice as long and require a bit more TLC during the initial growth period.
Rim hikes. Onwards to the next volcano! Again, I swear, we are not chasing volcanoes. This time we headed due west for another volcanic region called Quilotoa. Quilotoa had an eruption over 800 years ago that formed a large caldera or crater lake that is 2 miles wide. We hiked around the rim of Quilotoa taking in the incredible views. Our hike continued beyond Quilotoa and back to our lodge in Chugchulán, 9 miles away. The hike took about 5 hours, covering some intense, but beautiful terrain.
Black Sheep. While in Quilotoa we stayed at the Black Sheep Inn, which has been at the forefront of the eco-hotel scene in Ecuador since 1995. This lodge put ecotourism on the map for the Quilotoa area. With solar and wind power, a recycling center, organic gardens, reforestation efforts, and even composting toilets, this lodge is as green as it gets. The lodge has won numerous awards over the years for their contributions to sustainable travel and ecological conservation projects. The Black Sheep Inn is working towards becoming self sufficient in energy, water, and food production. This is an incredible mission for a lodge that holds up to 35 guests at a time, plus a full staff. After reading all of this you might think we were staying in a tent in the woods, but the Black Sheep Inn couldn’t be further from that. Each room is super tidy and cozy, with a wood-burning stove to keep you warm all night. There is also a common area where all the guests eat meals together, family style, which is great for meeting and talking to other travelers. And to top things off, since 2012 the lodge has been 100% community operated. The Black Sheep Inn is truly a model for ecotourism and sustainable travel!
While we are really beginning to become one with the Ecuadorian volcanoes, it is time to part ways. Up next is the coast! Check out our next post coming to you soon, beachside.