The Wisconsin Marathon is 4 short days away so I decided to spend last week traveling around Ecuador, hoping that the high elevations (from 3,000 to 14,000 feet) would substitute for the training which I did not do.
Actually, I had booked this trip months ago via the discount website The Clymb – $725 for a full week tour, activities and most meals included (if you wanted your own room at the various hotels and home stays, the single supplement was $350, and tips for the guides and drivers was also extra, adding about another $160 or so). The company that provided the trip, Ecuador Pure Life, normally sells the trip as “Ecuador Multisport Once In a Lifetime” for $1950 and says it’s 8 days but it’s really a full 6 (the first and last days are simply arrival/departure days in Quito with no activities planned). The company will also arrange transport to/from the Quito airport for $45 per person, each way, which was fine for me but if you’re traveling with someone you can save quite a bit by just using a taxi (about $30 or so one-way). Regardless, it was all very much worth the experience, and I’ll just have to cross my fingers it’ll help me finish in Wisconsin.
Since this is a post about multi-sport travel and not about running, I’ll try to keep it brief, but I did want to share the trip with you since I think the Venn Diagram of “People Who Like to Run” and “People Who Would Like This Trip” overlap greatly (as evidenced by the fact that two ultramarathoners and many other runners were on this trip).
Day 1 – Horseback Riding & Cotopaxi Volcano [Stay at hotel in Baños]
The first day of the trip was the most stunning – we rode horses in the mountains while a storm threatened in the distance, then walked a bit in the shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. None of my pictures could capture the stunning beauty of this place. We were at about 12,500 on the “highland plain” at the base of the volcano that reaches 19,347 feet. I could barely breathe and questioned for the first of many times the wisdom of going on a trip that included professional ultra-runners.
Day 2 – Bike Ride in Llangantes National Park & Visit to The Swing At The End of The World [Stay at the same Baños hotel]
The biking was thankfully mostly downhill, otherwise my lungs would have exploded. There was some beautiful scenery along the way, and some not-as-beautiful scary barking dogs and donkeys that liked to stand in the middle of the road.
The swing (at La Casa Del Arbol, aka The Treehouse) has been greatly modified since it became famous and added to all those “1,000 Things You Must Do Before You Die” lists. The tree itself has been fortified with a steel beam disguised to look like a trunk, they added two swings which now hang from steel beams instead of tree branches, they built a platform to help you gain momentum, and they even have a little rope “seatbelt” that clips you onto the swing. That’s not to say you still couldn’t slip off the seat or break the rope, and it was still the scariest thing I did during the entire trip, but it’s a lot less death-defying than before. Also, they charge you $1 for admission and our guide says they pull in thousands of dollars per week now. All-in-all, it still makes for a very cool pic.
Day 3 – Zipline/Cable Car across Pastaza River (Bride’s Veil Waterfall), Short Hike to Pailon del Diablo waterfall, & Waterfall Hike in the Amazon Jungle [“Home Stay” in Amazon Jungle Lodge]
Day 3 also triggered my fear of heights with a zipline across a canyon and waterfall. Normally a zipline wouldn’t be quite so scary to me, but this one was so high and exposed and you flew “superman-style” across with no control over speed or brakes or anything. It ended up being less scary to me than the swing, even with all that.
The waterfall hike in the Amazon was many people’s favorite experience of the trip. After getting our faces painted with traditional symbols so the jungle would recognize us, they tied woven palm fronds around our heads that made everyone look like a badass. They also gave us tall rubber boots that immediately filled with ten pounds of water. The hike itself was basically hiking upstream in a small creek/river in the dark jungle. There were a couple sections with rope “handrails” and one larger waterfall we had to climb up using a rope, so it was a bit of a challenge but not overwhelming. The air was warm and muggy, the water cool and refreshing, and I wasn’t swallowed by a snake, so the hike was a big win for me.
Day 4 – Whitewater Rafting Down the Jatunyacu River & Soak in Hot Springs at Hotel [Stay at fancy Papallacta Resort Spa]
The Jatunyacu River is considered Class 3 in Ecuador, but the Americans thought it was a solid 4. Translation – it was awesome. Maybe the most fun I’ve had rafting, not the least because of the great people on our boat and our amazing rafting guide Diego, who had us doing tricks I’ve never done while rafting (including tipping the boat up on its end and balancing it like that while floating downstream).
We ended the day soaking in the hot spring pools just outside our hotel rooms. It was incredible but the altitude and heat combined to make me feel not so good that night. Several people got sick or slightly injured during the course of the trip (including one that required a late-night visit to the hospital) but supposedly that’s rare on this trip. I’d advise you bring a full arsenal of OTC meds if you do go, though. And lots of hand sanitizer and baby wipes.
Day 5 – Short Hike Behind Hotel, Shop at Otavalo Indigenous Market, & Roast Guinea Pigs [“Home Stay” in San Clemente]
In the morning after breakfast we did a short hike behind the hotel before hitting the road for a quick stop for pictures on the equator line and then to Otavalo Market where I did some fast and furious shopping.
The market was fine and about what I expected from the reviews I read online. I’m not much of a bargainer since a few dollars for me matters less than for the seller, and as my dad says, if you can’t take advantage of tourists then who can you take advantage of? So my main “strategy” was to buy two of everything. Perfect for the hoarder in you!
We reached the “home stay” in San Clemente and after milking a cow and feeding some alpacas pure salt and sugar, we roasted guinea pig (cuy) over an open fire. I love trying strange new animal meat, but this is one of those I won’t be having again – I found the meat greasy and slightly fishy and overall unpleasant. But I’m glad to check that one off!
Day 6 – Hike Around Cuicocha Crater Lake & Short Boat Ride on the Lake [Stay back in Quito]
Our original itinerary had us hiking 9 miles for about 5 hours around this lake, but there was a new road that allowed us to skip most of the uphill portion, leaving us with only 2.4 miles of relatively easy hiking (“relative” to my wheezing lungs, “easy” to everyone else). 2015 is the year of failed circumnavigations of crater lakes for me! The shorter hike did allow us time for a quick boat ride on the lake to see the little islands up-close (so many bromeliads everywhere!), make a wish passing between them, and to watch the sulfur bubbles rising from the bottom of the lake.
Bonus – Departure Day
Seven of us (from the original group of twelve) did a half-day tour of Quito on Friday ($45 per person booked through Pure Life). We visited Old Town, several churches, an anthropology museum, and El Panecillo hill above the city (aka where the virgin statue is), where I took the first picture above.
Now I’m back in NYC and need to finalize my plans, packing, and cheese-themed outfit for Wisconsin, despite being bone-tired from Ecuador! Where’s that coca tea when I need it?!
Have you ever visited Ecuador? Does high elevation bother you? Did you run Boston or London recently? Share in the comments!