The Final Weekend TripsQuito, Spring 2011

So after returning from Galápagos, it seems like time has suddenly been put on fast forward. Everything has been so rushed and busy with finals upon us! But during these final three weekends I´ve still had the chance to do a bit of exploring. The weekend after Galápagos my friend Kirsten and I finally went to visit Cotopaxi National Park—I´ve been dying to go since the beginning of the semester. We went with a tour group from the Mariscal (the ``hip,´´ touristy section of Quito) and got to hike up to the first refuge on the Cotopaxi volcano, which was already covered in snow. From there we were afforded brief but amazing views of Cotopaxi´s peak and the surrounding valley (it´s always so foggy around Cotopaxi—without clouds the majestic, snow-covered volcano is easily visible from Quito, but I´ve only seen it twice in the entire four and a half months that I´ve been here). We had a delicious lunch at the refuge—including my favorite white cheese and crackers and fresh avocado—and then walked back down to the parking lot, where the real fun began. From the parking lot we rode mountain bikes down the rest of the mountain—some 15 kilometers of absolutely no pedaling and lots of brake-clenching. It hailed for most of the ride down, which was rather painful. At the bottom we were rewarded with a great view of the nearby Rumiñahui volcano and the largest lake in the park. The following weekend, in between homeworking like crazy, Kirsten and I again headed off on an adventure to see the largest waterfall in Ecuador. The San Rafael waterfall lies right on the edge of the Amazon, some four hours away from Quito by bus. Four hours, that is, when it´s not voting weekend and everyone is leaving the city to go vote in their home province (voting here is mandatory, and no alcohol is sold within 24 hours of the vote). It took us two hours just to leave Quito, and when we finally got to the waterfall after six hours on the bus, I felt like just staying forever and never getting on a bus back home. But we did, 3 hours later, and got back to Quito after another 4 hours on the bus. It was quite the day of bus traveling. The waterfall, however, was spectacularly glorious. This past weekend, my final weekend in Ecuador, I headed back to the beach Atacames for a final hurrah with my best Ecuadorian friend. It was so relaxing to have a few days of playing in the waves, drinking milkshakes, running barefoot on the beach and taking long naps all afternoon amid finals finals finals. I´m really going to miss being able to visit any kind of ecosystem—beach, rainforest, mountains—in a simple few hours´ trip. This country certainly has a lot to offer interms of nature and adventures. It´s going to be really strange not being able to take a $5 bus ride to the Amazon, or a $2 bus ride to the cloud forest, or a $7 bus ride to a beautiful beach. There are still so many places I want to see—certainly a return trip is in store.
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