In the bathroom here at Termas Papallacta, besides the usual toiletries and tissues, the basket contains a blister pack of two Umbral 500 capsules. Unusual, I thought – turns out, they’re codeine, for headaches caused by the altitude of 3250m. Happily, that’s not been a problem for me, though it’s certainly a lot more work going up stairs, and there's been a bit of light-headedness.
I was given a short tour of the spa this morning, where I was offered a 50% discount on a treatment but declined. The only thing that intrigued me was the chocolate treatment, but when I heard that your skin smells of it for two days afterwards, decided that however much good it might do your skin, surely that would be ruinous to the figure.
Then it was on to the next place: David drove me back over the pass to Quito again and out towards the south this time, to Cotopaxi National Park. Except that Cotopaxi itself, the world’s highest active volcano at 5897m, is about a month into its first major eruption since 1877, and it turned out the park is on yellow alert, and closed. Which is what the sign said, when we arrived at the entrance to find all the buildings coated in a fine layer of white ash and orange tape across the road.
So we drove away again and around to the northern side of the park, along a painfully slow cobbled stone road, to my home for the next two nights, Hacienda El Porvenir, a classic colonial-style old ranch house painted in strong colours under a thatched roof. There was the evocative smell of horse poo as we walked past a corral of small, sturdy horses near the entrance, so that was a good start – and then my room across the courtyard is upstairs under the roof, painted blue and yellow and flooded with sunshine through windows that look out towards Cotopaxi, across fields of grazing cattle and horses. Nice!
Home-made empañadas and a cup of canelazo, sweet cinnamon tea with optional rum, set me up for a solitary wander along a well-marked trail past llamas, cows and horses, along a rushing stream and up through bush where birds flitted away and a hummingbird hovered feeding from the spiky flower of some sort of aloe. There were wide views across what it was hard not to see as New Zealand landscape: rolling farmland delineated by rows of pine trees, sheep and cattle grazing, farmhouses and barns. But the volcanoes spiking up all around? And Cotopaxi, finally showing itself as it belched clouds of dark ash? Purely Ecuador.