Why We Went Back to That Collapsed Volcano: Pululahua

Our motivations for going back to Pululahua and hiking “El Chivo” seemed simplistic before the hike as they always do: get outside, enjoy the beauty and landscapes of Ecuador, get some exercise/training. However, as Danielle and I take on each new adventure (even the small ones!), we often find ourselves along the way. At times, these are our old-selves as we recall memories, past experiences, and adventures in other parts of the world which flicker before our eyes in new environments–“Hey, those rocks look like that cliff on the sea-floor when we were diving in the Philippines…” (see A day trip to Bohol Island…) or “If this bus were underground, I’d feel like we were back in Shanghai riding Line 6 toward the city center. We’re like sardines in here…” In the moment, these recollections always seem insubstantial but as we tramp along toward whatever destination awaits us, they become powerful moments of retrospection that often lead to introspection.

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Taking a break at the top of “El Chivo.”

It is approximately 11:45 a.m. and I can see the top of “El Chivo” where the near vertical wall of rock and bushes begins to declinate toward the horizon. ‘We are almost there!‘ I shout in my mind. I stop, pull out my camera, and look down as Danielle scrambles up the 2,500 year-old volcanic rock. I shoot some video and pocket the camera. I heave myself up, pulling my knees high (it keeps getting harder and harder to do this. Am I getting old?), and stem my feet across the trail in front of me. My boot’s tread holds against the big boulder on my left but I’m unable to push against the rock and propel myself up–there is not enough contact between my toe, the sole of my boot, and the rubber pressing against the rock. I sigh nostalgically, stem my arms against the rock, and lower myself down to hike up the rest of the trail like any other normal person would–man, I miss rock climbing…

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The scramble at the top of “El Chivo.”

After 30 minutes of crawling/scrambling up the side of “El Chivo,” I am able to stand up. I hear a ‘thud’ and Danielle shouts below me. I whip around and look down the trail–Danielle has slammed her left shoulder into the big boulder I was just stemming on. She is fine but the sunscreen we have lathered all over our bodies begins to seep into the light scratches that are appearing on her shoulder. She slaps the rock in anger, nods that she is okay, and tops out the trail. As she stands up (holding her newly sored shoulder), I practically drag her across the top of the lava dome to the western side of “El Chivo.” I point to the valley in front of us as it meanders its way around Pondoña hill and into the cloud forest region of the northern Andes. We stare out for uncounted moments…

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Looking northwest into the Andes and the Cloud Forest beyond.

It is sometime around noon and the clouds are just beginning to roll into the crater around us. We take in the views, running around like two school kids, and inspect the whole area of the summit. I run off to the western edge again to have a moment alone and enjoy the view. Tears spring up in my eyes. Introspection hits me and I begin to plumb the depths of my life and the environment around me. Memories come flooding back, intermingling with the sense perceptions of the current moment. At these times, I find a new self who is constantly appreciating the beauty of the Earth and its paradoxical relationship with our insignificant planet as we plummet through space at ~70,000 mph. As my past collides with my future to create my present, I reflect on my life and the adventures Danielle and I have had together. I think about how lucky we are to travel the world (together!) and how mentally strong we have become to face such a challenge. Exploration is often hard work but after a while, it becomes an addiction which is not easily shrugged off. Just as easily as I see the path of our past, I can see the path of our future. It is lit by adventure, exploration, growth, and the discovery of new places. I will have these moments again and again and again and again…

Danielle calls me back to reality as she inspects a strange piece of flora which looks like a dead, blood-red Christmas tree.

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The dead, blood-red Christmas Tree.

After some moments of investigation and attempted photography, we leave the Dr. Seuss-esque plant behind and explore the eastern edge of the lava dome. As we look over the edge into Pululahua’s main valley, I spy a comely flower growing out of the edge of a rock overhang. At the edge of the abyss, it stands as a lone, beautiful sentinel keeping watch over the valley and road 230 meters below us. My obsession with flowers takes over and I tell Danielle that I must get a picture of it. She looks down the slope, looks at me, and shakes her head, “No.” I nod and wait a couple of moments. I assess the danger and compute a cost-benefit analysis of taking the picture versus plummeting to my death. I decide it’s worth it. I speak up again, “Danielle, look how beautiful it is all alone out there growing out that rock. I mean, how does that happen?”

“Can you do it without killing yourself?” she replies.

“I think so,” I say as I look down the slope. I’ll be fine if I lean into the slope and don’t go bumbling down like a lumberjack with a death wish.

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The eastern slope. At the bottom of the slope, you can the rock out-cropping. The little red dot is the flower.

She nods.

I drop my feet down and make my way slowly down the edge like an ant. Strangely, a picture of Paul Rudd goes flashing through my head, as well as the movie poster we saw at La Cine when we went shopping the day before. “Hombre de Hormiga” the poster says. Be el hombre de hormiga.

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Navigating the slope like a boss.

From above, the slope looks like a drop-off but as I navigate my way down the side of the lava dome, I realize it is only a trick of perception. The slope levels out with the rock over hang and I inch my way to the edge to peer down. More slope rather than a drop-off. I look back up at Danielle, give her the thumbs up, and snap a couple of pictures.

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The money shot. Was it worth it?

After spending an hour or so enjoying the top of the lava dome, we decide it’s time to head back down to the valley and make our way out of Pululahua. We still have another 1,500 meters of vertical hiking, both ascending and descending, (added to the 1,000 we had already completed to get into Pululahua and up “El Chivo”) before we are on the bus back to Quito.

As we hike down, we spy a family of hikers below us on the ridge that connects the crater rim with El Chivo from the bottom of the valley. A little boy zooms by us, literally running up the trail, and reminds me of my days as a kid running around Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, Texas. As he goes by, I spot a caterpillar on the hood of his jumper. I point and try to get Danielle’s attention, but before she notices and I have time to tell the boy, he is already gone (and a good thing too, I don’t know the Spanish word for caterpillar).

After two more hours of hiking across, down, up, and sideways, we arrive back at the bus stop. Two tourists stop us on their way up the road, inquiring about Pululahua.

“How far up the road is the entrance?” he asks in a European accent.

“2o minutes,” I reply. “Just follow the paved road all the way up the hill.”

They smile and the man asks another question, “Is it worth it? Can you still see the area with all the clouds?”

“The clouds come and go but it’s definitely worth it. Wait for the view,” I say as we wave good-bye and they begin the hike up the hill.

It’s definitely worth it.


5:30 a.m. – Wake up and take a shower.

6:00 a.m. – Boil water for Danielle’s coffee.

6:30 a.m.- Prepare our lunches and gear for the day. Make sure we take sunscreen (15 minutes in the sun here and you start to fry like a patacone). Don’t forget the peanuts!

6:45 a.m. – Put on sunscreen…much to my dismay.

7:15 a.m. – Walk out the door and head for the MetroBus. 30 minute walk.

8:00 a.m. – Board the MetroBus and get packed in like a sardine in a tin.

8:30 a.m. – Arrive at Ofelia terminal norte and wait for the Calicalí/Pululahua bus. 30-45 minute ride depending on traffic

9:00 a.m. – Arrive at the la parada de Pululahua just outside of San Antonio de Pichincha and make the 30 minute trek up the road to the entrance of Pululahua.

9:30 a.m. – Take a break and admire the Andes valley below us before climbing over the crater rim….


What is “El Chivo”?

“El Chivo” is a small lava dome located inside Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve (see Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve for our first trip to scope out the area) in the southern area of the collapsed volcano. It is at an altitude of 2,785 meters (9,134 ft), rising approximately 230 meters (~750 ft) above the bottom of the valley. While not the most challenging or vertical hike, it does offer beautiful views of the caldera and rare flora not found outside of the crater. However, toward the top of the lava dome, scrambling is required. The trail head for the hike can be found in the center of the valley off the main road that goes through Pululahua. It is approximately 30 meters north of Hacienda Pululahua (an old Dominican hacienda being restored by the government) and the campgrounds, and 50 meters south of the abandoned school.

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The trail head sign for “El Chivo.”

 

Things to do in Pululahua:

  • Hiking Trails – There are lots of hiking trails in the area, as well as trails that climb up Chivo Rock, Pondoña Hill, and Lulumbamba Mountain. Click here for some maps.
  • Horseback Riding – horse rentals available at Pululahua Hostel
  • Mountain Biking – bike rentals available at Pululahua Hostel
  • Hot Water Springs (Aguas Termo Minerales) – on the northwest side of Pondoña Hill, there are hot water springs.
  • Limestone Kilns (Hornos de Cal) – kilns that were used to extract purified lime from the limestone in the area for white washing all of the buildings in the Old District of Quito when the Spanish ruled this region. Location is unknown.
  • Crater Restaurant – If your not interested in hiking into the caldera, you can always visit the Crater Restaurant that offers great views from the rim while eating at the same time. You can find the restaurant at the southern entrance of the reserve.

Accomodation:

  • Pululahua Hostel
  • La Rinconada de Rolando Vera
  • El Leñador
  • Each of these places has campsites and I’ve heard there are various campsites located in different areas near the trails that snake all over the caldera.

How to get there:

Click here for a map.

To get there by public bus, take the MetroBus line north all the way to Ofelia station. Once you are at Ofelia station, head to the northeast corner of the station and look for the queue that says Calacali/Pululahua on the placard. Get on the bus that stops here.  5-8 minutes after you pass by La Mitad del Mundo you will see a highway sign on the right that says “Mirador” and “Pululahua”. The bus will stop here and you can get off. If you are unsure about the stop, tell the ticket attendant, “Quiero desembarcar en la entrada de Pululahua.” Most attendants will notify you of the stop. Hike up the road past ‘Templo del Sol’ and you will see the southern entrance to Pululahua. To return to Quito, go back to where you were dropped off by the bus, head east down the street toward San Antonio de Pichincha until you see the “La Pareda” bus sign on the right side of the road. Wait for the bus that says, “Ofelia” on the bus placard. There are also other buses that will return you directly to Miraflores or Centro Historico if you are staying in a hostel in those areas, but you will have to look out for names on the placards of the buses.

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2 thoughts on “Why We Went Back to That Collapsed Volcano: Pululahua

    1. Thanks for the approbation, as well as for reading. There will definitely be more from Ecuador–we are just getting started! You wouldn’t believe all of the diversity, beauty, and things there are to do in Ecuador. It’s a great place to be and I suggest that if you ever make it back to the Americas you check out this country, Columbia, and Bolivia.

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