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Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Discussion area for peaks outside of the USA.
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Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby centrifuge » Wed Jul 15, 2009 7:00 am

A couple of us are trying to plan a trip down to Ecuador this coming winter to climb these mountains, and I am trying to figure out the logistics. I know there are quite a few people here who have been to climb those peaks recently and in the last year or so and am wondering what I should plan for that the guide books are not prepping me for. On the top of that list is cost. How expensive/inexpensive is Quito and does anyone have recommendations for places to stay there that are climber friendly? ANy advise at all regarding these peaks would be wonderful!
"i feel so extraordinary, somethings got a hold on me, I get this feeling I'm in motion, a sudden sence of liberty“ new order

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby Haliku » Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:56 am

Its a pretty easy adventure and pretty cheap once incountry. Even more useful if you hire private transport to get around. Check out my report and let me know if you have any questions. It should answer most of your needs. Cheers!
"You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby cheeseburglar » Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:08 am

I'll second the Hotel Sierra Nevada in Quito or one of other guide service houses. Not the cheapest but I don't think Quito is the kind of place you want to try to save money on lodging. I hear there are some sketchy neighborhoods you might want to avoid.
Also a great place to meet climbers from different countries. Other climbers stay there and the staff climbs a bit as well.
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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby centrifuge » Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:11 pm

Awesome! Thanks for the info guys. :)
"i feel so extraordinary, somethings got a hold on me, I get this feeling I'm in motion, a sudden sence of liberty“ new order

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby susanjoypaul » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:29 am

cheeseburglar wrote:Not the cheapest but I don't think Quito is the kind of place you want to try to save money on lodging. I hear there are some sketchy neighborhoods you might want to avoid.

Take this advice seriously. I was in Quito last month and there were a number of crimes against tourists. Even our Ecuadoran guide was a victim of a "smash and grab" on his Land Cruiser; staying out of bad neighborhoods, and out of the slightly sketchy ones at night - will help you avoid these issues.

There are three very recent trip reports you can check out (just do a search on DHatfield), discussing Cotopaxi, Chimborazo and Cayambe. The last one has the most info on Quito, including the hotel where I stayed, and where to go and what to do between climbs. If you go with an alpine guide service, they can also hook you up with transportation (do it and avoid the bus system, which is known for pickpockets, and worse) and a hotel, usually at a discounted rate. There's a $41.80 fee to leave the airport in Quito - no kidding - so put that in your budget.

When traveling in any foreign country, or any major U.S. city for that matter: don't wear white sneakers; they're the footwear of tourists and make you an easy target. Don't carry a wallet or a purse; carry just what you need in your front pockets and the rest - if you have to carry it at all - inside your clothing. Ecuador is on the American dollar and coins, although they also have "centavos" which are pretty much the same as our dollars, fifty cent pieces, quarters, etc. They really have a problem breaking big bills (basically anything bigger than a five) so carry small bills when you go out. Know where you're going before you leave the hotel... take some time with the concierge and figure it out, so you're not out standing on the sidewalk studying a map.

If you choose to carry all your valuables in a pouch around your neck or waist, you might consider adding the business card of the hotel where you're staying. That way, if you're robbed and the "non-valuables" are thrown out, someone might find them and get them back to you, while you're still in the city. This actually happened to me in London: someone (who had presumably picked up my stuff in a gutter, or it could have been the guys who robbed me, who knows?) threw it into a mailbox. The postmaster called my hotel and I got everything - except the money, credit card, and debit card, of course - back. He knew how to find me, by that card. One could argue that I'm letting the criminals know where I'm staying, and opening myself up to further attacks, but I don't think that's likely to happen, especially since I've just notified the police of the situation.

While we're on the topic of credit/debit cards/passports: give a copy of your passport to someone you trust back in the states, so if the original and your copy are stolen, you can at least call them and get the number, or have them fax it to the American Embassy, for a replacement. Also give them your credit/debit card numbers, and the 1-800 numbers to each company, so if these are stolen you can have them call and cancel them immediately. Yes, I've had to do all that too...

I also always let my bank and credit card companies know that I'm traveling, and that if there are any ridiculous charges on my account, they should not accept them. This can backfire though: at a shop in Amsterdam, my card was refused, because the company had basically put a complete lock on it during my travel days. Just be clear in your instructions, so you're not left high and dry.

Sprint (my cell company) doesn't have coverage in Ecuador, but there are other carriers that do. Find out if yours does, and let them know, before you go, that you'll need coverage, and for how many days. I think even Sprint can "rent" you a phone that will work... check it out.

Always carry a copy of your passport - lock up the original at the hotel. The police in many countries will shake you down for cash if you cannot present a copy. The last day we were in Quito the police were actively checking identification of all tenants in the Mariscal district, presumably to "clean up" the neighborhood and apprehend any "illegals." Don't give them an excuse to put you in jail.

Be prepared for the beggars. They're not your usual downtown Colorado Springs homeless dudes with the guitar and the sad story... they're young, adorably cute, and they'll make you feel like crap for being a "rich American." They will approach you in stores, on the street, and in the marketplaces. I always carry coins in my pocket for them, but if you give anything up be prepared to get out of the area quickly, or you will be inundated with the outstretched hands of a dozen grubby little kids, pleading with you to buy their candy. Leaving the artisan's market in Quito, I gave up a Sacagawea dollar to a sweet little girl of about 8, and was immediately set upon by her little sister, a very young girl, maybe 5 years old, who had horrible burn scars all over her face. Of course, another dollar... how can you not? That was my cue to get out of there - within moments their mom was at my elbow, and I was off, and thankful for a green light so I could get across the street and lose them in the crowds. I'm not a heartless person, but I can't stand on a corner and hand out dollars all day either. There are too many...

If you've never experienced poverty, either firsthand or as an observer, you might be a little rattled by the conditions and behaviors of people who have to deal with it every day. A few years back, in Paris, I was eating a sandwich on the sidewalk and was approached by a mother and her young daughter, asking for money. I had been museum-hopping all day and was worn out, and really just wanted to eat my sandwich, so I said "no" and asked her to go away. She and her daughter walked off, stood in the shadows while I finished. I wrapped up the remains and threw them in a trash can. The mother immediately rushed over, grabbed them out, and stood there over the trash, feeding the crusts of my sandwich to her young daughter. This is the kind of stuff you need to figure out how to reconcile within your own heart when you get back to the states. It sucks.

Finally... tipping. Put this in your budget. I know it's a personal choice, but I always plan for it. I was a bartender for fourteen years, and a waitress at Denny's for six months, during the late 80s recession in southern California - many people in the service industry depend on tips to feed their kids, so if you can do it, be generous. My general rule of thumb is: $1 a bag for the bellhop or anyone who moves my duffel bags; $2 a day for the hotel maid (just leave it on the pillow); $20 per peak for the alpine guide, whether I summit or not; $5 per trip for the driver; and the usual 20% for food, drinks, etc.

Above all, remember to travel with an open mind, and open heart. It will never be just what you expected, and that's the best part, really - discovering the world, discovering yourself in it. Have a great trip.

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby uwe » Fri Jul 17, 2009 1:14 pm

Tks Susan,
Should be required reading for every American thinking about traveling abroad.

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby centrifuge » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:36 am

I don't know how I missed Susanjoypauls's response! Thank you very much, thats tons of great info. With the Hotel Sierra Nevada, how have peoples experiences there been? Sounds like they have been pretty good, but I always like to get additional thoughts rather then going in without taking the time to get all the info humanly possible. We really want to do this as safely as possible, and given the response I just read, am a bit more concerned about crime then I had been before. As a point of comaprison, better or worse then Mexico City?
"i feel so extraordinary, somethings got a hold on me, I get this feeling I'm in motion, a sudden sence of liberty“ new order

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby Snowgirl » Fri Aug 28, 2009 11:36 am

Hooray! Someone is going to Ecuador!
Alright, first off I'm going to point out that I have a LOT of bias when it comes to this country. I studied abroad there (as a 20 year old female college student) and spent a summer living with a family there and working in the rural central Andean region literally at the base of Chimborazo (as a 21 year old female college student). I mention my age and my sex because it made me an easier target than most for crime. Fortunately, I never had a problem (besides having an i-Pod stolen off of a bus because I was careless). I would like to say first that I did all of my traveling, for the most part, on the Ecuadorian bus system. Everyone in the country uses it and you can have incredible conversations with people if you speak Spanish. About 95% of the people I met were incredible, warm, generous, outgoing, and above all helpful. The #1 piece of advice I can give is to keep your head up and always look like you know what you're doing. This requires some advanced planning. For example, if you do ride any buses, arrive at the bus stop 35 minutes ahead of time, locate your bus, wait until other people start getting on, then pull the driver aside and ask them to stow your bag [i]while you watch[i]. Then find a seat and enjoy the view! If you take any taxis in Ecuador, know where you're going (at least in a general direction) and also know that if you speak English they're going to ask you to pay double the normal amount. The meters are rarely, if ever, used or enforced.

I stayed in a number of hostels, both in Quito and in other parts of the Andes and again, had no problems. If you follow guidebooks they will lead you in the right direction for the most part. I'll throw it out there that going to the more expensive places also makes you a bigger target, although the staff there are trained to help foreigners with their transition. Just keep one eye on your stuff at all times. I used my 4500 cu backpack for all my traveling and kept everything tightly strapped inside the pack so it was easy to keep track of everything. As a note of precaution, I would make sure that you have insurance for your more expensive stuff before you go. My professor told us a story about having a pair of $2000 binoculars stolen that she was able to get reimbursed for through her renter's insurance. Also make sure that you have TRAVEL HEALTH INSURANCE, which includes getting you evacuated in case of an emergency. This is especially true for mountaineers, and make sure that the insurance company will cover you for such an activity. I was unfortunate enough to get stricken with a very bad case of food poisoning, which lead to a small bout in the hospital, and I was greatful for it when I needed it. Which leads me to my next topic...

The water. Don't drink it unless it's really well boiled (which takes a while at 18,000 ft. at the hut on Chimborazo), bottled, or filtered. Don't eat any ice. Make sure your food is well cooked and any fruit or vegetable is well washed. Food poisoning is not fun. Combined with altitude wooziness, even worse. In terms of altitude, Riobamba (the closest major city to Chimborazo, and also where I worked for 4 months) is at 9,000 ft. and goes up from there.

The money issue is a really good point. People will actually give you mean looks if you try to pay for a $2 item with a twenty dollar bill. Either get small bills while you're at home at your local bank, or get them exchanged at hotels. I found out the hard way that 99% of places do NOT accept traveler's checks. However, I had no problems using an ATM card. Just post someone to watch your back if you do that.

Begging is going to be constant, and the poverty is a little bit of a culture shock. Tips are NOT expected in Ecuadorian restaurants (not that someone won't take one), so you don't have to worry about that cost in restaurants. However, at hotels, with porters and/or guides it's much more institutionalized.

The best advice I can give is to enjoy your experience. It is perfectly safe to go "off the beaten path" a little bit and find fun places to stay or hot springs to soak in. The Andean region has the least amount of crime (in my experience) compared to the coast and the Amazon (if you ask the locals, they will always say their spot if the best in Ecuador). If you're in Riobamba, please check out the llama restaurant run by the village of Palacio Real, I worked with them to expand the use of llamas and alpacas in the area and eating llama (besides being REALLY tasty (sorry vegetarians!)) is not only a unique experience, but helps out the local population. Check it out at: http://eco-indextourism.org/sumak_kawsay_ec_en. Another helpful site (which has an English section) is the Chimborazo Board of Tourism: http://www.cordtuch.org.ec. I spent a lot of time in the Chimborazo region and loved every minute of it. I climbed to about 19,500 on the glacier on Chimborazo but didn't do a full ascent. It was something like five steps, breathe, five steps, breathe. : ) The view was unbelievable, though.

If you decide to go to the southern Andes (please do!) go to the city of Cuenca (also where I lived for 5 months). It's breathtakingly beautiful, a UNESCO World Heritage site and very "international". If you're there, you can easily take a bus/taxi to Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park). It is a highland grassland mountain region with easy hiking trails and amazing views. It's also the best place to pick up a handmade Panama hat, if that is your style.

If you have any more questions please PM me because I would be MORE than happy to talk to you about this amazing country. Happy planning!
Here is my favorite pictures from my time in the region:
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Llamas in the Palmyra parrish of Chimboarazo
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Sunset from midway up Chimborazo.
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Such things for example as the grasp of a child's hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover...sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind--- what else is there? What else do we need?
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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby lazyhiker » Fri Aug 28, 2009 2:07 pm

Susan, Snowgirl, Even though Cotopaxi is in my wish list :), I found your posts to be very informative. Thanks!

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby ClimbandMine » Fri Aug 28, 2009 5:12 pm

Susan and Snow girl hit it, but I'll add a bit.

My buddy and I stayed in hostels in Quito on the way in and out. I think they were on Calama? Can't remember the name of the street - it was a nice area, international, yet inexpensive. Anyway, we took buses everywhere and didn't use a guide service. We did Illiniza first, took a bus to Machachi and hitched a ride up to the trailhead. For $20 they'll pick you up when you ask. We flagged down a bus on the highway to get to Riobamba and caught a taxi (pickup) up to the huts on Chimbo.

My recommendation is not to give money to beggars. They come to Quito to exploit tourists. It is incessant, though, yes, it is heartbreaking. Prepare yourself for the poverty and keep a close eye on your stuff in crowds and on buses.
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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby Haliku » Mon Aug 31, 2009 11:16 am

centrifuge wrote:I don't know how I missed Susanjoypauls's response! Thank you very much, thats tons of great info. With the Hotel Sierra Nevada, how have peoples experiences there been? Sounds like they have been pretty good, but I always like to get additional thoughts rather then going in without taking the time to get all the info humanly possible. We really want to do this as safely as possible, and given the response I just read, am a bit more concerned about crime then I had been before. As a point of comaprison, better or worse then Mexico City?

I used Sierra Nevada for my 15 days for rooms and transportation. I'll use them again the next time I'm climbing in Ecuador. Cheers!
"You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

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Re: Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Advice

Postby astrobassman » Mon Aug 31, 2009 12:38 pm

I also recommend Sierra Nevada. That was a great place to stay. Cheeseburglar and I hit the bars for a few days after our climbs and wondered the streets and nobody tried to rob us. Watch out for the Discotecs though. Here is my trip report:

http://www.summitpost.org/trip-report/479384/christmas-at-20-700-feet.html

Shoot me an emial if you have any specific questions.

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