Home > Ecuador > A fantastic tour around Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador’s Andes, Part One

A fantastic tour around Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador’s Andes, Part One

May 12, 2012

The rooms and suites at the lovely country inn, located just ten minutes from the city of Riobamba, at the center of Ecuador’s famed Avenue of the Volcanoes, in the central Andean Region, do not have numbers. Instead, they are named after the more than 50 volcanoes and high peaks which cover much of the country’s territory.

The crisp Andean morning, at near 9.000 feet above sea level, calls for a light outdoors jacket.  As I make my way to the central building, for breakfast, the rapidly disappearing mist allows for quick views of the awesome Chimborazo Volcano, rising to over 21.000 feet above sea level, its majestic white cover shining against a deep-blue sky…  Looking at the opposite direction, east of Riobamba, I can also spot, amongst a frame of eucalyptus trees, the silhouette of the ancient Altar Volcano, looking much like a monumental, seven-peaked altar, made of solid granite rock, millenary glaciers and perpetual snows.  Stunning views just to start the morning…!!!

After a hearty buffet breakfast, featuring exotic Ecuadorian fruit juices and fruits; we shove our suitcases into the van’s luggage compartment, as Willy, the driver, cheerfully greets us.  Marco, Jimena and I hop onto the van, ready for a unique road trip taking us around the legendary colossus, Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest mountain and the planet’s farthest peak from the center of earth, and closest to the sun; due to its Equatorial location. A still sleepy Riobamba shows us its colonial architecture as we cross through the center of town on this pretty Saturday morning.  We leave the Pan-American Highway and take a paved branch of it, heading west.  At each new angle of the road we get a new and more impressive view of the giant mountain, a humongous volcanic edifice; its three sequenced summits looking like giant scoops of vanilla ice-cream.  Lucky we are, with a clear morning, just dotted with a few whitish clouds and the backdrop of an intensely blue equatorial sky.
Marco tells us about the life of the rural communities we pass by.  Dedicated to farming and cattle rising, the Indian population is laborious and quiet; yet they display all the colorfulness of their traditional ponchos and women’s skirts, particularly on the designated market days on each one of the larger villages of the area. We noticeably start climbing as we follow the good paved road, looking at the amazing terraces cultivated mainly with vegetables, maize, wheat and potatoes.  As we go higher, the brownish background of the volcanic terrain looks like a surrealistic painting, dotted with patches of green and gold colors.

We reach San Juan, an indigenous community that lives in daily communion with the majestic Chimborazo.  For decades, perhaps centuries, many inhabitants of this area dedicated themselves to the hard job of climbing up to the volcano’s glaciers; to bring down, over their backs, just on rustic “yute” (a natural plant fiber) sacks, large chunks of ice from the mountain to serve as a natural refrigerating element to conserve food produce and later, even to use in local variations of popsicles, covered with native fruit juices.

The legendary “icemen of the Chimborazo”, became so famous that books, documentaries and movies told their amazing stories.  Nowadays, very few “icemen” still carry on regularly with the ancestral practice.

Now we leave the main road and take on a secondary dirt road, for a short stretch, uphill, taking us to a tourist mountain lodge, precisely owned by Marco and Jimena.  The property nicely mixes, on the architecture of its cabins and buildings, materials, colors and décor, touches of Andean with touches of Alpine… The large estate, located right on the southeastern flank of Chimborazo Volcano, is home to hundreds of llamas, vicunas and alpacas, the Andean camels, tenderly cared for by Marco, his wife and their staff.  A first encounter with these gentle mountain mammals allow us for some good pictures with the phenomenal background of Mount Chimborazo, now closer to its summit and just a few hundred yards away from the snowline and the lower tips of the startling glaciers, rolling down the giant’s slopes.  It is slightly past mid-morning and, in spite of the sunshine, the wind howls strongly and the temperature reminds us that we are well over 14.000 feet above sea level, at the foothills of an Andean volcano. This story will continue on the next issue….

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