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In High Places

kicker rock
kicker rock
High altitude? No problem. I've been to Park City, Utah, I've climbed a mountain in New Zealand. So I was totally unprepared for altitude sickness.

Quito is nearly 9,000 feet up and for the first day or so I felt fine. I was walking a lot and enjoying the sites of old town. On the 3rd day, I met up with our guide Jonathan and a fellow tourist, Marina, and we drove to Otavalo.

On the way we stopped at small towns to see marzipan decorations being made, special biscuits, the center of the earth at the equator line, and then to this beautiful large lake, Laguna de San Pablo.

We settled for the night at Hacienda Pinsaqui, constructed in 1790. An other-worldly place, old, beautiful, full of antiques, gardens for strolling, even horses for riding. We were served tea with cinnamon and something decidedly more potent mixed in. We were treated to live Andean music and I bought the CD.

In the morning I was feeling pretty rocky, but totally game to go on. We went to the Otavalo Market where I hoped to score hand woven fabrics. Sadly, the market seems to be overrun with many commercially made goods and not of the highest quality materials. I did buy some belts from the lovely ladies shown seated here.

On our way back to Quito, we had to stop the car a number of times...let's just leave it at that! I felt much better the next morning after a long night's sleep and some altitude medication.

My next high place was the only fresh water lake on San Cristobal, and a nesting site for frigates. We hiked through some mud to reach the lake in the highlands and saw frigates flying over, coming in and out of the mist. The island highlands are misty, drizzly, green and beautiful.

We flew to Santa Cruz island on the teeny tiny plane shown here. People have asked me if I was scared. I was not. It was exhilarating and I think I grinned the whole time. I wasn't even worried when the pilot crossed himself when he started up. Not a problem to have a faithful man flying your plane!

The last high place was on Isabela. We were headed up to see the caldera, on Sierra Negra. We knew it would be muddy. Oh, but not this muddy! On the way up, we all tried to stay on the drier parts and I was using walking sticks kindly loaned to me by fellow travelers. I fell 5 times total. Well, not fell so much as just slipped out and down into the mud. Everyone fell at least once except for Oswaldo, our guide, who seemed to just skip along. The photo shows Oswaldo pointing out where the caldera is and we can sort of see as the mist cleared for about 20 seconds. We tried another location around the rim but never really got a clear view.

On the way down, I gave up trying for the drier parts and just slogged through it, up to my shins at times. Somehow, this whole experience was tremendously satisfying and even fun. Maybe it's just that I am proud of making it. Or the lure of foreign spots, or the mystery of obscured locations.

Covered in mud, we returned to the hotel and marched into the ocean in our clothes to get the worst of the mud off. I stripped off everything and took it to the lovely laundress around the corner, handing her this pile of muddy stuff and I just said ''Sierra Negra''. She said, ''Ah, si!'' When I returned for the shoes and clothes they were totally brand new again. And the counter in the laundry was covered with many pairs of others' drying shoes, all of which had been in the Sierra Negra.

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