“What place would you advise me to visit now?” he asked. “The planet Earth,” replied the geographer. “It has a good reputation.” — Antoine De Saint Exupéry
Last month I had the opportunity to visit South America for a couple weeks. Previously I had only been as far South as Central Mexico, and visiting a country named for the dividing line between the North and South hemispheres of the planet was something I could not resist doing. Ecuador is the Spanish word for “equator”, and while the capital city of Quito does not lie exactly on the line of the equator it is at the center of the country as its cultural and governmental hub. Beyond the cultural attractions and daily metropolitan activities are many active and dormant volcanoes that provide hiking and climbing opportunities to those so inclined. One of the lesser volcanoes is Rucu Pichincha, after which the Pichincha Province is named. Its summit is at 15413 feet, but a tram ride takes you to above 13,000′ feet from a tram station very near to the city center.
I decided a trip to Quito would not be complete without heading up the tram ride and trying the hike. A fifteen minute or so tram ride ensued. This afforded views of the sprawl of Quito stretching from north to south in the Pichincha valley and brought me at last to the high station. Disembarking, I could sense first the cooler air and following that the lack of oxygen, as everything seemed to require more energy. The first thing you see on the nature trail is the what is supposedly the world’s highest catholic church. A few more minutes of hiking brought me to a corral of horses and mules that are used for those that want to take the lazy route higher up.
Feeling only slightly lazy and interested in getting a bit of a workout, I continued up the trail. Rather steep inclines are followed by flat areas which offer a little bit of rest for the lungs, although the altitude definitely became apparent as I gained elevation. After a little over two hours of hiking, along with requisite breaks, I reached my high point at above 14,400 feet. I was at the base of the rocky section of the volcano. As the final portion required scrambling and was inherently dangerous for those not adapted, I decided to adapt to a sitting position and took in an excellent view of the city, various Andean volcanoes, unique plant growth, and spotted what looked like a hawk riding the thermal air currents high above me. The experience of the Rucu trail was enjoyable and ultimately very rewarding. I felt as if I had a good taste of the Andes range, as well as an excellent view of the city from above. In addition I hiked to the highest elevation I had ever reached, admittedly with some help from the tram ride.
Elaine Pinkerton is a Santa Fe, New Mexico author whose works include fiction and nonfiction. Seeing the world through adoption-colored glasses, she blogs on alternate Mondays about life, travel, hiking and Comments invited!