On Friday we had a wonderful hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya, a nearly 14,000 foot remnant of a dormant volcano near Otavalo. We had heard so much about the important role that volcanoes serve in Ecuador–we now wanted to experience the spine of Ecuador and the Andean highlands first-hand.
Our guide was Vinicio, an indigenous Otavalan, who shared with us the beautiful mountain and its significance to the Ecuadorian people. We started in Otavalo and drove through the farms and ranches (fincas) that dominate the Andean foothills. We started the hike at Caricocha Lake, which is part of the Mojanda Lakes and is the caldera for the ancient volcano called Mojanda. In Ecuador, the trails generally go straight up the hill as there are not many switchbacks as we are accustomed in the U.S. As we were scrambling up near the summit, it became very cloudy (nublado), thus we had the full Andean highlands experience. Fuya Fuya is 4,265m, or 13,986’ above sea level. From the top–when it is clear between clouds passing by–you can see the three Mojanda lakes and other well-known nearby volcanoes: Cotapaxi, Cayambe, Antisana, and the craters of Cotacachi and Imbabura. You can also see the nearby cities of Otavalo and Quito in the distance.
The Andes highlands in Ecuador are made up of a series of volcanoes with 10 peaks higher than 5,000 meters and another 12 higher than 4,000 meters. In 1744, the Charles-Marie de la Condamine expedition believed that Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo (6,310m, 20,564’), was the highest peak in the world. Although we now know it is not the highest peak, by its location along the equator, its summit is still the furthest point from the center of the earth.
The Andes are part of the American Cordillera, which are the large mountains that form the western part of South, Central and North America from Chile to Alaska, including the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range in the U.S. In Ecuador, the Andes split to form the Cordillera Occidental (West) and the Cordillera Oriental (East). The Pan-American Highway goes through the center of the two ranges and is called the Avenue of the Volcanoes. These volcanoes are the spine for Ecuador, as east of the mountains is the lush Amazon basin and west the mountains drop dramatically to the cloud forests and rivers forming the coastal plain of Ecuador on the Pacific Ocean.
These volcanoes and the Andes draw mountaineers from throughout the world to challenge their skills and partake in this spectacular part of the world. The volcanoes have also inspired the written word as can be seen in Volcanic Reflections: A Bilingual Anthology of Contemporary Ecuadorian Poetry (2011, edited by Ronald Haladyna).
Posted by David Guy