Choosing the perfect Volcano
Ecuador is known for its volcanoes, some reaching more than 5000m in altitude. However, the higher up, the colder it gets and the more snow/ice there is. We thought it would be nicer to see an active volcano rather than one which looks more or less like a normal mountain so we checked the activity, looking for some with code orange or red. Code orange means that the volcano erupts several times a day, bur rather local (along the crater) than 'all over the place'. We found a beauty called the 'Reventador' in the Northern part of Ecuador, in the Eastern Andes. Reventador translated in English means something like 'the exploder' or 'the ripper' ....so far so good, expectations on our side where high!
While we knew we might be unlucky when it comes to climbing the volcano as eruptions are unpredictable (I like it hot but I do not wish to bath in boiling lava, no thanks!). For your information, during a big eruption in 2002, stones as big as cars were spit into the sky for kilometers... if you can imagine. Nevertheless, we still preferred seeing an active one so off we went, several hours bus ride again. The Reventador is not so popular among tourists as it is not easy to reach. If you ever plan on going, you need to take the bus towards Lago Agrios and get off in the national parked called Sucumbios, which is also where the highest waterfall of Ecuador is located as well as a very big cave called 'Cuevas de los Tayos' which is said to lead all the way to Chile;) .
The only accommodation available is the Hosteria Reventador, which is rather expensive but has 3 different viewpoints for watching the volcano. In addition, you can book a tour from there through the jungle to a camp site at the bottom of the volcano- depending on the eruptions, you can continue from there a little bit up the Reventator. This was the route we had originally planned.
The time we went through the jungle to see the caves - and failed
On our first day we decided to visit the caves with a Swiss couple, so we started exploring. After a first failed attempt by the bus driver to rip us off on the bus by trying to overcharge us (always ask locals how much a trip roughly costs, so that you can see if you are being ripped off or not! This is what we always do and it works.), we got off near the 'cuevas de los tayos', unfortunately just a restaurant carrying the same name as the caves. So we continued walking for 'two more houses'- which in the middle of nowhere is equivalent to 20-30 minutes and finally reached a sign pointing at a way towards the cave. So we started walking and walking, the way became smaller and smaller until you could hardly call it a way or even a path anymore. We continued nevertheless, crossed several little rivers and finally arrived a 'not so intact' bridge.
This is how all the scary movies start...
Brave Johannes decided to go ahead and see if it is the right way - and this is how all the scary movies start, a group of teenagers, walking in the forrest, all happy, until they get lost and to the dumbest thing ever which is splitting up. So we followed the scary movie screen plays, split up, Johannes went ahead. After about 15 min (at least this is what it felt like), we screamed his name- no response. The evil witch must have eaten him alive- so our other guy called Tino went a little bit after him, while us girls waited at the bridge. Tino couldn't find Johannes and he came back. Eventually, Johannes managed to escape the evil witch and also found his way back, so we decided to turn around and follow another path in a different direction.
Up the hill and down the hill again....we walked and walked...and made enough breadcrumbs jokes and scary movie associations to fill a whole afternoon. We also found a broken rake, a hammer made out of steel which could have belonged to Thor himself judging by the weight and a chisel - oh enough material for another movie in which everybody dies, how great! Finally we met a family at the end of our way which led into the river and they stated that the other way with the bridge must have been the right one. So eventually we gave up and called it a defeat. We will see the caves from Chile one day, whatever...
Up the hill again, we took another bus to a nice waterfall called 'cascada magica' to check if it is just as magical as the name suggests it to be and we were not disappointed this time!!
Our 10 hour hike through the jungle to find the volcano- and how we failed (again)
On our second day, we woke up around 4:30am in order watch the volcano Reventador in the dark (this is how you can spot lava the best). At 6:00 am sharp, we started our tour through the jungle with our tour guide Juan and his machete. Usually it is supposed to take about 4hrs to reach the camp and another 1hr along the volcano, and then back again. As nobody had been up the road for a while (last time several months ago a group of discoverers went there), the 'path' was closed, trees had fallen and the plants had grown as they do in the jungle. Instead of 3.5hrs for the first part, it took us 6 hours in total, partly due to the very very very bad condition of the road (double check before booking tour!). Hiking up hill along rivers, through bushes and falling in big wholes is something you can basically count on on this trip ( I fell into a whole which was up to my hip, thankfully only with one leg). So around 1pm we decided to turn around , firstly because of the bad road and as we did not know if we would make it back by daylight, but secondly because of the clouds and rain which really reduced the visibility.
Just for your information, hiking in the jungle next to a volcano that is erupting several times is such a crazy feeling, because you can hear something is happening, but you cannot see it- totally spooky and stunning at the same time and it takes a while to get used to!
However, having to start your journey back home without any kind of reward can be very saddening. Seeing footprints of bears, 'little tigers' tigrillo in Spanish and Lynx' in English ) and wild boars are however motivation enough to walk uphill and downhill as fast as you can and to try to make it back home before it gets dark, I can tell you that! Need further motivation? NO problem! What about hearing from your guide that he forgot his walkie-talkie at home? That works also very well, I promise you that!!!
So after a little more than 10 hrs up and down the jungle, about 30 mosquito bites later (all for me, despite using DEET for clothes and the body as well as long sleeves), we finally got back home, hungry and disappointed, but safe. One amazing enlightenment was to see is how we foreigners need to rely on GPS to find our way, whereas our Guide just used the mountains for orientation:)
The good thing, however, is that we got a free upgrade to a very beautiful casita with view of the volcano and decided to call it a night. Next morning, we got up early, this time at 4:00 am , to praying for an eruption and we got rewarded!!! We saw the volcano erupting massively, it was breathtaking and so fast that we did not manage to take a picture. then it happened again, and you could see the lava flowing down from the crater to the valley- It has been the most amazing thing both of us have ever seen! We spent about 3 hrs outside, from pure darkness to sunrise to daylight, to watch that beauty erupt over and over again!
On our last day we went to Cascada San Rafael, the highest waterfall in Ecuador. Unfortunately, due to some turbines which started operating this year, the water amount seems to have decreased a lot, but it was nevertheless impressive to watch.