Ibarra and the paradise of Cotacachi

The paragliding community of Ibarra has been inviting and tempting us to come to Ibarra for a good time, since the first time we mentioned it in a group on Facebook that we are coming to Ecuador. So when we were finally close, we have already had a lot of contacts – even if we have not personally met them yet. For our stay in Ibarra, one of these wonderful people Santiago invited us to stay at his estate in Cotacachi – a really charming piece of property at the entrance to the town of Cotacachi with some bungalows, beautiful garden and some animals. We received a very warm welcome and immediately a good feeling about the next couple of days.

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Shortly upon arriving on a Tuesday afternoon we decided to take a walk to the centre of the town, and were very surprised at how clean, modern and organized this municipality below the mountain chain with volcano Cotacachi is. Apparently this is because it is a popular expat and touristy spot and famous for leather products. We walked the streets, enjoyed a tasty lunch and a cup of good coffee while absorbing the sunshine, taking it easy to and relaxing to conserve our energy for the days to come.

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The following day we were off to an early start – meeting with the local pilots at 7:30 in the centre of Ibarra, some 30 minutes drive away from where we were staying, to try to fly from the volcano Imbabura. We woke up tu very foggy weather and could only drive very slowly towards our meeting point, as visibility was so bad. We were not particularly confident about the possibility of flying that day, but then again we did not know the area at all and we have already “forgotten” about how the fog in the city in the morning works. We arrived to the meeting point, loaded our equipment to the transport vehicle and were ready for the adventure to begin. The car started and our driver – the Vichi – was amusing us with his stories along the way.

We drove and drove and our hopes were rising as we were driving up. Unfortunately, however, we soon got to the muddy section of the road, a consequence of the rain from the previous days and we could not continue anymore, staying a good part away from the take off. So no flying in Imbabura that day. But no worries – there are other mountains and other possibilities. We headed to the next one and I used up the time for some more minutes of power napping. Only the next one was already dominated by the tail wind, which meant that we couldn’t take off there either.

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But third time is the charm! We arrived to a lower but steep take off that was still covered with clouds, but where the wind and the movement of the clouds were indicating that any minute we will see what is below. We took those minutes to admire the little beauties of nature and photograph the tiny treausures our eyes could catch.

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The clouds soon cleared and we had a spectacular view in front of us: lake Yahuarcocha with green hills that surround it, tall trees, cute little houses on tops of the hills and the city of Ibarra in the distance with some remaining white heaps of clouds painted over the sky. We took off, strode through the air and enjoyed the view. After having landed we headed to the city centre and tried the famous local specialty “Fritada” and enjoyed a first glimpse of the city. And in the afternoon, we were still left with plenty of time to relax, organise things and enjoy the tranquility of Cotacachi.

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The following two days we were up for a similar programme, discovering the different take offs around the lake of Yahuarcocha and making the best of the weather that was given. Which meant flying early and then relaxing in the afternoon, waiting for the rain to come. In one of the afternoons we finally managed to visit the lake of Cuicocha, a national park with a volcano lake at an altitude of 3’200m some 20km away from Cotacachi. We were impressed by the views, enjoyed the warm sun while taking a short walk to the viewing point and studying the behaviour of the wind above the surface of the lake. There is a possibility to take a hike all the way around the lake but it takes some 4-5 hours and thus requires an early start (the park closes at 5). Yet another thing that will be left for another time…

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On the weekend, we decided to take a paragliding security course with the local pilots over the lake of Yahuarcocha. It is always good to practice extreme situations and new manouvers under supervision and above the lake and it gave us a lot of excitement as well. We were about 13 pilots in the group, all with different levels of experience and different desires what to practice and what to try. The course stretched over 2 days and we were calculating to do between 4 to 6 flights, if the weather stayed on our side. Which it didn’t, of course 🙂 the first day we were off to a somewhat late start as we had to wait for quite a while till the clouds disappeared and the wind calmed down a bit. The waiting was long enough to give me a cold, stupid me that was only wearing light clothes as instructed, in case one of the manoeuvres went bad and I would have to land in the water… But luckily no water action happened on that day, just practicing safely some descending manouvers, reaching descends of 10m/s. So I still have space for improvement here as well.

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The following day, Sunday, we woke up to a rainy morning and after waiting a while and hoping the rain would stop, the second day of training was called off and postponed to another time. While disappointed, we were happy to have a good excuse and a reason to cuddle up in bed in the room that came with the training and watch some movies.

Already almost a week in Ibarra, we started feeling the need to slowly continue the journey and cross the border to Colombia. But not before flying from the volcano Imbabura! We gave it another try on Monday, almost made it to the take off with the car this time but nevertheless hiked quite a part of the way, and waited again at the take off for the clouds to clear. And waited and waited and waited, till some hours later our hungry stomachs won the war with our stubborn heads and we ordered the car to drive down again. Oh well. 🙂

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We finally left for Colombia the next morning, richer again with a great number of new friends and some unforgettable memories.

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