Blackout on a Volcano

One month ago I inaugurated Incidents of Travel Past, stories from travels I have had before coming to Nicaragua. This post recounts my second story of Incidents of Travel Past, this time from Quito, Ecuador.

I studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador in the winter of 2009. I loved it. I liked the people I was with (including two future Peace Corps Volunteers – one of whom was in Nicaragua before me), I liked my host family, and I liked the country.

One afternoon our professor organized a trip for us to go up the TeléferiQo. The TeléferiQo is a gondola style cable car that runs up the slopes of Pichincha Volcano. Quito is a city in a valley, and Pichincha, an active volcano, is the eastern limit of the city and the valley. The TeléferiQo is apparently the third-highest cable car in the world. And the trip up can be a little nerve wracking.

IMG_4004 IMG_4005

There were about 16 of us, give or take, including one girl in a boot because she had a fracture in her foot. It was cloudy out, so the views weren’t great. I also remember getting a headache, probably due to the lack of oxygen (Quito is already the highest capital city in the world before you go up the volcano).

We were pretty into group shots

We were pretty into group shots

Sometime while we were up there a storm sprang up, and we were subjected to thunder, lightning, and hail. And then the power went out. It was still day out, so we could see, but we were stuck! The cable car wouldn’t run without electricity. So we hunkered down in a café at the top while our professor, an expressive German-Spanish septuagenarian began arguetalking with the attendants and security.

A bit later the power came back on, and we got in line to start going back down the cable car. Some of my friends got in a gondola and began the trip down, and then the power went out again. They were literally just stuck, dangling up in the air.

At this point Professor Alfred (I honestly can’t even remember his last name) starting going nuts. He was worried about the kids stuck in the gondola, he was worried about the girl with the broken foot, and he was probably stressed out because we were all flying to Peru the next day. It was getting dark out, and the security guards were telling us that we would have to hike down for more than an hour, girl with broken foot, professor, and all, while leaving our companions in the gondola to wait for the electricity to come back on. He was actually indignant that we could not do that, but the security guards had a good point: there were no other options.

Luckily, shortly before we were actually going to attempt the hike, the power came back on, and we were all able to safely get back down the volcano to the slightly less oxygen deprived city. At the bottom we found our friends who had gotten stuck in the gondola for about an hour, and they were being interviewed by the newspapers. Then we all went home. In my house the power was still out for a few hours, and it was dark out, so I remember being really bored and just sitting there doing nothing. I can’t remember why, but my host family wasn’t home, so I couldn’t sit around and chat with them.

The scene at the bottom

The scene at the bottom

The next morning we went to the airport for our flight to Peru. As we were boarding they were handing out copies of the newspaper, so we all grabbed one to see if our harrowing tale was featured. Unfortunately, Ecuador’s largest power outage since widespread electrification came to the country (I’m not kidding – something like 80% of the country was affected if I remember right) was bumped to the front page because of this:


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6 Responses to Blackout on a Volcano

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