12th May to 16th May
12.05.2014 - 16.05.2014
We woke up and had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Quito, before getting a bus on the so-called “trolley” service for an hour down to the southern bus station. The bus was utterly crammed and made London’s tubes look spacious! We were so packed in that a poor old lady’s face was crammed up against Matt’s bag. The service is apparently rife with pickpockets and no wonder why; you couldn’t move even if you felt that someone was poking around in your pockets! We eventually made it and took an onward bus to Latacunga, the starting point for the famous Quilotoa Loop which is an area renowned for its wonderful hiking through mountains of up to 3800 metres. We arrived into Latacunga in the mid-afternoon and went for a Lonely Planet special place called Hostel Tiana which was quite nice with quirky rooms. The rest of the day was spent sorting out our stinky laundry from the Amazon and planning out trek. We repacked our stuff so that we could leave some at the hostel and take less with us on the walk. We also found a little restaurant that was serving cerviche which is raw fish marinated in some punchy, citrusy sauce – it was gorgeous!
The next morning we headed to the bus station quite early to get to the start of the hike in the village of Quilotoa. The village itself is nothing more than a tiny indigenous hamlet that revolves around tourism with loads of hostels and little shops run by the local indigenous community. Right next to the hamlet is the famous Quilotoa Lake, which is a massive crater lagoon around 2miles wide and at 3800 meters high. We stopped in the village and were encouraged by the bus conductor to look at one particular hostel that had quite expensive rooms. We asked for something cheaper and the lady took us to the hostel next door which had rooms that were exactly the same but $10 dollars cheaper ($30 for two people including breakfast and dinner!). Once we settled in and sorted our stuff out, we headed round the corner to the famous lake. We were really lucky with the weather as it was mostly clear with only a few clouds in the distance, so the view we got of the lake was utterly spectacular (some people arrive and can’t even see it as it’s so misted over). We both agreed that it was one of the most incredible sights we have seen on our travels. The crater rim is full of craggy rocks and there is a steep descent down to the turquoise-green water that changes colours as the sun moves across. It was quite amazing. After taking in the view, we walked down to the lake itself and tried to rent out a canoe but the guy didn’t have any change. So instead we lay in the sun and took in the tranquillity and silence of the place. Towards the end of the afternoon, we made the one and a half-hour hike back up the crater to the rim. At that altitude it really was a really exhausting walk, but we made it to the top albeit very breathless. After chilling out and taking in the view again we headed back to the hostel for dinner. There we met two other really nice couples: Brayton and Jen from Australia and New Zealand, and Keil and Jenny (from England) who were also doing the same walk as us tomorrow, so we decided to attempt it together. The night time in Quilotoa was freezing cold, so we tried to get a fire going in our burner in the room but the guy only used paraffin so the wood stopping burning when the paraffin ran out! We had loads of blankets though, so we managed to snuggle up warm in bed.
The next morning we had breakfast and headed off on our first long trek to a village called Chugchilán about 12kms away. The walk started around the edge of the crater where we needed to get to the northern-most point. However, the maps and instructions we had were awful and so we quickly got lost by taking a path off the crater that led us down into the valley. We ran into an indigenous woman who started trying to lead us in a particular direction, but we had been warned that a woman called Maria lures tourists in, gets them lost and then a “guide” comes to send you on the right route (for a charge of course!). So we ignored her and found our way back to the top of the rim – the fact that she followed us for most of the way implies that she probably was this Maria woman! Eventually we found the right path and were on our way. The rest of the walk was really nice apart from the odd downpour of rain and really misty conditions where we couldn’t see anything. We did arrive at a canyon with spectacular views though, and had to descend into it which was quite cool. When we reached the river at the bottom, the path going back up on the other side of the canyon and the bridge were completely washed away because of the rain. The locals had built a bridge from 3 logs that also looked like it was about to wash away. So we had to climb up a muddy cliff face on all fours to get to the path at the top that eventually lead us to Chugchilán. The walk took us around 7 hours and we arrived wet but safe and sound at a lovely hostel called Cloud Forest. They had very nice rooms and a lovely chillout area with a fire to dry our clothes, a TV and DVD player, and a pool table which Brayton and Matt took advantage of. After a tasty three course dinner, we decided to chillout and watch a film. However, most of the DVDs were missing so we ended up watching Goldeneye (which still is a classic!).
The next day Susanne and I decided to stay around the hostel with Brayton and Jen while Keil and Jenny headed off very early from their hostel to catch a local market in a nearby town. After breakfast, we all decided to do a hike that looped around the village of Chugchilán. Once again the weather wasn’t great and it was so misty that there were next-to-no views. We were headed to a cheese factory that was through a little village which looked very mysterious as it was completely shrouded in mist. However, the cheese factory was shut so it was a bit of a wasted walk. We didn’t quite make it back to Chugchilán in time as it started chucking it down with rain and we were once again soaked. The staff were very friendly again though and let us dry all our clothes by the fire. The evening was spent chilling out again near the fire and watching The Impossible which we managed to find stuffed away in a corner. The film is about the tsunami in Thailand and it really was a shocking, but brilliantly done movie. It sent us to sleep on a bit of a downer though!
The next day Susanne and I needed to get to a small town called Sigchos where we could catch our bus back to Latacunga, and Brayton and Jen were off to another village called Islinivi. Half of the walk was the same though, so we headed off together. Before we left we confirmed the route with a German guy who was volunteering at the hostel which turned out to be a big mistake! We headed out of Chugchilán following the instructions and map, only to find that we had taken the main road and missed the apparently “obvious” path that lead down into the valley. We walked on the road for nearly an hour before realising that something was wrong. We bumped into a local woman coming the other way and she said that to walk the road to Sigchos could take hours and hours, so we decided to back track and lost about two hours on our journey. This was a bit of a pain as Susanne and I needed to catch a four o’clock bus back to Latacunga. Eventually we found the right path and after a couple more times getting confused over the awful instructions, we were on our way. Despite the odd bit of rain, the rest of the walk was through spectacular scenery along the river and through the mountains. Some parts of the river were flooded which meant the paths were either swampy or flooded in certain places, which made the walk quite tricky. Half way along we said our farewells to Brayton and Jen and then continued on alone. Eventually we reached the road that headed up to Sigchos, tired and conscious that we would probably miss our bus. We stopped a guy driving in a pick-up to check that we were on the right road and he said yes and gave us a lift! It turns out that this is common as he picked up another lady on the way and had already picked up someone who was in the car when we got on! So we made it to Sigchos in good time and managed to catch our bus back to Latacunga. When we arrived in Latacunga we grabbed one of the cheaper dorm rooms which was in a cute little cave downstairs and chilled out for the rest of the evening. Next it’s off to Baños where we will celebrate our first wedding anniversary!