Quilotoa Loop

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
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Trip End Sep 04, 2011


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Where I stayed
Llullu Llama
Hostal Tiana
Hostal Cloud Forest

Flag of Ecuador  , Cotopaxi,
Friday, October 22, 2010

Here I was in a town of Latacunga, approx 2 hrs bus ride south of Quito. I must admit that Ecuadorian roads are in a very good shape, at least the one between Quito and Latacunga, allowing buses to be cheap and fast transportation means. I wanted to get on the express bus, which does not stop in every town, but the ticket seller somehow tricked me, so here I was on "ordinario bus". But why to regret, as I was about to experience another never-boring ride with the locals. You just must love when all those street vendors get on the bus, and start selling anything from drinks and grilled food to door locks. I have witnessed already in Nicaragua that a bus drive allows some fellow to have a presentation of his merchandise in between two bus stops. This time one guy was trying to sell diet cookies, and the second one some herbal tables. It works the way that a salesman stands in the aisle close to the bus driver, and starts talking about his product. Then he usually hands out samples to those interested, and keeps on brain-washing passengers. At the end he goes down the aisle, and either takes the samples back, or collects money. It is really fun to watch. In Europe, we have those stupid TV teleshopping sessions. Here, they have them live on buses.

At 7.30pm the bus reached Latacunga, my base and a planning station for my upcoming 3-day hiking trip. This multi-day Lonely Planet's hike, called the Quilotoa Loop, takes you in the middle of Ecuadorian Andes allowing you to walk between small traditional highland villages, and to see some breathtaking sceneries.  The trip started in the morning of the next day (Thursday) by taking a bus to town called Saquisili. Every Thursday this town is a home of one of the most important indigenous markets in Ecuador. On this day inhabitants of remote mountain villages, most of them are easily recognized by wearing felt porkpie hats and colorful ponchos, descend to Saquisili to sell their crop, livestock, or craftwork. Just imagine hundreds of Indian farmers, or craftsmen offering their products in three big market places located across the town. What is being sold?.... fruits, vegetables, clothes, pots made of used tyres, furniture, sheep skin,  coal, pigs, chickens, guinea-pigs, etc. In short, almost anything you need for your day-to-day life in Andes. Do you need to repair your clothes?  Go to the tailor corner. Over there you could find a few tailors working on those old-fashioned sewing machines used by our grand-mums. The main market had also a big canteen area where local “chefs” were cooking, roasting or steaming local delicatessen like pig heads and chicken talons. No wonder that I also got hungry. So I bought myself some kind of mix of steamed beans and corn with a bit of onion.  How was it served to me? The lady simply used her hands. And why not, fuck the sterile Europe!

 Being at this market was one big thrilling cultural experience.  Seeing it also made you realize that life is tough for those people. They cannot rely on well-paid jobs, social support from a state, or anything else.  They have to make their living through hard work on their fields, and then selling what is left.

To reach my final destination for this day, village Isinlivi, I had to make 11 am bus from Saquisili. If missed, I would have to backtrack back to Latacunga, and take the bus from there. I was lucky to bump into a Spaniard who got married to an Ecuadorian girl. He was a great help in finding the bus, which was leaving from the other side of the town. As he said: “We Europeans must help each other”.  Not surprisingly, the bus was full of indigenous Indians returning back with their purchases from the market. One of those “packages”, which was loaded into the luggage area, was a couple of quite big pigs. You should have heart their squeaking.  It seemed that they are being slaughtered, not put on, or rather, in the bus.  Another story of its own was the bus ride. As expected, the road was one dirt and rocky track, which started to wind up to the hillside after half an hour. After a while, the bus was cruising along deadly steep Andean slopes. I was just hoping that its breaks will not by any mean fade away. The fact is that the local drivers do not use engine to break up, just breaks by itself. So you can imagine what could happen, if breaks fail……nice rolling down Andean slopes. But not to burden your attention only with such catastrophic scenarios, let me give more “fertile” story. Local women feel very natural breast-feeding in public. There was one cute, and I suppose very young, Indian mum with her baby. I did not pay much attention to her, as I was sitting a few rows in front of her. But when I turned back she and her baby was sleeping, and her breast was still out of her blouse. Yes, even this can be seen on Ecuadorian buses.

Coming back to the Quilotoa Loop hike. After 2hr, we reached the village of Isinlivi, a home for approx. 80 inhabitants. It is a very small village with just a few houses, but still with an elementary and high-school. You have just one sleeping option if there, a Dutch owned hostel called Llulu-Llama. As usual, in the case I travel off-beaten path, I was the only guest there, so do not expect any great socializing stories. The place is currently run by a Dutch couple who has been working there for 4 months while travelling around South America. Really nice people who kept me a company, and gave me precious advice how to proceed with the hiking part of the Quilotoa Loop. And the locals?! I must say that they are very nice. Everybody smiles at you, says buenos dias/tardes (even small kids).The village lifestyle is so seductive, and refreshing.

The next day after breakfast, I grabbed my back-pack, and set off to hike to the next mountain village called Chugchilan.  It was a nice and enjoyable walk through the Andean countryside, which allowed me to feel remoteness, and to enjoy tranquility of the mountains. It was just me, my backpack and a few cows met along the way.  The hike was not so demanding except of the super steep walk up the canyon above Itualo village. I was out of a juice once I made it all the way up there. Over here, a local carpenter started talking to me, and even took me inside of his house to show me his work. He seemed to be happy to talk to a foreigner.  Pity I did not understand him much.  From the top of canyon, it was only 45 minutes to Chugchilan.  I have checked in the Chugchilan’s hostel called Cloud Forest. There I met freshly graduated German high-school student  who have been teaching English as a volunteer at two nearby schools. It was an interesting talk during which I got some insider info about the local people and how they live.  She said that Indian girls usually get married at age of 14 or 15, have kids, work hard on their field, and take care of their families. The environment and culture in which they live actually somehow forces them to give up the freedom very soon. From that reason they look much older than they are. It is admirable what she (the German girl) signed up for, as I somehow could not picture myself living 8 months in the mountains, not having any friends there, etc. But life is a challenge, is not it ;-).

From Chugchilan, it was another 5-7 hours hike to reach one of the most staggering site in Ecuador and my final destination, Laguna Quilotoa. It is a stunning volcanic lake crater laying at the altitude of 3,914 m. The crater has diameter of 9 km, and its water is known for having greenish color due to all those dissolved minerals. Air distance between Chugchilan and the Laguna rim is not big, but to get there you have to go around a long canyon. In order to reach end of the canyon, I had to hike up the hills for the first three hours . Lonely Planet says: “Do yourself a favor and leave your backpack at a hostel, and take just essential”. Now I know what they meant. Hiking with 15kg on my back, and another 2 kg in my daypack was really tough. Mountain altitude, the sun, and weight of my backpack made this hike truly unforgettable. At one point I had to make an effort not to be over-passed by an old local granny walking with her two donkeys. After those three hours, when I was finally about to descent down to the other side of the canyon platform, I bumped into a standing local bus full of the Indians returning from the Saturday market in Zumbahua. The driver talked me to get on the bus (I suppose to make one more dollar of a profit). So I hopped in, and …….and smelled that terrible odor lingering in the entire bus. I do not know how to describe it, but for sure it was the smelliest bus I have ever travelled on. The smell cause was obvious – a lot of sacks loaded on the bus roof, as well as in the aisle inside. You could not walk in the isle without stepping on them. As a bonus, I noticed that there was another “passenger” on the bus roof. Check pics to see who it was J. After a few lengthy stops to disembark cargo from the bus, the driver dropped me off at the bottom of Quilotoa crater. From there it was only one more hour on the crater rim. As the slope was steep, I had again a lot of “fun” walking up with my backpack. Fortunately for me it was Saturday, so I could stop at few kids tending cattle. By looking at them you could understand what poverty means. They were dirty like shit, usually working hard by chasing their cattle herds, and in a few cases bagging for a food, or a candy. I was instructed not to give them anything, but if you have a bit of feelings you must have disobeyed it.  You should have seen the face a shepherd girl (on the picture with her 2 dogs) when I gave her a pack of biscuits. She was simply very happy (author’s note: she was not bagging, I just felt obliged giving her something for allowing me to take picture of her).

After all that effort, I reached the top of Quilotoa lake. And guess what was the first thing which I did……sat down in the middle of dusty track and inhaled beauty of the moment. From there it was another 1hr to reach touristy Quilotoa village. I intended to spend there a night initially, but there was really nothing to do besides looking at the lagoon. So I hopped on a track which took me to Zumbahua, from it directly on Latacunga bus, and from it (literally) on Ambato bus.  All that to take a night bus to Cuenca.

Sorry for those who had to read another boring blog about hiking, but it is my blog, and I sincerely enjoyed hiking throughout Andean countryside.

Greeting from Cuenca, Ecuador
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