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The South American Dream A long time coming...

Quilotoa Loop - volcano in the sun!

ECUADOR | Saturday, 4 June 2011 | Views [2825]

I jumped on a bus leaving Quito for Latacunga, the main point of departure for the Quilotoa Loop, straight away.  I was pretty excited about doing the loop as I´d heard lots of good things about it, and its one of the top things to do in Ecuador, along with the Galapagos and the Galapagos was amazing! It took about 2 hours to get to Latacunga on the bus, I then jumped into a cab and before I knew it I was shivering in a Latacunga hostel.  It was pretty cold even there, and I knew it would be getting much colder, the higher in altitude I went!! Luckily I had been given a set of recommendations for hostels and places to stay along the way so I didn´t have to think, just check in and have another snooze!

Before long, a German guy walked in, Yan, he had been working on an Organic Farm that produced chocolate for the last 5 months and was keen to do the loop as well in preparation for Cotopaxi, he was way out of my league in terms of trekking but he was happy to join me in my expedition to see the volcano that is Quilotoa.  Don´t worry, it is not active but has a massive lake in it so no harm was likely to come!

We had a wonder around the town of Latacunga and it was pretty nice place...

even the bank was nice...

Other colonial buildings were pretty good too...

After filling up on chicken, an early night was needed for our trek out to the starting point of the loop, Isilivi. Luckily the bus didn´t leave until 1pm so it gave me time to go and get a warm hat, I bought with me all my warm clothes, unlike the last time I went trekking in Nepal...Annapurna trek, highest point 5416m and the warmest thing I had with me was a long sleeved t-shirt...oops!

The bus journey to Isilivi was a scenic one as we headed into the mountains, the roads got narrower, as more and more people got on the bus. We were heading into the clouds.  Now, I´ve always been excited about being in clouds, firstly because I thought you could live in them up in the sky (e.g. with no ground, just in the clouds) and secondly that they´d be warm and flurry.  Let me get this straight, you can´t live in them in the sky but you can live in them very high up in the mountains, however they are in no way warm and fluffy.  Clouds are cold and wet, a bit like cold dew on a winters morning really, and you can't really see anything much in-front of you!

Our journey was a good one and we arrived safe and sound.  I´d been advised the only hostel there was $18 but you could stay with a local family for $9 (inc dinner and breakfast - bargain).  We opted against the hostel and went to find the local family, we found them after inquiring around, well, Yan did (luckily he spoke a lot more Spanish than I did).  The family was a couple, a local school teacher, who taught woodwork and had a small farm with sheep, pigs, and corn and the loveliest house and his wife, who cooked for us the most delicious Almuerzo (South American set meal of soup, juice and chicken or fish with rice, potatoes and a small salad).

It had a great view...

Inside the house was amazing, they had an annex perfect for guests to stay...

We left our stuff and headed out to explore the village and the surround farms...

The village...

The church was lovely

Inside Isilivi church

I also picked up some peanuts which I thought may be good sustenance for the journey which lay ahead.

Finally we came back to wrap up warm before dinner was served.  We had dinner with the wife, unfortunately I can't remember her name, which is frustrating as she was so kind.  It was very lucky I was traveling with someone who spoke great Spanish as I would´ve struggled to get by as conversationally, Spanish isn't my strong point. I understand more than I can say, even though its still limited. Thank goodness for the Germans!

Next morning we got up earlier, although not too early as we understood the trek should be 3-4 hours that day, so headed off about 9am past the hostel, and down a track towards the river.

Past the river, we went through a few farms

before heading up a hill, and round a corner, where we got the most amazing view...

We continued on and the path led down past some more farms, before heading round another corner and to a cliff.

We walked along a cliff for a while, just before a pile of mud I saw a path down which looked promising but Yan was convinced it was the other way.  As I hadn't been getting directions from people and knew little Spanish I took his lead.  We also didn't have a detailed map so headed on along the cliff, we kept going along the top of the steep cliffs...

...and met no-one.  Once we did and they confirmed we were going in the right direction.  Heading on for a while longer I realised we must be really near as it had been just under 4 hours, we then found someone else to ask and he said we were going the wrong way!!  He said we'd been going the wrong way for a while and we should go back and find away across the valley.  The edges were long and steep and the prospect of having to go down, across a fierce river on a broken bridge and then back up the other side wasn't great, but it was what we had to do.  So we set off again...

Back along the cliff, and found a route down, although it was definitely not a route usually used by many, progress was fairly swift, although I did slow us down, being a girl and generally a bit slow.  We eventually found our way to the bottom through a series of higldy pigldy paths.  Once at the bottom, the next challenge was the river.  We saw the broken bridge, and the crazy river, far too strong to cross without one, we headed along the river in the direction we wanted to go and found a log.  This reminded me of the last trek I was on, in Colombia, however I had no choice but to go over this one. 

The German took my bag and I crawled across the log, I was exhausted, we both were, so we took a break and my bag rolled away, nearly falling into the river but Yan saved it just in time!!  A close call as it had ALL my important things in!!

The next step was to climb the other steep edge of the valley.  It took over an hour and was exhausting, the combination of walking a long time, much longer than expected, and the altitude made it difficult.  We kept nearly reaching the top and then seeing someone who told us it was just a bit further,

this happened twice before finally meeting another helpful Ecuadorian.  He said we were about an hour and a half off form our destination, Chungchilan and that it was back the way we came!! This wasn't what we hoped for or expected and we had then been walking 6 hours so were getting quite tired.  He suggested instead of going to our original destination, to go to San Pedro, a place not on our terrible map, but only half an hour's walk away.  We thought we could always stay at someone's house again, and the thought of having to climb down that hill again (and then up again the following morning) really persuaded us to follow this new, unknown route!

So, off we went, on another journey, this took us along much flatter ground around the other side of the valley

And through trees and flowers

We were walking for about 45 mins before we met someone, knowing Ecuadorian time was always inaccurate I knew we were still on the right track, and this person confirmed it would be another 20 mins, so we continued on.  We were exhausted and both stopped taking photos a while back. Another 40 mins later, I was nearly starting to loose hope and that's when I had my trekking revelation, a song to pull me through, last time I had Spandau Ballet's 'Gold'
Gold, always believe in your soul, you've got to the power to know your indestructible.

This time, it was good old George Michael 'Faith'
Coz I gotta have faith, I got to have faith.

I could tell Yan was on thin ice but I was happy and content, knowing everything would be OK.  Good old George!

We carried on walking and soon after I asked about whether he would want to go straight to Quilatoa if he could today.  I certainly did, I was exhausted and not near anything I saw or knew, I was ready to come home but stuck in the most amazing place surround by beautiful scenery and nothing else.  Luckily we were both in agreement.  Soon afterwards I heard a bus and I knew it would be the answer.  I saw a road and almost ran, nothing in sight, so we kept walking.  Then, a bus came round the corner, stopping to drop someone off, it had a sign to Quilatoa in the front window, I suggested we go to meet it, too exhausted, we decided to let it come to us.  We jumped on and headed off.  The bus went for about another 15-20 mins before arriving at a village, San Pedro!!  The rumours were true, it did exist, but now we didn't want to stop there, we didn't know what was there, and another day in the cold, walking so far, really wasn't our top priority.  The bus then stopped.  They thought they'd dropped everyone off and then saw us, luckily they agreed to take us to Quilatoa!!  So, after stopping in the town for 20 mins, and an hour and a half by bus through the clouds and the cold, we arrived in Quilotoa.  We even paid the bus guys an extra dollar to avoid the park entrance fee (their idea). 

I was looking forward to a shower, some food, and resting. I'd been recommended a place to stay there as well so we headed straight there.  There was an option to upgrade to a room with white linen, a fire in the room and no need to go outside for dinner, this was an essential for me, a broken woman; Yan, on a tight budget, went for the cheaper option.

The shower was great, the food amazing, the fire fabulous and all the tea you can drink.  The hostel itself was very sociable, lots of kids and people popping in and out.  An Argentinian and an Italian came in to join us, they'd just come straight from Quito by bus that day.  They seemed really friendly and we even agreed to walk round the volcano the following day, I'm not really sure how that happened as only an hour or so earlier I had sworn I would not be doing that!  Also, if I had known how tough it was going to be I would never have done it either.

The last bus back to Latacunga the following day was at 3pm so we needed to get up at 7am and leave by 8am to complete the 4-5 hour walk around the lake (and the rumour of half an hour each way to the volcano). I once again, didn't get a great night sleep but got up anyway, raring to go!

At first the walk was gentle, the volcano was right by us, we were walking on the rim, but we couldn't see in it because of the cloud, but slowly this cleared up, revealing a beautiful lake underneath...

The outside of the volcano had a clearer view over the surrounding country

And the wildlife

There was also plenty of flowers round the volcano, the soil seemed quite fertile

The journey got tougher, the walk was very up and down, not just slight inclines and descents but decent climbs and drops.  We were high altitude, 3914m, so this made things much harder, on-top of the trekking we'd done the day before.

However, once the cloud had disappeared from the volcano the views were amazing. I had achieved my goal...

And made some friends along the way...

We carried on, the journey got easier although the clouds got thicker again, it seemed we'd reach a point where we were just going along the flat until the end so I was really pleased, we were nearly back, and were doing it in pretty good time.  Then the guys started to descend.  I was sure this wasn't the way, but they were too far ahead, we were heading to the middle, towards the lake, that was supposed to be a different route.  However we were going downhill so it wasn't too bad.  Then the path disappeared, before we found the route again, climbing through a barbed wire fence and back heading upwards again, along a track less than half a metre wide, I wasn't convinced we were going the right way, then I slipped, luckily not far, as the drop was steep and I needed a break.  I stopped in my tracks, not able to move any further, no energy, only a few peanuts left and no songs to pull me through. This was a dire time, this was also a time when I realised I never wanted to do this again, and what I really wanted was to be at home with a mundane life, taking enjoyment out of the small things.  Why was it I had always felt the need to go round the world, go on crazy trekking hikes, climb mountains, bungy jump or even jump out of a plane?  Why couldn't I just stay at home, cook, go to art galleries and enjoy the small things.  This is what I decided to do when I got out of this mess I had got myself in but not really thinking about what it meant or entailed.

So, I got back up, went to catch up with the boys, who had kindly made me a walking stick, like the old woman I was and carried on.  The trail headed straight along for a while and then slightly further down before eventually heading uphill.  I didn't think it would actually happen, but it did.  It took a while to go up, although only about an hour or so, much shorter than I'd imagined. A few breaks were needed, including a peanut break, where I was also able to trade some peanuts for some hot, sugar filled coffee...perfect!  Bless the Italians!!

We eventually arrived back to Quilatoa village,

bumped into the English couple who'd been on the bus on the first day, shared our tales, and headed for lunch, happy I'd done it but would never have to do anything like that again.  The bus back to Latacunga was good and soon after I arrived I met up with Colin, who I'd met at the centre of the earth, just back from Cotopaxi.  He was trekked out like me, happy not to do something like what he'd down, which sounded way more hardcore, which involved hiking at night with crampons on snow and ice to see sunrise at 6am!  Still, happy to be back in civilisation we agreed we'd get the bus the following day to Banos, my final stop before heading to Guayquil where I was catching my flight home.

Banos was going to be a good resting/recovery point as it is a spa town and the amount of beauty treatments on offers is amazing!! I couldn't wait!

Tags: ecuador, isilivi, latacunga, quilotoa, quilotoa loop, volcano


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