Alternative Transportation

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2006

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In spite of the protests we encountered in Quito after leaving Otavalo, we were able to get out of the city as planned last Thursday morning. We planned to head to an area in the Andes known as the Quilotoa Loop (a string of little indigenous villages on a small road that loops to the west from the Panamericana highway), and figured out we needed to get a bus to Saquisilí to get there (but not before getting a huge breakfast at the Magic Bean, for those who know it...) Saquisilí is known for having an interesting and economically important indigenous market on Thursday morning, and we had hoped to get a look at the market before getting our next bus. Unfortunately, though, we only had time to walk through the parts between where we were dropped off by the first bus and where we had to catch our second bus. From Saquisilí we took a ratty former school bus for about three hours to a tiny town called Insiliví - we had heard there was a nice place to stay there and we figured it would be a good place to begin the loop. The ride was pretty crazy - the road was unbelievably bumpy and wound up and down the Andes, with huge cliffs and beautiful views the whole way. Also, because it was market day in Saquisilí, most of the other riders had baskets, buckets and bags full of everything from vegetables to squeaking guinea pigs. It turned out Insiliví was even smaller than we had imagined, and the place we stayed hadn't had any guests for about a week and a half. Elizabeth, the Canadian woman who is currently running the place (Hostal Llullu Llama), seemed pretty happy to see us... For one thing, she needed money to fix the occasionally leaky roof (but the place was great). Insiliví is a cute little town of about 200 people, all very friendly. We had a good time chatting with Elizabeth during our stay and got involved in a little local excitement. The hostal is a renovated farm house - when the English woman who started it bought the place, it came with an old deaf woman who was squatting there (Anita). They built Anita a house next door to stay in and she now washes linens for the hostal. Right before dinner the day we arrived, she showed up at the back door with a bad wound on her leg. Elizabeth told her to come back after dinner (I don't think she realized immediately how bad it was). When she came back, we saw that she had a big triangular tear of skin on the back of her leg, below her knee. Elizabeth went to work doing some amateur doctoring with some antibiotic cream, a cloth napkin and some of our duct tape. Because none of us speak or understand Spanish considerably well, and Anita is difficult to understand, we didn't know what had happened. The next day, though, when Anita came back (having removed the bandage, much to Elizabeth's consternation), another local woman was there, and told us Anita told her that her pig bit her! This pig surely didn't have the couth of our friend Spots in Otavalo.

In other Insiliví excitement, we figured out after arriving that the only bus that regularly passes the town, other than on Thursdays, left at around 2:30am. So, our choices were to either take the red-eye bus in the wrong direction, or hike to our next destination. We chose to hike (thank god for our relatively small packs...) It ended up being a good decision, at least for the first four hours. We took a beautiful local trail through the mountains to a nearby river. There are trails all over the canyon, as the area has only had a road for five years or so. We followed the river for awhile, and realized that eventually we would have to climb back up the canyon. Given the base of the canyon is at around 2,500 meters, and we had to climb to about 3,200 meters, and we had already had all of our stuff on our backs for four hours, this was not the most enjoyable part of the trip (with the exception of a comical few minutes when an old indigenous man asked if Allison was for sale). But after a seemingly never-ending uphill road at the top of the canyon, we finally arrived in the nearly equally small, but slightly more developed, town of Chugchilan. Being tired, we decided to stay at the first place we encountered, despite the fact that we had originally ruled it out for being a little too up-market for us - The Black Sheep Inn. It is a pretty interesting place - one of its current claims to fame is that it was named one of Outdoor Magazine's Top 10 Ecolodges in the world. We stayed two nights, and decided that while we admire what they are doing, it seemed a little overpriced for what it was - maybe we expected too much. But you have to give them credit for doing what they are doing in the middle of remote Ecuador...

The day after we arrived at The Black Sheep Inn, we decided to let someone/something else do the work for us, and went horseback riding. It was a good trip... We spent a lot of time high up in the hills, which, before the clouds rolled in, gave us a lot of good views of the valley. We also ended up in a cloud forest for about an hour, which left us a little soaked, but was interesting - our horseback guide owned the forest we visited and gave us a good tour - saw lots of orchids (for real this time - over 80 species live in that small forest), a nice waterfall and learned the uses of lots of the plants. On the way back to Chugchilan, we had a very Latin American episode where two huge ditches had been dug across the road, from the inside cliff above us, to the outside cliff below us - purpose unclear. This was a bit of a problem for the horses, who despite our guide's commands to fly, weren't interested in crossing the ditches. Eventually they were convinced to go along the steep bottom cliffside at one ditch, and over the upper cliff at the second ditch, and we made it home.

The next day we left The Black Sheep Inn and continued along the Quitoloa Loop to the village of Quilotoa and neighboring volcanic crater. Due to the limited bus options that day, we decided to rent a pick-up truck and driver with three other Americans (a guy in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and his parents), who had agreed to drive us to the crater, wait while we walk around, and then take us to the next village of any size so that we could get reliable transportation out of the Quilotoa Loop. Our first adventure of the day was when we found the road had turned to mud on one hill, and our truck couldn't make it up. We all got out and convinced the driver to back down and go up with a full head of steam. He made it almost all of the way and we all pushed to get the truck over the last bit. After that we made it to the Quilotoa crater without further incident, despite the fact that one of the back tires was leaking air.

The crater was similar to the one we saw near Otavalo, although the water is bright green, at least when the sun shines on it. We walked around the crater rim for awhile, during which time our driver was supposed to be fixing the tire, and then walked back to the parking lot so we could move on to the next town. Not entirely surprisingly, our driver had not started working on the tire yet, so we sat around and waited while he changed it out. After he finished he told us that he needed to go put more air in the spare and would be back in five minutes. Five minutes ended up turning into an hour and a half, which was a little disconcerting considering he had all of our backpacks. The two of us and the Peace Corps volunteer had to reassure his parents that we would see our backpacks again, would get to the next town and that we all had to keep in mind that our five minute paradigm is somewhat different than the Latin American five minute paradigm. The driver finally got back and we found out he had gone all the way to the town we were headed to anyway! 25 minutes there, 25 minutes back, and another 40 minutes spent doing who knows what. It turns out that there was a huge fiesta going on in the town he went to and he claims he had a hard time finding anybody to help him with the air. We figure he probably enjoyed the fiesta for awhile, too...

After bidding goodbye to our driver, who somehow thought it justified to ask for more money on account of the tire problem (?!?), we took off on a bus back to the Panamericana, after which we headed to the town of Baños, which is popular with Ecuadorean and international tourists alike due to its thermal baths, nearby waterfalls and access to the jungle. We spent two full days there and liked the place a lot. One morning we went to some of the thermal baths and then spent much of the day sitting around. The second day we rented bikes to ride down the road that heads to the jungle, known as the Waterfall Route due to the number of waterfalls it passes by. It was a pretty fun downhill ride, although the wind was blowing really hard through the valley against us and we occasionally had to share the road with speeding buses and trucks. After the last waterfall we visited, we decided to head back to Baños and got a ride on the top of a funny open-sided party bus called a chiva (goat, for those of you who don't speak Spanish), bad dance music blasting the whole way back... It felt like a Disney ride at a few points, as we had to pass through some mountain tunnels that dripped water on the top of the bus (and all of us up there). Yes, moms, the top of the chiva has railings and they don't drive very fast...
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