Black Sheep Inn

Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
Trip End Aug 25, 2013

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What I did

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

We wanted to spend some time in the high Andes, and settled on an area known as the Quilotoa Loop, named after the Quilotoa volcano. We were picked up at Quito airport by Marcos, who looked exactly like an Andean farmer (minus the poncho) because, we later found out, that was exactly what he was. Cowboy hat, sturdy hiking boots, wooly jumper and pickup truck - definitely not your average Quito taxi driver.

After about 4 hours driving we started to feel like we were already high in the mountains, but Marcos kept going up and up and up, on increasingly precipitous, twisty roads, until we were high above the clouds (when the weren't actually within them). Eventually we arrived at Black Sheep Inn, where a charming room with cosy wood burner stove waited for us. Our host, in the true sense of the word, was Edmundo, a former hotel manager from Quito who returned to his home village of Chugchilan to run Black Sheep Inn. Meals were vegetarian, and extremely good. Traditional Ecuadorian soup (once with popcorn to add like croutons) always began the meal, followed by something with pasta or rice, cheese and vegetables. There was no choice - you ate what you were given, and everyone sat down together at a big table, which made for very sociable meals. After dinner Edmundo went around each guest asking what they wanted to do the following day, and making the necessary arrangements. Such a great idea, and such personal service!

On our first day we woke to beautiful sunshine, and views of the plateau below, a deep canyon and mountains in the distance, with cotton wool clouds floating between them. We needed a quiet day, so caught up with emails and Facebook, used the fabulous yoga studio (Fran) and open-fronted gym (Paul). The rain came in the early afternoon, which gave us an excuse not to walk. Instead we sat in the hot tub en familie, a bit of a squeeze as it was literally just a tub, in the rain. We spent a bit of time in the excellent sauna as well, but it was too hot for Izzy. The only downside was getting out and making a dash to the room and lighting the stove with the flimsy short matches that are typical in Ecuador.

The following day we went horse riding and met Umberto, who became our guide for the next few days. Umberto brought along his little boy Daniel, aged 4, who was already pretty good on a horse, and a foal who followed her mother, ridden by Daniel, throughout the 4 hour ride. On another ride with Umberto, he brought along a mare with a 1 month old foal, who followed us up and down the steep sides of a canyon, explaining that this was the start of their training.

The area around Black Sheep Inn, and the nearest village Chugchilan, was heavily cultivated, with crops of potatoes, beans and corn growing on all but the very steepest slopes. Any areas left uncultivated were mainly pasture, with cows grazing at improbable angles, and pigs and sheep staked out along the roads on narrow verges edging the canyons below.

The women of the area were mainly traditionally dressed, in court shoes, knee high socks, dark velvet knee length skirts, white blouse, button up cardi and red shawl. The whole look is topped off with a bowler hat. It's rather bizarre, but apparently it is a remnant of servant uniforms from a time when many of the campesinos served a rich hacienda owner. Many of the men, and school kids, wore wellies, by far the best footwear, and ponchos.

It rained every day, usually in the early afternoon, so we tended to be very sedentary for the second half of the day, sitting by the fire in the communal lounge. We enjoyed the social side of Black Sheep Inn, chatting and playing card games with the other guests. One day Paul did a 5 hour walk from Quilotoa lake with some other blokes from the Inn, while Izzy and I contented ourselves with walking down and back up the crater, and taking the pickup home. It was freezing cold and very wet, and we saw more cloud than view.

We also enjoyed a day visiting the remnants of the cloud forest in the area, which it turned out, belonged partly to Umberto, our guide. He showed us where he had been brought up as a child, on the edge of the forest, but since most of the surroundings had been deforested there was no longer reliable water, and in any case he didn't want his kids to spend 2 hours a day walking to school and back like he had. He told us stories about coming across a puma on his way to school, and being attacked by wolves as a child, and more recently of rescuing two Australian girls who had gotten lost overnight in the forest.

He also told us how once it was deforested the land produced good crops for only 3 years, before becoming infertile, and showed us the trees he and his friends had planted to try to regenerate the forest. Unlike in the warmer lowlands, here trees grow very slowly, and even after 30 years they were still very small. It's sad that so much forest had been lost to agriculture - I had expected the Andes to be much wilder, and some parts that we drove through were, but much of it here is essentially agricultural, and a bit like Switzerland with eucalyptus trees, hummingbirds and llamas.
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Elisabeth Devoghelaere on

Hello to all of you,

You keep on writing such wonderful stories as if we are traveling along.

I got your very colourful gift for Ella-Rose, thank you so much. It will fit for the summer. She is doing very well but has some trouble digesting (but it's getting better). It's very busy but I'm managing well. I would like to send you some pictures, but i don't know how to add them. Do you have a regular e-mail adres that I can send them to?

Lots of love from rainy rainy Belgium!

Elisabeth & Ella-Rose

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