Quilotoa, Chugchilan, Sigchos and Isinlivi

Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
Trip End May 15, 2008

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

OK. Lets see here...where do I start. My favorite part of our trip so far. Leaving Riobamba we ventured north to an area 60-70 miles south of Quito called the Quilotoa Circuit, a loop of colorful high altitude authentic villages set amid a highly diverse landscape that I will surely mention later. From Latacunga, the jumping off point to the loop along the panamericana, we bused through patchwork fields and fogged-in/clouded-in mountains....blowing a tire on the bus along the way. We arrived in the little town of Zumbahua and instead of waiting in the wet and cold for a bus to come that was going to take a few hours we caught a little truck with a German couple to the poor high páramo (pristine treeless high altitude habitat) town of Quilotoa set at 12,600 ft. Not soon after, the sun started setting and we stayed the night in very very basic lodging, passing the rest of the night playing Mow with new friends and trying to get wet wood to start a fire as it was raining and extremely cold. Running water was restricted to only a few hours of the day and we had missed the timeframe.

The next day we hiked five or so hours around the huge crater lake you'd see in most Ecuador coffee table books. It was beautiful for sure but not yet having seen Crater Lake in Oregon I felt a bit stupid. Along the way, we passed by a ton of miniature flowers which at 12.6k seemed quite peculiar.We are on the equator and I forget that. The going wasn´t too difficult and after five hours of seeing a crater lake to our right, it slowly became less stunning but neverthless a spectacular sight. Great as it was, we had our fill and decided to move further down the valley.

Waiting alongside the road in the cloud/mist for a long long time, we thought we had missed the one bus of the day excluding the 3am bus that drives to Chugchilan, the next town along the loop. Thinking we were going to have to spend another night in wet and cold Quilotoa and not overly happy about it, we were soon greeted by the sounds of a bus blasting its horn in the distance as it made its way around blind corners. Upon seeing the bus, we soon understood why it was so delayed; there wasn´t a spot available. And by spot I am not talking about seats. Seats are hardly ever available unless you board early at a bus station and get lucky. A spot is just the space to be able to stand. This bus didn't even have that. So, as if riding in an Ecuadorian bus wasn't dangerous enough, for the next two hours (although we went only 22km), I had the ride of my life atop a rundown bus winding down a narrow, steep, curvy and at spots washed out dirt road which hugged the side of the Taochi canyon as it made its way down into the valley. As exciting as it was scary, I wasn´t too afraid until the boy who handles the bags, chickens, rabbits, beer, cut up beef and sacks of rice stacked atop the bus with me mentions that we are coming to the ´dangerous` spot. I proceed to ask him, "Peligroso? Buenisimo..." As if the last half hour of driving had been 'safe' in his eyes. He begins to tell me that the dangerous spot is where the road has washed out and been half-repaired numerous times and because of the heavy rain the night before, it could be very loose soil and ill-fitted to handle the extreme weight of the bus. Whew. We passed by it ok this time however, as it will turn out two days later, on the way out of the loop (we backtracked) we passed the same spot again half asleep at 5:30 in the morning. It had rained even more since the last passage. We did not know we were at the spot until 80 percent of the people in the bus did a mass exodus and there we sat in the furthest seat from the front, wondering what was going on and why so many people were leaving. We had just opened our eyes and were in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, it was obviously for precautionary measures. Good luck we made it safely and thankfully this bus to had the 'Dios es mi Guia' aptly located on the windshield.

Going back to the first bus ride, eventually, me on top and Maya crunched inside a bus not made for tall people like herself, we sped our way from the very top down the dramatically gorgeous canyon to the town of Chugchilan. The next day we used a milk-trucked for some short transportation and then hiked from Sigchos across the canyon to Isinlivi and the following day back across to Chugchilan passing tiny rural settlements along the way. Each town, no matter how small or remote always equipped with a basic church. One memory that will stand out is meeting a wood carver on one of our hikes and having him show us some of the things he made. He had never left the canyon and was perfectly content. The idea of Ecuador must be so big to him. The coast, the mountains, the low level temperate zones, the amazon... A very good guys he was.

By far this is one of my favorite trips. Not only did we get to hike and see some very stunning land and traditional andean ways of life but it was an escape from the hustle and bustle of the cities and towns. I think what turns people away from coming is largely because of the difficulties in getting there and the fact that most people only come to see the crater. In Quilotoa we met 4 or 5 travellers who had just come to see the crater  for that one day. Unfortunate I suppose but at the same fortunate for me, they missed out on the more breathtaking vistas of the region and most beautiful places in Ecuador. Maybe it'll stay just hidden enough to stay that way forever.

Hello to all. Next up, coastal time baby!
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