Quilotoa (kill-a-toe-a)

Trip Start Aug 31, 2012
Trip End Apr 30, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel Bambu Canoa
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, October 1, 2012

We are currently lodging at one Bambu Hotel, on the beach of a very small town called Canoa, mid way down the coast of Ecuador. We came here after four hard days of hiking around the locally-famous Quilotoa Loop; a potential two hundred kilometre trek in the middle of the Andes. We opted to bus much of it and just walk about fifty kilometres (thirty miles) of what is said to be the most beautiful part. We did this over four days, spending each night in a different village. I won't bore you with minute by minute details of this journey, but it was a four-day montage of rivers and mountains, canyons and gorges, colours, cows, llamas, vistas, sweet sounds and savory smells, folks round fires, fears of falling, and home-cooked flavours. The best of the sights were all topped on our first day, upon reaching the summit of the Quilotoa crater after a few hours of generally easy but lung-straining uphill, and saw the famous emerald waters of the Laguna Quilotoa (Lake Quilotoa). The pictures cannot speak for themselves I’m afraid, though we’ve added them here to try. I struggle to think of more beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We hiked to the bottom of it even after the three-hour mostly uphill hike we’d just finished. At an altitude of three thousand nine hundred metres (nearly three times that of Ben Nevis, he says; showing off), the lungs feel like a set of rusty bellows stoking the last glowing embers of a fire, but we fought on, down and up, and regained sentient action and coherent language some few hours later as hot home-made soup was being poured into our bowls, and then poured into our mouths, and that night we slept like logs under our fifteen blankets (the nights here are colder than a witch’s toes – something to do with being farther from the sun, or some such "science").

The following three days hiking seemed to get progressively more difficult. This was in parts due to: The hardships of 'downhill’ and the joints (Knees, ankles, heels and toes, heels and toes) not being what they used to; the grinding gravitational pull against ‘uphill’; the worry over our maps being hand drawn by local hostel owners (presumably after so many idiot hikers just never found their way to the hostels – there are many paths in those hills), and so always feeling like we just weren’t quite sure enough that we were on the right tracks, but hoping that Jesus, Maria, or Pachamama would eventually lead us the right way; and of course, upon then finding ourselves a little off the right track and feeling sure – or at least verbally reassuring ourselves - that all roads lead to Rome, discovering those “paths” we were “walking” on were clinging to the sides of vertical cliffs like a week-old dusty plaster clings to an elbow (i.e., not much), and we must have lost count of how many times we found ourselves edging across crumbling sand (yes, sandy cliffs) with naught but the welcoming hands of an abyss to catch us the second the rest of this “path” just happens to slide gently away on a breeze into oblivion (I know that usually you can rely on my sense of over-dramatising, but I want you to go through the same ordeal I did – sorry panicky parents, but…). There were times I came close to sheer terror. I think the second day was the most nerve-frazzling of them all. We turned what could have been a four-hour hike into a seven-hour struggle against sense of direction, sanity and vertigo (I steadfastly blame the directions and crappy map and will until my dying day!), but, armed with our Bear Grylls knowledge (“find a river, follow the river, find civilisation’), managed eventually to make our way to the intended safe house plenty before dusk, only a little tattered, torn, and emotionally broken.

I think the views of those days more than made up for the ordeal. We passed through hills, mountains and valleys that would have made Heidi weep. We saw flowers every step of the way, mooed at enough cows to crowd an English moor, and even met Kerri’s first Llama. The smells of Eucalyptus and pine hung everywhere, the sky was always a child’s paintbrush-blue, with clouds that seemed unmoving, yet always changing. I think it will take a lot to beat that experience for me. Even my lungs started to appreciate that ever-squashed feeling. Kerri is glad to be at the beach now. She’s sunbathing under a sky that’s not quite blue, while I take one of the many hammocks around our beach hostel. The birds don’t know how to use their indoor voices, the breeze is making the palms dance lazily, and we’re allowing the muscles and joints their well-earned recovery time.

Before the hiking (ordeal?) holiday, we had had to stop a night in the local town of Latacunga, famous for two things: Being a good starting point for doing the Quilotoa Loop, and the Mama Negra (that’s right - ‘black mama’) Festival, which we just happened to arrive in time for! What a stroke of good luck! This was a two-day (all day, and into the night) parade, performed by what seemed to be thousands of locals, playing music (the same easy breezy two-note melody, foot-stampably 4/4 beat played all day on saxophones, trumpets, snares, bass drums, trombones etc) that we can still hear in our heads, twirling, dancing, and handing out shots of methylated spirits flavoured with fruit schnapps for the general merry inebriation of the crowd, all of them dressed in the most colourful costumes and masks. We have shown a few of the pictures here to try give you a sense of the plethora of colours we were treated to this day.

And before that little surprise fiesta, we spent four days camping in the hills north of Quito, a place called Otavalo, famous for having the largest outdoor market in South America, which we perused on a Saturday, dazzled by the miles and miles of piles of Alpaca shawls, scarves and jumpers it is possible for one small town (and apparently some neighbouring villages) to make. As impressive as this was, I am almost always finding myself hearing the wisdom of Socrates in a place like this, ‘As I wander round the market place, I find myself amazed by the vast amount of things that I just don’t need’. Maybe I’m just a tight-fisted Yorkshireman. Certainly tight-fisted enough that I am always happy when we’re offered a free place to stay for a couple of nights. And offered we were thusly such whilst in Otovalo, by a German lady named Christina and her three sons Noah, Luca and Elias. This lovely family have a very large and beautiful home by a lake at the foot of one Imbabura volcano, after which the province is named. Christina and her husband rent out their lodge to very wealthy (it would seem) people, entertaining them with shamanic cleansings (with the help of a little peyote tea), and horse therapy (like when sick kids swim with dolphins, just in case you were imagining neurotic horses on psychoanalysts’ couches). Christina and her three boys - the eldest of whom, Noah (seven) was kind enough to show us a nearby waterfall - welcomed us into their home with such warmth. Unfortunately, her husband was away for a couple of days, and so no ‘cleansing’ was to be had. I’ll have to stick to showers for now and keep you posted on any further opportunities.  It was after staying here in this sunny valley that we got the idea to head up into the hills and do some camping for a few nights (I’d been itching and scratching to), able to build a fire every evening and cook up chicken, pork and steaks over our own open flames (while the missus makes a salad). We did a little hiking whilst in these hills (we needed some way to warm up in the daytime after nights spent shivering in near zero conditions – nobody warned us, so I’m warning you now if you decide to camp in the Andes, the nights are cold), a three hour steady uphill climb to Laguna Mojande (Lake Mojande) which was a slow, draining slog of a walk; seemingly this Lake was ever becoming a myth, fabricated to annoy and exhaust tourists. But we made it, and once again the view was worth the pain. Laguna Mojande sat at three thousand seven hundred metres above sea level, the difficulties of hiking at this kind of altitude can be helped with a flask of good hot coca leaf tea. It can remedy aches and pains, give you more energy, and even help with the light-headedness of being so high up. We’re hoping for a sponsorship deal if this blog goes platinum.
 “Coca leaf tea, Too high to care your teeth are green!”

And, “Snickers, The snack the best backpackers pick!”

Keep your fingers crossed for me, and pass this blog on!
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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Emily McKinley on

Glad to hear you've caught up with Dave & now experience the joys of old age creaking joints and rusty bits!

Another tremendous blog guys, glad you're all OK and still in one piece sounded a bit hairy there for a while. All good in the shire it's pretty much rained for 40 days & nights, York has been under water for the past few weeks and we are all getting web feet. But apart from that all good!
This is the new album if you can get access to this site?

Love & Hugs From The McKinley's, MISS YA x x x

Gav on

Hey guys

All fantastic then ? This blog is brilliant reading. Loving it all & the Llama pic is priceless !!!

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