The Quilotoa Loop

Trip Start Jun 07, 2008
Trip End Sep 14, 2008

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Where I stayed
Mama Hilda's

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, June 27, 2008

I took the bus back north from Guayaquil to Latacunga, starting point for a trip through small Andean villages called the Quilotoa Loop. Stayed the night in Latacunga, and took a morning bus 30 minutes north to the Thursday market at Sasquisili. Very much still a market for locals, in Sasquisili I found lots of guinea pigs for sale (a culinary delicacy of sorts here, which I have not sampled) and plenty of eager buyers and sellers. All in all, nothing too exciting though. By late morning, was on my way west towards Chugchilan.

The bus ride itself is half the adventure in this area for several reasons. First of all, busses are very infrequent, most running only once per day VERY early in the morning. Secondly, the road itself is in terrible condition as you get further out, and the scenery is incredible. Finally, the busses are used almost exclusively by indigenous people who still wear their traditional clothing. Upon arriving in the village of Chugchilan in the mid-afternoon, I checked into Mama Hilda's, which is probably my favorite hostel/hotel thus far. I paid $8 a night including breakfast and dinner, which was a significant discount from the usual rate because there were so few tourists in town. The room was clean and cozy, complete with hammock on the porch, and dinner was served family style for all the guests at 7pm. After checking in I walked down the road a mile or so and passed a lot of local schoolchildren on their way home. Everyone, young and old, was incredibly friendly. The other guests that night, who I met at dinner, included a middle-aged couple from California, and younger couples from The Netherlands and Germany. The German couple were half-way through a year-long 'round the world trip, and we spent a while exchanging info on other places we'd been.

The next day I got up at 5:30 to catch the 6am bus to Quilotoa. After shivering in the dark for a half-hour, the bus showed up and I was off just before sunrise. The main natural attraction in this area is Laguna Quilotoa, a volcanic crater lake. After having breakfast at a hostel near the lake, I hiked down from the rim to the lake, where the only other peole were a group of boys in their school uniforms. The hike back up took twice as long as the way down, as the altitude here was around 13,000 ft, but it was well worth it. I walked a short section of the trail around the crater's rim before having to head back to the road to wait for the 2pm bus. If I missed that bus, I'd either have to hope to hitch a ride, or walk the 14 miles back to Chugchilan.

That night, there was a whole new set of hotel guests, including a different German couple, a Danish couple, and two girls from Australia. Plenty more interesting travel stories were exchanged over dinner. The next morning, I was up at 3am to catch the 4am bus to Zumbahua. Yes, that's right. The only bus that travels that route all day leaves at 4am. Better yet, it actually showed up at 3:40, so it was a good thing I was out there half-an-hour early. The Australian girls joined me for this trip to another indigenous market, and our bus also carried pigs, sheep, and chickens. Better yet, there seemed to be some sort of electrical issue that caused the headlights to go out every now and then, but the driver didn't seemed too concerned about driving for 10 or 20 seconds in compete darkness on these curvy mountain roads.

The market at Zumbahua was by far the best I've been to. This is party due to the fact that we got there before sunrise and saw it all being set up, including the llama-filled animal market. The setting was also incedible, with views of the Andean countryside instead of concrete buildings. Perhaps best of all, it was filled with friendly indigenous people in their colorful outfits. I even managed to get a pair of pants with a big tear repaired by a guy with an old sewing machine. Also watched as sheep were slaughtered, which has resulted in a renewed determination to eat veggies.

These were perhaps the best couple of days of my entire trip, but the excitement on this last day was just getting started... But first, Ive finally taken a few photos that Im proud of on this trip, so check them out on flickr.
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