Crazy, crazy week, to say the least

Trip Start Jul 06, 2005
Trip End Mar 10, 2006

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

I guess I left off with just settling in to Quito. Well, on the friday night the whole hostel seemed to be going out together so we tagged along for what became an absolute gong show of a night. Leave it that we didn┤t rock up to the hostel until 7am, met some awesome people, locals and travellers, and had such a good time with that crazy crowd that we decided to sign up to work there for a month. We┤ll work 48 hours at The Secret Garden with cool people in a pretty relaxed atmosphere, and in exchange get accomodation, breakfast and dinner (full on professional chef meals mind you), unlimited free drinks, and 20 hours of on-to-one spanish lessons. How do you pass that up (did I mention free drinks???)? We start on July 21st, and are currently making good use of the almost two weeks we had before starting.

We decided to first head high into the Andes for a little nature and did we ever find it. We stayed in a little "town" called Chugchilan at the Cloud Forest Hostel, a perfect base for exploring (not to mention $6 a night including a great breakfast and dinner). Getting there was...interesting shall we say. We thought we┤d be tough and walk to the Quito bus station - got lost in a bad area of town where the woman we asked for directions virtually forced us into a cab while insisting we must be crazy. Got to our transfer, found someone with a bus going to Chugchilan, in theory, and we were off. Long story short, we get to the last town BEFORE Chugchilan and everyone one else gets off the bus leading the bus driver to insist that without more passengers he isn┤t going any further. After an hour long "sit-off" where we simply refused to get off the bus, we were off again, now in the dark, no idea where we┤re going. Perfect timing for the bus driver to stop again, angrily state "nada mas" and essentially throw us off the bus on a dark road in the middle of freaking nowhere! Flashlight on, we trudged up the hill in the direction they pointed before turning around, after refusing to pay the extra $5 they wanted for their efforts, and 15 minutes on just past the cemetary we arrived safe and sound at an oasis of comfort in the night. The only problem was dinner was being served NOW!! Talk about your swings of emotion. On to the treks!

Trek 1 - The Cloud Forest

We hiked 4 hours over a ridge (approx 4000 metres) behind town then down into a stunning forest completely enveloped in mist, then the obligatory 4 hours back of course. The ridge seperates two valleys of vastly different climates; one arid and dominated by dry plateaus and farmland, the other by this vast jungle-like forest. The views all along are incredible as valleys peel away in all directions, dotted by some very determined (nearly vertical) farming efforts and small villages. A bit of a push at that altitude but an amazing day.

Trek 2 - The Ravine

Ok, so the ravine hike instructions went something like, "Take the first turn after the cheese factory, into the ravine, follow the river back up. 3 hours total." Here┤s the proper directions (at least our version):

Head downhill from the hostel, take the first turn after the cheese factory and decend 800 metres virtually straight down into the valley. Explore the beautiful village at the bottom, cross the farmers field at the bottom, over the barbed wire to the river. Head up valley, although there is no trail there are many roughed together bridges to make the multiple river crossings - don┤t use the railing, its for decoration. Once the river is impassable and you are entirely lost, head uphill toward the ominous sounding tribal drums. Mustre up your courage before peering over the ledge to confront... three small children playing with their drum. Scare said children. Make friends, and they┤ll point you in the right direction. Immediately get confused, but wait for the lovely gentlemen on the horse, without asking he┤ll insist you follow him; do. Upon getting back to the river cross the mangled metal bridge and take the first fork to the right. I know there is no trail, trust me. Bushwack your way directly along the river, climb those rocks, cross that corn field, wave to the farmer, don┤t mind the machete, he┤s just waving. Head STRAIGHT uphill when the river is again impassable, stumble upon a farmhouse and a farmer herding his sheep, again follow his directions, apparently you are close(ish). Best start running now though, the rabid dog will be over the hill any second - DON┤T GO INTO THE CORN FIELD, he doesn┤t like that. Just when are tantalizingly close to being clear of the dog, beware the massive mule standing across the path - ignore the fact there is NO reason for there to be a mule there. Do a little dance, fake left, spin right; you┤re past the mule and virtually home free. Now, straight uphill again, for oh... 800 metres in altitude and an hour or so in time. Make sure you stop and play soccer with the kids who come charging down to greet you.

Wave and say hello to EVERYONE, they┤ll reciprocate and likely guide you. Bring a lunch, its not 3 hours, more like 7. Do this hike, it┤s mindbendingly beautiful and a heck of a challenge.

Trek 3 - Quelatoa, The Crater Lake (Confronting Your Own Mortality)

Sooo, two days, two massive hikes, we figured we┤d catch the 5 am bus to get to the famous crater lake in time for sunrise, poke around the beautiful lake thats formed in the crater of this semi-active volcano for a bit, and make the 5 hour walk back to the hostel. Right. Got there in time for the sunrise, it was definitely worth the early wake up. Then we heard that there was a "walk" around the crater that could be done in 4-5 hours (we have to stop listening). This walk rapidly intensified into a straight up mountain climbing, rock clinging, dirt ledge skirting, eye closing, breath holding, death defying, rabid dog confronting trek directly along the very edge of the mountain ridges the volcanoe had formed when it blew 200 years ago. No exaggeration, 300 metres bouncing over the rocks into the lake on the left, 600 metres bouncing over rocks into the valley on the right - often with no more than inches leeway. Also often leading to a recently crumbled path demanding you cling to the nearest rock or plant life to skirt the edge.

Once clear of the worst (read most exhilirating in hindsight) part, we of course come across MORE very angry dogs. Now I┤ve never met a dog I didn┤t like but these things were EVIL. After a very, very tense standoff, the farming family nearby kindly sent their three tiny children (like 4-6 yrs old) to rescue us with a very timely rock throw as things were coming to a head. After getting uphill a bit and sitting for a rest we quickly realize the dogs are back on the scent with no toddlers to intervene and have to rapidly walk, while trying to keep them at bay with the threat of rocks, one last charge over the last ridge just tp ensure we got the message and we were clear. Home free? Ahhh, but we wanted to go into the crater and followed a trail appearing to do so. Unfortunately rapidly degenrated into a series of cliffs and ravines, with a barely six inch, slippery sloped dirt path. Without the energy to turn back, and no way forward, we miraculously spot a crazy natural rock staircase a little ways back that we somehow missed - one last desperate scramble (remember this is all at 4000 bloody oxygen) and we are well and truly safe. It felt that demanding, that safety was all we were craving at that point (6 hours in). An uneventful half hour back to the base and we wordlessly agreed we┤d be taking the bus home.


I know that was long, but there you are. Today finds our blistered feet and exhilirated spirits in Riobamba, home of "El Nariz del Diablo", or the Devil┤s Nose train. We┤ll be there before 6am tomorrow to get a prime seat on the roof (yes, the roof) for what is meant to be a spectacular daylong ride out into the country through some of the world┤s most impressive railroad engineering feats. Friday night looks good as the city is pretty lively, and Saturday is a huge market day we┤ll have to check out. Next on to Ba˝os for a little relaxation in a pretty backpacker friendly town, and finally back to Quito for "work" on the 21st, with at least a few stories we can pass on to fellow travellers in our new official capacity. Lots of cool pictures to come next week...

Hasta luego,

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