From Cotopaxi I felt like I had my first travelling-proper moment: Taxi driver dropped me on one side of the panamericana in Machachi and told me I needed to cross the footbridge, wait next to ‘the man in the white shirt’ and just flag down the next bus to ask if it’s going to Latacunga (“it probably is”). They love their specifics in Ecuador! I asked the bus manager to tell me when we were nearly there, which he did by calling me forward to sit in the front seat next to the driver. Latacunga is bigger than I thought! And the hostel has a nice garden/kitchen area.
Couple of easy days later, I caught the bus, with only my daypack, just in time for the Quilotoa Loop: a series of villages where there’s scenic hiking and a ‘bottomless’ lagoon in a collapsed volcano crater. Two or three days of hiking is good for the soul I think, especially when you have gorgeous scenery to absorb on the way. The journey to Zumbahua was very ‘Andes’ – stunning! Cotopaxi volcano has the quality of always looking massive no matter how close to/ far from it you are. I was sat next to a local Quichua/Kichwa lady, and her young daughter who fell asleep on my shoulder the whole way. She told me we had to get off the bus when we reached Zumbahua, and all the gringos from the bus shared a taxi/pick-up truck to the tiny village of Quilotoa. Found the hostel that had been recommended to me, and a lovely couple from New Zealand decided to stay there too – my kinda people! 🙂
After a cuppa and the purchase of some delicious locally-made snacks, we walked the 20metres from the hostel to the unique lagoon!
It’s ~2km across and 250m deep, with no streams and sometimes small bubbles rising. Question: how did the water get here? Answers on a postcard…
We spent a most enjoyable chilled-out day trying to find the path round the top of the lagoon, and being told by local people (who often seem to want to give you a positive answer rather than say ‘I don’t know’) that we were going the right way… which turned out to be wrong; the path led down to the lagoon instead. And there were landslides behind us!
We made the best of it and hiked a way round the base of the lagoon for a while instead…
… losing the ‘trail’ really quite frequently!
There was a decision to make when we thought we’d have to turn back and risk the landslide, but instead we plumped for climbing up from where we were – hard work but it was a good decision! More solid and zig-zaggy trail than the other, leading up to a lookout point where a group of Quichua people were fascinated with us 🙂
Pine trees up here made it smell like Christmas!
More stunning relaxing scenery later, back to the hostel to do some stretches and watch the sunset, missing the window of opportunity for hot water in the process! 😦 I’ll just have to be smelly tomorrow! Feel a bit like a rookie there, won’t make that mistake again.
All day Olly, Megan and I had had some great conversations about not wanting to be chained to a desk for the rest of our lives: it was like looking in a mirror and I could really understand the desire to do something totally different! Last job of the day: light the much-needed fire in my flashpacker/glampacker private room with wood stove!
Chugchilán to Isinliví: not for the faint-hearted!
After an early rise I said ‘see you in NZ’ to Megan and Ollie and headed off in a ($30!!) taxi to Chugchilán, the most remote point on the loop, as I wanted to hike from there.
It was a very peaceful and enjoyable hike, with the exception of questioning myself on a number of ‘which way’ decisions and my brain needing shushing – signs like this were VERY rare!
Some things I learned:
1. When the directions say ‘keep right’ they mean ‘todo recto’ which REALLY translates as ‘straight on’. Wish I’d worked that out before the end of the hike!
2. (Once I’d already reached the bottom) this is NOT the ‘steep’ path down to Itualo (Yep, had to climb all the way back up, friendly local man laughing at me, back past some unnecessarily yappy dogs!)
But this is!
Some flora and fauna along the way:
Soup, shepherds pie, banana cake and camomile tea meant I slept through the commotion from the 3am bus that apparently kept everyone else awake. But I did hear the morning loudspeaker announcement to the valley that drinking water was arriving (we think)!
Then came ‘the milk truck experience’: a bumpy and hair-raising but cheap, insightful and interesting journey to the next town! Smelling of… well, unpasteurised milk!