After the weather in Tena turned bad we decided against hanging around or heading deeper into the jungle, so instead we headed for the decidedly drier, though somewhat cooler highlands and the Quilatoa Loop. The Loop is effectively the route that covers all the villages/towns that surround the crater lake of a dormant volcano. The loop itself is very long - needing a number of buses to manage to go the whole way around.
After catching the daily bus that went in an anti-clockwise direction, 4 hours and quite a few bumps later we were in the small village of Chugchilan. We chose here as there were a few hostels featured in lonely planet that all seemed quite nice and it was well placed to do a couple of days exploring around the lake.
We chose the Cloudforest hostel as it seemed quite nice and was the cheapest!! $8 a night per person including breakfast and dinner......crazy prices! and the food was traditional and tasty. It was indeed a lovely hostel with a very friendly owner, nice common room with fire and some friendly co-residents. The only slight issue we had was keeping the hot water hot for all
to shower. We finally managed to get it to work on the 3rd night (which was good as cold showers/washes were the last thing we needed after a long days hike).
We had 2 days of activities and following the lead of 3 Americans who had signed up to ride horses to the cloud forest we chose this for day 1, leaving day 2 for the crater exploration. 2 other´s (a Belgian honeymoon couple) decided this was a good idea too so in the end there were 7 of us and the guide for the outing. The was supposed to be about 5 hours and we were due to leave about 8.30am so we decided lunch would be had on return.
9am or so Bernardo (our guide) arrived with the horses and we were paired up. We were told they were all tranquillo and no riding expertise was needed. In respect of both statements I would say they were "sort of" true. Our horses were certainly not wild and noone got sent flying but they certainly had a liking for charging forward in a trot and jostling for first place. Well all except Gordon´s horse...who as the only
male in troop held well back because the ladies like to give him a good kicking. In addition Ann´s horse Linda was a bit like EVIL bird from the refuge and like to take a bite at any horse (or as I found out after rider!) who decided to push past. So after 2 hours of riding to the first we were all very shaken and had rather sore bottoms.
We dismounted the horses and set off into the Cloud Forest. We were a bit surprised as we had expected just to stroll the horses through the forest paths. However this forest is not like the forests of home. In fact I´d say Jungle is just as apt. We weren´t cutting down fallen trees with machetes (on your feet you can just climb over them!) but our guide did break foliage with his hands to make a path, disappeared down a route so grown over we were at a loss as the what the path was, used large rocks to dig out steps into the mudslides that we had to climb down and had to help us up and down paths that I would have guessed impassible.
Ann on Board Linda
Ann´s horse was reasonly frisky...it didn´t like being passed and would cut off other horses and bite horses and riders if it didn´t get its way!
were given interesting information as to the medicinal and other properties of some plants and we spotted fresh Puma poo on the path (after our time at Santa Marta both Gordon and Ann can expertly say that this was Puma poo). After 2 or so hours heading deeper into the forest and Gordon confirming that we would be taking the same treacherous route back Ann decided it was time for a little strop and told Bernardo that if there was nothing more to see then she´d just wait here for their return (all in Spanish may I add!! We are still awful but we are improving). Good move as it encouraged the whole group to say actually we´d all had enough. So we turned round and marched back. Amazingly we returned to the horses in an hour...much relief to all.
That evening we were treated to a local band playing traditional music. The band was playing in honour of a politician who was visiting Chugchilan as part fo the Ecuadorian election campaign.
Day 2 we decided that horses would probably not be a good idea to visit the crater. Instead we got the local bus which took an
interesting hour along the dirt roads and at times narrow passes. The view from the left hand side was sickening! Sheer drops off the edge of the road and the driver made a pretty good effort in ensuring that the bus was right on the edge.....who needs a rollercoaster!
We arrived at Laguna Quilatoa and I have to say it is pretty spectacular. Its basically a lake in the crater of a volcano which is dormant as opposed to extinct.....it just hasn't erupted for a couple of hundred years. We did the obligatory photo shoot from the craters edge and then descended into the crater to the lake shore.....all the while cognisant that what goes down must eventually go up. Yes the walk up was pretty exhausting......I think altitude may have played a part in our breathlessness.
Instead of getting a bus back to Chugchilan we decided to take a taxi......well actually a ute with a wooden cage on the back. The plus side was that there were no windows for us to see the spine chilling view on the way back to the hostel. ON the down side though the route was so dusty that by the
time we got back we were covered in dust and looked like ghosts.
The evenings entertainment was provided by a group of local children who performed traditional dancing. The took it a step further and got all the guests up to dance with them. Very sweet! It was an early night though as the bus back to Latacunga and then Quito left at 4am......urgh!
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