Today (22/05/2018) we are setting off on a three day hike known as The Quilotoa Loop in the Andean mountains of Ecuador. It’s a self guided hike so we haven’t needed to pay for a guide and have just booked to stay in hostels along the way that provided breakfast, dinner and the option of a packed lunch. We found out about the hike from Mark, a Kiwi guy who we met all the way back in October last year in India and ever since then we’ve been really keen to do it. The information we've read suggests that the walk is anywhere between 30-40 km starting off at 2,600m above sea level in Sigchos and finishing at just under 4,000m at the 3 km wide crater of a volcano in Quilotoa that is now a giant lake.
So after breakfast we headed to the bus terminal and brought our tickets to Sigchos where the walk started. Having not yet spoken to anyone else doing the walk yet Julia bumped into an American girl, Sandra, who was heading in the same direction as us with her boyfriend Logan in the toilet of all places. There were a
few other people on the two hour bus ride that were heading the same way which was reassuring.
The four of us set off from Sigchos armed with a combination of instructions written on travel blogs or handed out at hostels, maps.me and Google Maps and weaved our way through to the south east corner of the small town of Sigchos to find the trail which was surprisingly and thankfully well signposted. The first part of the trail was mostly downhill until we got to the river at the bottom of the valley that we had seen snaking its way through the hills from the top. The highlight was seeing a brown llama who enjoyed being in the limelight stopping what he was doing and posing for the cameras that were being pointed his way! Once one camera had been put away he would casually look around to the next one and wait for his picture to be taken again.
After crossing the river we were set to take on the hardest part of today’s walk according to the instructions which was a 25 minute uphill zigzagging trail to get to the road that would take us round
to Isinlivi. Once we’d got past the mud at the bottom we slowly made our way up and you could definitely tell that the altitude was making a difference with us all breathing a lot heavier than we would normally. We’d all read a lot about people coming across lots of dogs on the trail that had tried to bite people so we were pleasantly surprised to find just one cow who had escaped from his field blocking our way up the trail. Logan confidently announced he was good with cows so went first and coaxed him along the trail in front of us for a while before making the bold decision to go past him around the back. The cow didn’t like this one bit and bolted but luckily Logan managed to get out of the way quick enough to only come away with a sore foot. That was our queue to climb through the barbed wire fence into the adjacent field and pass him from a safe distance! Once we’d made it to the top of the hill we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the salami and cheese baguettes that we’d made in Latacunga before walking along the
road to our hostel for the night in Insinvili.
The hostel, Hostel Cristobal, was really nice and much better than I’d imagined it to be. I was expecting a bit of a cold, damp place but it was really warm, cosy (they even had hot water for a shower!) and the views of the surrounding mountains were brilliant. We were joined by a Dutch couple Job and Minne a bit later on and we sat chatting around the fire that had been lit for us before we sitting down for a three course dinner which hit the spot after today’s exertion.
Breakfast was substantial and set us up for the day ahead. As we left the hostel the owner tried to show us a shortcut that we could take by taking a photo on Sandra’s camera and pointing out the path adding to our already extensive instructions and navigation aids!
It wasn’t long before we were joined by an elderly man who was making the 4 hour journey from his son's house in Insinvili back to his home. He told us he made the journey at least twice a week and was wearing a ridiculous
numbers of layers considering we were all struggling with the heat! He must have walked with us for an hour or so and every time any of us would stop for a drink of water it wasn’t long until he was urging us to continue with shouts of “vamos, vamos”. I offered him some of my water at one point as he didn’t seem to have any on him and he thanked me by saying “gracias patrón” which translates to “thank you boss” which I was pretty happy about! We went our separate ways at a viewpoint at the top of the valley just before the trail descended back down to the river and he left us running down the hill and it wasn't long until we spotted his brightly coloured hat crossing the bridge at the bottom of the valley. As we were resting another walker came round the corner and it turned out to be Dean who Julia and I had met in Otavalo a few days before. We’d not expected to see him as we thought he would be a couple of days ahead of us but he ended up staying in Latacunga for a bit longer
and was now at the same point as us. He was camping and he didn’t hang around long to hear about our stories of hot showers and three course meals! We will be in Baños at the same time and are hoping to watch the Champions League final together on Saturday which is also a day after his birthday.
Just like yesterday we had to walk down to the river cross over the bridge and then head back up the other side. Before started the climb back up the other side the trail took us past a school where the kids were out playing football. They were excited to see us and even more so when Logan took out a big bag of sweets which quickly prompted the game they were in the middle of stopping as they made a beeline towards him with hands outstretched! A quick getaway was required as more kids seemed to come out the woodwork and he was running out fast! The hill we had to get up though stopped us from moving too quickly and after a 20 minute slog uphill we reached a viewpoint where we stopped for lunch. That 20 minutes
was the toughest part of the walk so far with my heart feeling like it was going to burst through my chest at points! The last bit of the walk was along the road to the town of Chugchilan where we were staying that night. It must have been the end of the school day as we walked past lots of groups of smiling school children who weren’t shy of asking the gringos if we had any sweets or chocolate for their journey home, unfortunately for them we had run out at the bottom of the hill!
Our hostel for the night was Hostal el Vaquero which again was really nice. Job and Minne weren’t supposed to be staying there but when they got to their place they were told there were around 80 athletes staying there so they decided to join us and we celebrated our arrival with a couple of cervezas in the sunshine before a rain shower forced us inside. Dinner wasn’t as good as last night with three of the smallest chicken nuggets being served up with some rice and salad but it filled a hole before we retired to bed. There was no danger
of us getting cold due to the number of blankets Julia had piled up on the bed! Whilst she might have enjoyed the warmth I was being suffocated by the sheer weight of all of them on top of us!
We survived the crush overnight to be greeted by another fine morning and breakfast was much better than last nights dinner! We’ve been really lucky with the weather so far especially as the others had spoken to people who had completed the walk last week and it had rained every day leaving them wet and cold which wouldn’t have been pleasant.
We set off on the last leg of the walk just after 8am and as had been the case the last couple of days we started off going down again. During the first part of the walk we had to dodge some trail runners that were flying along the trail and quite frankly made us all feel tired watching them go past - in particular the guy who was doing it barefoot! Shortly after that we came across a couple of distressed goats that were caught up in the rope they were tied to and
screaming their heads off! Job and Julia came to their rescue and untangled them, Julia’s goat didn’t seem very grateful though as he just turned away and feasted on a nearby tree.
After walking down and back up another valley we stopped at a shelter overlooking a waterfall and took in the best views we’d seen over the last few days and we’d not even made it to the crater yet! From here we made the final push to the crater which of course was uphill and wasn’t made any easier with the sun beating down on us but we eventually made it to the top where we were greeted by an amazing view of the lake. The cold winds took us by surprise considering how hot we'd been along the rest of the way and we were quickly reaching into our bags for extra layers and woolly hats to keep warm. The lake itself was huge and after the previous day’s efforts none of us particularly fancied the four or five hour walk around the perimeter or the 280m walk down to the bottom so we headed round to the town of Quilotoa in search of our hostel,
Hostal Chukirawa, for the night. It was at this point that things started to get a bit sketchy as we couldn’t really find the path that we were supposed to be on for a while and ended up walking round on a slope through ploughed fields which didn’t give as much grip as our tired legs would have liked! After the cold winds at the top we bizarrely then walked through an area of sand and hot weather again before going back up to the top and exposing ourselves to the winds again! On a walk in New Zealand we had come across something called Rotorua Rocks where children (or parents!) will paint rocks and leave them around a forest in Rotorua. People are encouraged to then swap them with their own or pick them up to place them somewhere else and then post their findings to the Facebook group so the original artist can see how far they have travelled. We picked up one each and I found a new home for the one that I had found as we came across the a young girl at the end of the trail asking for sweets. I handed her the
rock, a half eaten pack of popcorn and she happily posed for a picture that I later posted to the group in order for the original family who painted the rock to see. They replied a couple of days later delighted that one of their rocks had made it all the way to Ecuador.
Once we got to town we had lunch with Job and Minne before saying farewell to them as they were taking the bus back to Latacunga instead of spending the night in Quilotoa like us. Logan and Sandra weren’t too far behind. At around 3,900m above sea level as the afternoon turned into evening we could really feel the cold and Julia had to plead with them to turn the wood burner on earlier than 6pm, which was the time they had told us they would normally light it. The sunset was incredible with a strip of orange lighting the horizon and the dinner was good but we didn’t get any dessert so they lose a couple of points there!
After a bit of a restless night’s sleep, I think owing to the altitude more than anything else, we had breakfast and decided to
head back to Latacunga as early as possible so we could then head further south to Banos that same day. The journey back was pretty straightforward as we took a taxi to a village called Zumbahua and jumped on a waiting bus for the 40 minute journey back to Latacunga where we could pick up our big bags that we had left behind and continue on our way.
We are very grateful to Mark who originally told us about the hike and very happy that the weather was kind to us for the duration. I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Ecuador as the views across the different valley’s and the lake itself were amazing and the sense of achievement at the end was up there. There is loads of information on blogs where you can find tips and directions plus all of the hostels can provide you with maps and shortcuts along the way. We found it was also quite a good way to save some money as the hostels we stayed at were really good value for money and the food they served kept you going without having to buy lots of snacks.
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