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Published: February 16th 2020
Our move to the Quilota Loop didn’t start well, when the taxi that was meant to take us to the correct bit of the hard shoulder of the Pan American highway for the Latacunga bus, failed to arrive. We leapt on the local bus and sped down the hill to the town of Otavalo where we jumped into a taxi and arrived at the aforementioned hard shoulder spot in time to wait for an hour and and half until we could get onto the right bus. (There was an earlier bus and we had got there first but there was no point arguing with a group of Ecuadorians who felt they had a right to get on the bus rather than us.)
Luckily we were able to leave our stuff that we didn't need for the trek in our hostel in Latacunga and we set off for the start of the Quilotoa Loop with a spring in our step (Pete) and a feeling of dread (Jan) on the bus to Sigchos. Our hostel in Sigchos gets the prize so far for the worst hostel in Ecuador (although obviously things can change in that department). No electricity, no hot water, actually
no water at all to begin with and no lights in our room. Oh, and no breakfast. Tops. We were a bit downhearted until we found a little cafe that opened at 0700hrs so we knew that we had breakfast in the bag before we started our trek. HOORAY!
And so began our Quilotoa Loop…….The first day was a distance of 11km from Sigchos to Isinlivi. For those of you who think that 11km doesn't sound that far, you are absolutely right if it wasn’t for the climb of 480m over that 11km and the fact that your lungs feel that there is no air anywhere for them to suck in. Some of the tracks were fine but some of them were like vertical step ladders covered with mud. It was about 26 degrees which is a top temperature for windsurfing but not for climbing mountains! Oh and the altitude at the end of the day was 2900m.
But it was so beautiful. Just so beautiful. We passed tiny farms where people were growing crops on slopes that would make you cry if you had to weed them. There were pigs and cows and tiny people who looked
like they wouldn't be able to lift a shopping bag carrying firewood on their shoulders. And everyone was so friendly... at one point we were lost and heading in the wrong direction when a tiny walnut of a man appeared from his house to tell us, not in Spanish but in Kitchwa, that this path didn't go anywhere and if we were heading for Isinlivi we needed to go back. What a star, may his maize grow well and his cows produce many calves.
And we did indeed get to Isinlivi after 5 hours, even though we were in bits. To the best hostel in Ecuador, with hot showers and a tea boiler to welcome us. Huge views from the alpacas on the lawn to the distant mountains in swirling cloud. And electricity. And not only breakfast but dinner as well. HEAVEN!
Day 2 started well, with a hearty breakfast and we set off for another 11km by 0800hrs. This time we were walking from Isinlivi to Chugchillan, with 580m climbing to conquer before bedtime. I think we are getting better at this…..we had a picnic lunch at 1030 by a stream before crossing a very dodgy suspension
bridge (1 person at a time please) and THEN the climbing started. Oh my goodness. Boiling hot and mind bogglingly steep oh my goodness I thought I would explode. But all things will pass and the mountain did too. And at the top was a man with bottles of coke in a fridge! We weren’t sure if we were hallucinating but we said “si por favor” before he could disappear! And he was the wicked man who told us it was only 40 minutes walk to Chugchilan and it was flat. NEVER believe an Ecuadorian who tells you the path is flat! One and a half hours later we were still nowhere near our hostel but we did in the end get there and Day 2 was successfully completed. Now at an altitude of 3200m with the final push to Quilotoa tomorrow. Yikes we might actually do this! There is great trepidation though, as the last day involves twice as much climbing as the first two days, a mere 980m! Oh joy.
Our room in the hostel was heated by the pipe from the wood stove in the room below. The same pipe heated the room above us. Staff lit the stove as we had dinner and the room was cosy all night. What a great idea, why do we make our chimneys go outside?
We learnt some good lessons from a Dutch couple in their seventies who were very experienced travellers and hikers. They told us to walk slowly up the steep hills in the thin air. We should still be able to talk in short sentences, otherwise we were walking too fast and getting too breathless. That entailed a pace length less than my walking boot on steep sections! The Dutch couple rarely took a rest and arrived at the destination before us!
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