Day 754 (22.04.09)
We'd been promised incredible scenery, remote highland villages, Andean markets and interesting transport if we tackled what has become known as the Quilotoa Loop (a circuit starting and ending in the town of Latacunga that heads into the Andes and has Quilotoa as more or less it's central point.) Now we're not normally ones to believe everything our guide book says but this time it certainly delivered on its promises and led us through a spectacular couple of days on the loop.
Leaving Latacunga early our first stop was for some breakfast in the market town of Pujili. The colourful market was in full swing and we stopped in to have a nose around and buy some fruit before jumping back onto another bus to continue on our way. The journey to Zumbahua was to take an hour and a half and as things go in Ecuador would cost a dollar and a half (a dollar an hour is a fair guide for bus prices here). The beautiful mountainous hills that we wound over and around on the way kept our eyes entertained until we arrived.
From where we were dropped on the main road
above the small town of Zumbahua we walked down towards the centre until we found the local school where enterprising local ladies had set up their food carts to catch the lunchtime student trade. We joined the throng for a tasty, albeit stand-up meal to fuel up for the walk we had planned for the afternoon.
Reports varied as to the distance we would need to cover to reach the next town on the trail, the small settlement of Quilotoa, but we were fairly confident that it was no more than 14km. Turning down the numerous local truck drivers offering to take us there we set off on foot.
The walk took us along a huge valley of patchwork hills, past a large rock canyon and through some tiny little villages where we were greeted by friendly locals moving their sheep or doing the laundry in the roadside stream. The second half rose steadily uphill until we eventually reached the few buildings that make up the town of Quilotoa. These buildings are more or less all basic hostels or craft stalls set up to catch passing tourists there to visit the area's major scenic drawcard, the Laguna Quilotoa,
shimmering emerald-like at the base of an extinct volcanic crater. It was a stunning sight and made a fitting finale to an excellent walk.
Bundled up against the chilly air up in the mountains we settled in for the night at the simple but comfy Princesa Toa hostel where dinner and breakfast were included in the price.
Day 755 (23.04.09)
As on the previous day there were various options for reaching the next planned town of Chugchilan. The bus wouldn't leave Quilotoa until 2pm or various trucks could be hired if we'd wanted. Our legs were still feeling healthy after the fairly gentle walk of the previous day so we opted to walk the, again disputed, distance of somewhere between 14 and 22km! (For anyone planning to walk this stretch it's easy to get lost. We found the best instructions in the Ecuador Lonely Planet)
Teaming up with Benny, a guy who'd stayed in the same hostel last night, we set off around the crater rim for the first section of the walk. The path took us through some gorgeous brightly coloured wildflowers and of course gave us amazing views down to the Laguna.
the sandy patch we'd spotted from the start (the fourth not the third as the instructions had said) we left the crater rim and walked downhill through farmland where we met several local children and lots of barking dogs. This open section gave us great views of the green hills, snowcapped mountains and tiny villages which make up the area.
Around lunchtime we walked into the small village of Guayame hoping to find a bite to eat. We were unlucky there! There were no food carts or simple restaurants to be seen and even the few shops sold nothing but crisps.
Making do with some crisps and some rather odd tasting "sambuca" bread we continued on our way finding ourselves in a steep downhill tunnel-like path that eventually led us all the way down to the stream at the bottom of the large canyon which separated us from our goal of Chugchilan.
Of course that meant that we then had to scale the other side of the canyon so by the time we arrived in the cute little hillside town of Chugchilan we were more than ready for a sit down and something more substantial to eat.
The Quilatoa Loop
Pujili market, we borrowed the stall holder's knife to chop up our breakfast
The walk had been fantastic and well worth the effort.
Finding ourselves a lovely room for the night at the Cloud Forest Hostel we had a relaxing evening and a great dinner (like our previous night, dinner and breakfast were included in the price) before finding out our options for the following day and having an early night.
Day 756 (24.04.09)
We could have continued walking on to the next town of Isinlivi which would have been great but our time in South America is running out so we wanted to move on today. Now the bus that leaves Chugchilan for the next major town of Sigchos leaves at the crazy hour of 3am. There was no way in the world we were going to get up for that one so the option left to us was to hitch a ride on the milk truck for a dollar at 9am.
That sounded like a far more reasonable hour to us and we were interested to see just what our ride would be like as we waited for the truck to arrive. It turned out to be a pick-up with a couple of large barrels in the
back and, as we clambered aboard to join several locals in the back, we were grateful that we only had our small packs with us.
For the next 20 minutes or so we watched with interest as we wound our way around the hillside roads and stopped often for locals to pass up a bucket or two of fresh milk which was then poured into one of the large barrels in the truck. We could only guess that it was taken away for sale or maybe for pasteurisation and then returned.
Our fascination with this waned a little as more and more people climbed in to join us in the back of the truck. By the end of the 2 hour journey we had 2 large barrels full of milk, a huge bag of potatoes, a man in a wheelchair and 21 others crammed into the back. Moving was no longer a possibility but then we also didn't have to worry about holding on around the corners anymore, no one was falling out of that truck!
Glad to finally arrive in Sigchos we booked a bus to Latacunga and settled in for lunch whilst we waited. Back
Pink doughnuts, umm nutritious breakfast
in Latacunga we collected our bags and made our way to Baños, our next stop, via Ambato. A full day of travel in various guises had tired us out so after going out for some pizza we crashed out. We'd had a great time on the loop and had we had more time could easily have stretched it out by a few more days.
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