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October 28th 2009
Published: October 30th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Sunday eve sat in the dorm alone at Hostal Tiana resigned to the fact that I won't be able to do the Quilotoa loop as I can't find someone to go with, there are tours around but wanted to do it without paying for a guide. Then as luck would have it, 2 guys checked in, Frenchies! The boys told me of their plan to hike the loop tomorrow so I asked them if I could tag along with them, and now there are 3 of us, sweet! The fellas, Julian and Clement are travelling Ecuador for 1 month, Julian from Toulose can't understand English very well so I have to talk slow, not a problem though, Clement living at the mo' in French Guiana until his contract finishes and goes back home to mainland France. Nice friendly guys, yet again I will be doing a trek with French dudes. They also told me of the festival that will happen in Cuenca, my next destination next week and advised me to book quickly. So while they went out to have dinner I spent the rest of the night phoning hostels going thru LP and Hostelworld, the weekend is all full and
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potato fields on the hill
luckily on my last try before giving up a hostel has vacany for me but for a single not dorm rooms, i took it the price is still good.

The next morning after the meager free breakfast of 2 breads, jam and butter and a juice, oh yeah and hot drink, I packed and waited for the boys to sort out their Cotopaxi climb when we get back 2 days later. Julian is a bit apprehensive but Clement is determined, he wants to celebrate his B- day at the top of Cotopaxi! Then we walked to the bus terminal and took the 10 am bus straight to Quilotoa. The trip was long, about 2 hours but the scenery is fantastic, deep valleys, hills with colorful and geometric shaped fields like patchwork planted with potatoes, some still being worked on. we stopped at Zimbahua briefly, lots of locals getting off. it's funny here if they want to alight they say"gracias" and the driver stops at the curve. Got to Quilotoa and people came on board the bus, one guy asked us to pay the entrance fee of $2, we hesitated but paid anyway, and women asking us if we need
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group foto, top of the canyon,but we are still lost at this time, trying to find the damn trail!

We first went to the Mirador and lo and behold, this gorgeous emerald colored lake greeted us, Lago Quilotoa, a massive crater lake. we took lots of fotos right away, clouds casting shadows on the lake creating some awesome contrast and texture. a number of locals asking us if we want a guide, we declined determined to make it on our own, armed with the map from Hostal Tiana and we took a foto of the map at the back of the Trailhead sign. it warns hikers not to go after 1:30pm due to weather. It's only 12pm, we have time, the directions said specifically hit the 2nd sandy patch you see on your left from the mirador and follow a trail to it's left. we saw it right away so we made our way there walking along a trail that follows the ridge around. We keep stopping for fotos.

Once we hit the 2nd sandy spot there was a viewpoint to the right so we headed there carefully as it is quite close to the edge of the cliff. We decided to have lunch there. Then we located the trail and followed it, went down the sandy path sliding, then we lost the trail somehow, we found lots of trails actually but not the one described in the directions so we decided to just head down anyway, It's a bit windy and sun quite strong, and I suffer from a mild headache, we went slow. Saw a guy building his house and asked for the right directions to Guayama, where we need to head, but turns out there are 2 of them, Grande and San Pedro! the map gives specific on how to get to San Pedro, but the dude said we can take the trail to Grande and would be easier, so we did.

Once down in the canyon we knew we are lost as we can't find any landmarks/points described in the map, but we saw from the top where the town is so we headed in that direction, going past an almost dried up river up and down hills, encountering local kids asking for bread and money, we declined all of them one boy got ticked he threw a rock in my direction hitting the shrub beside me. Somehow we managed to find Guayama Grande, nothing grand about this town, composed of i think 10 houses, a church and some playground, the kids told us to follow the big road to get to Chugchilan, our aim for today. Walk is hard we entertain ourselves by annoying each other, the boys every now and then would throw french words which i cant understand. We found a small trail going down the meadows so we followed it knowing the town of Chugchilan is on the other side of the valley. Once past the fields we got to a point where a deep gorge separates us from our destination, we went down it, quite rough, hard work, the trail is dry and dusty, quite slippery, lots of scree. we all at one time slipped and went down on our asses, but we continued on.

The view from below once we got down the gorge is absolutely amazing, patches of potato fields, some pine trees and barren fields yet to be worked and some animals, sheeps, horses and cows. My knees were shaking by now from all the downhill trails. Now we have to get up to get to the other side and its a bitch of a trail, i struggled mightily, headache, sore knees and bum from falling on my butt. We somehow found the trail again! Like the direction said we will encounter a log bridge, we need to cross it, ignoring the arrow sign. This trail was well marked before, then the locals decided to take most of the signs off so the gringos would have to hire them as guides to not get lost, little did they realized, backpackers are stubborn and will do anything to save a few bucks tips for the guide, us included. Uphill now from hereon, the french dudes are fitter than me and was always ahead, I stop briefly every few minutes to catch my breath and see the scenery. Nice of them to stop and wait for me when I lag behind.

Got to the point where we have to chose 30 minute walk up the big road or keep hiking up on this shortcut killer trail, of course we have to chose the killer trail! Thought i was gonna die on this hill, the Frenchies struggled as well, this went on for about 20 minutes, I was thinking we saved 10 minutes for what, to see if we die today or not? Hallelujah we made it to town! Chugchilan is very dead at 5pm, yes took us 5 hours. A very small town, of course there is this church and maybe 3 hostels, we encountered Mama Hilda hostel we took a look at the rooms and were satisfied, the price per person is $17 includes dinner and breakfast. Clement bargained and it went down to $12 when we indicated we might check out the Cloud Forest hostel next door, Clement wanted to compare prices and was headed that way, Julian and I balked, we are all tired so we made Clement agree to the price. The beds are super comfy we have 3 beds in our cabin room, 2 below and one at the top.

Julian and I are below, we both hit our heads at the low beam just above our beds, damn! Chill time, hot shower and naps. Later we went down the kitchen, Clement buying a round of beer for a successful trek
while senora Mama Hilda looks on. At dinner we met the other people in the hostel, a Dutch and Belgian couple. After a good dinner we all went to bed early all tired. I struggled to fall asleep and when I did I woke up in the middle of the night and not fall asleep again. The Frenchies slept like babies. Clement woke us up at 8am time for breakfast, we were served fruits, and bread, yoghurt and tea and cheese. we almost finished everything not realizing that all that is in front of us were for all the people staying there! the Dutch couple was ahead of us so were actually eating their leftovers and the Belgians complained we finished breakfast and not leave them any. Well how are we supposed to know they wont refill breakfast,this is the only part we did not like, they were skimping on us because it is low season. oh and the Dutchies even got eggs!

went for a walk to town, 5 minutes later we are back at the hostel! that is how small the town is, we bought our water and checked out, I had a minor argument with the payment, they refuse to take my pennies, saying too much coins! I told them either they take it or I wont pay at all! Mama Hilda was mumbling to herself while counting the coins, we left right away.

Day 2 directions in hand we confidently walk towards the trail, we followed the road out of town on the opposite direction where we arrived in. Then half hour later we found a sign on the right pointing to Isinlivi/Itualo, a grassy trail lead us down the valley, again very slippery scree, we can see the town of Itualo. A difficult descend on the steep hill. The town is so small once again. Dogs barking at us we ignored them and followed the trail out of town,15 minutes later we found ourselves on the other side of the valley sandy hill behind us we struggled to find another trail down towards the river, there was a fence so we asked the locals if we can jump it, we followed the river for awhile looking for the log bridge we were supposed to cross, the trail stands out from the black sooty terrain, they recently burned the grass in this area, we got to an obstacle, a dead shrub with thorny branches blocking our way, we slipped under it carefully. Finding a log bridge we crossed it only to realized it was the wrong bridge to cross. Back again to the other side, walked 100 or so meter more we saw the wooden bridge with cables.

Trail is clear so far until we took the wrong right trail turn,we might have turned too early but regardless we are never turning back we went up on the hill going through veggie patches and soogy bogs. We found a hut halfway the top of the hill we stopped there for lunch and enjoying the view while listening tot the sound of chainsaw on the other side of the river. A man approached us and chatted a bit, he offered his services to take us to the top for $5 warning us the route we're about to take is quite dangerous, did i mention we were stubborn, we said no and went on our way. Immediately we found dead ends, the trail we follow winds up nowhere, but we knew we have to be up thi hill so we took any possible trail we can find, we knew we are lost anyway. huffing and puffing we follow one trail to the next not knowing where it leads to. Before I collapsed and die we found ourselves at the top. Grassy trail we followed past bromeliad laden trees, then we realized we need to go up some more. Finding ourselves at the top once again, we saw a house with dogs no one is home and the dogs are menacing, we picked up sticks and rocks in case..

In one house we found an old man we asked for directions and he showed us the right way. We debated at every crossroads where to go next and so far we were right all the time. A few more locals we asked for directions it strated to drizzle now that got us worried but it stopped right away. As we walked around a curve we saw the town of Isinlivi! Still ways away but almost there. The path is blocked by a big cow so we took another way uphill again and then some more! up and down hills, we finally managed to find a trail that is consistent, and encouraged by nods from locals that we are on the right path to Isinlivi.
What a relief to finally see the town uphill, waiting for us right at the entrance of the Llullu Llama hostel were the Dutch couple ahead of us by couple hours, they got lost badly as well and at some point thought of going back. the hostel is very nice, the only one in town! $18 dinner and breakfast included, run by volunteers, Kevin a Canadian dude and Holly, from North Carolina. We got the dorm beds up the attic, compost toilet, hot showers, a cute little cat, quite neighbors what more can you ask for. They have a nice garden that leads to a view point 10 mins. away, we were so tired we chill for a bit, showered and all, Julian and I went for a walk to see the canyons at the viewpoint, when we came back Clemente and Kevin invited us to walk to another mirador, 20 mins from the hostel, nice view and if you shout it echoes along the valley! Julian is spent by now, that got me and Clement worried, he was walking slowly, but apparently he's ok, later he told me his leg were weary.

Dinner was lasagna, good eat. Kevin played in his guitar, a big Collective Soul fan he played lots of their music on his guitar. After having a beer we retired to bed, early rise for the 7am bus back to Latacunga. Clement is sensitive to cold, they will climb Cotopaxi tomorrow so I offered him my beanie and body fit long sleeves to layer as he does not have a lot of warm clothes, he wants to spend his birthday at the top of Cotopaxi so i tried to help him get warm and ready. Slept pretty wel, Julian did not sleep at all that night and is worried about the Cotopaxi hike. We caught the bus waiting at the corner near the churchand plaza of the town, 2 1/2 ride to Latacunga, gorgeous scenery again and we saw the twin peaks of Iliniza volcanoes. lots of stopping picking up locals and also got into traffic, narrow roads, big tractors going the other way we always have to give way.

Finally arriving in Latacunga at the Tiana hostel, we requested the big breakfast we were supposed to get in Isinlivi, eggs and all, same owners, Katrina from Switzerland. the boys went to Tovar office to finalize their trip I sat and had breakfast while waiting for them. Clement asked permission to have a shower but Katrina refused, she wanted him to pay
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solving baby sitting problems, baby in a hole!
for the privilege, and told Clement he does not need to shower as he will get sweaty on the trail anyway, not a good answer from a hostel owner, Clement is annoyed, he refused to pay,they reminded us breakfast is included only because we left early from Llullu Llama hostel in Isinlivi shower is extra, a bit of courtesy would have been had, besides the hostel is not busy at this time, it's dead no one was there except us and an English couple who left as well. Don't get me wrong though Katrina was helpful but when it comes to money, quite tight, no extra courtesy perks.

Anyways the boys left for the Cotopaxi hike and hoping we meet up again in Cuenca in couple days.

Additional photos below
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Julian atop the lake

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