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Published: August 25th 2010
And so I have finally torn myself away from my beautiful magentic life in Salasaca to travel other parts of Ecuador for awhile! Admittedly it is only for a few days, I am to return there in a day, but it is the first taste of my life post volunteering!
Last Friday afternoon, after fulfilling our 6 hours for the day (practically) and receiving my Katitawa participation medal from Robert (a moving ceremony) a select group of volunteers hopped onto a bus to Latacunga! From there, after finding a shop that sells our favourite cheap box wine, we got another bus to the tiny little town of Zumbahua, our first stop on a whirlwind tour of the Quilotoa circuit. After Emma and Arpen successfully wrangled us a lovely cheap room, we ate a teeth challenging dinner and retired to drink wine and eat some precious morsels of chocolate. The night was not as raucous as some in the past, as none of us wanted to be hungover for the proceeding day. However at 2am we were delighted to a totally random big band parade down the one real street in town, complete with horns, drums and drunken men, for no apparent reason!
In the morning we traipsed through Zumbahua's charming Saturday morning market, revelling in the chaos of the markets to which we were becoming accustomed and purchasing some food for the day!
A bumpy ride (bumpier for those stuck in the back) led us to the tiny town of Quilotoa. As I struggled to open my door against the howling Andean wind a little part of me longed for my sunny bed back in Zumbahua, but I was soon to be rewarded for my efforts. After piling on our warmest clothes we walked down a little path that led to the crater, not really paying much attention and chatting away as always. However as we rounded the corner, the conversation stopped. Ahead of us was the breathtaking ancient volcanic crater of Quilotoa. Its surrounding walls were craggy and plunged dramatically down to the startlingly blue waters (Rendered blue by the volcanic minerals still in the water).
The walk down into the crater only took about 40 minutes and was a pleasant plod through high arching rock corridors and some hilarious jumping down steep sandy paths which were impossible to walk normally on.
The walk up however was a different matter. It took about 2 hours and was very very steep. Although steep it was not something I thought I would really struggle with. However about 15 minutes in I remembered altitude. Arpen and I made a sorry pair, he sick from something bad the day before and me rendered dizzy and queasy from the altitude. Laura The Medical Professional came to our rescue and instructed us on walking with granny steps up the hill, so that we finally made it. Although feeling horrible, every time you turned around you were given the gift of an absolutely magnificent view over the crater. On the way we also met a friendly herd of sheep and a little local shepherdess, in traditional dress with a santa hat on.
Once at the top, some of our group went home and Brittany, Claire and I bundled up in our freezing room. The altitude sickness was still horrible; I felt vomity and dizzy the whole night. But the lovely girls looked after me and with a cup of coca tea and Jane Austen in bed, I felt a little better.
The next day we braved the full hike around the crater, determined to have a good walk. We were incredibly lucky with the day, the weather staying clear all morning. As we walked around the bumpy top of the crater we had incredible views of deserted farm lands and volcanoes sitting serenely in the distance. And every time we glanced left again we saw that beautiful crater. The walk was hard work, especially when still feeling a little woozy, but we made it. It took us about 5 and a half hours (with lots of stops) but we were very proud of ourselves and made it back in perfect time for the only bus back to Latacunga. (The bus schedule on the loop is totally unfathomable)
Brittany and I housed ourselves in Latacunga and treated ourselves to a delicious feast of salad, pizza and lemonade!
The next day we parted ways as I headed to Cuenca.
Cuenca is a lovely city. It's calm but bustling and full of charming little squares and plazas that pop out at you. After living with 14 people for a month I have been revelling in solo time. I found a lovely, totally empty hostel with my own giant private room. I have spent alot of my time reading and playing guitar which couldn't be lovelier. Otherwise I have been wandering the streets, writing in the plazas and eating at lots of amazing little holes in the wall. Today I visited the Museo Pamapungo which was free but would be absolutely worth paying for. They had great modern latin american art, a religious art exhibition and a beautiful ethnography section. This was my favourite, a section totally devoted to explaining and honouring the traditions of the multiple culturally rich indiginous groups in Ecuador. The best part was a section on a remote, very isolated jungle tribe and their now abandoned practice of shrinking heads. They actually had some shrunken heads on display, still with eyelashes and eyebrows and with their lips sewn shut to keep the bad spirits inside! It's incredible.
The museam also has an incredible garden filled with native plants and a beautiful bird sanctuary with resplendent and colourful toucans and macaws!
My final night in Cuenca will likely be a quiet one which is alright by me, before I head back home to Salasaca to prepare for a final weekend of partying in Quito before our group of volunteers finally heads our separate ways!
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