Such was our line of thinking when we set off from our hostal in the tranquil little town of Chugchilan for the grand vistas to be witnessed at Laguna Quilotoa. Equador is essentially a cloudy nation, so you have to take advantage of the clear days when they come your way. Although I was recovering from a return bout of Andean Bus Virus, we nevertheless hired a ride to the town of Quilotoa with the goal of hiking our way back through several miles of high-country trails back to Chugchilan.
With a crude hand-drawn map on hand, we began our day basking in the majesty of Laguna Quilotoa. As you can see from the pictures, it is a pretty impressive sight. From the “entrance” of the lake, at the town of Quilotoa, we hiked about half-way around the circumference of the crater, approximately 12,000 ft above sea level. Naturally, it didn’t take long before we made a wrong turn and found ourselves scrambling through quinoa fields, asking the odd mountain donkey or stray llama for directions.
Fortunately for us, we were high up enough to catch sight of the small town of Guayama located at the mouth of a huge canyon, across from which lied our return destination of Chugchilan. Eventually, after a few stressfull moments and precarious scrambles, we managed to rejoin the main trail into town, continuing our descent from Quilotoa in a more organized manner.
You can learn a lot about a town from the disposition of the local dogs. All over South America, the pooch-folk enjoy a range of liberties that their North American cousins are not privy to. The general idea of “leash-laws” is quite foreign here, as, I would say, leashes themselves. Dogs go where they wish, which may be why they are generally less territorial and aggressive. Maybe that’s not the reason, but whatever the case may be, we were quite surprised to encounter one angry dog after another upon entering Guayama. Lex even took a small bite on the ankle from one of the pesky suckers. We left as quickly as we arrived, heading straight down into the massive gorge separating us from our erstwhile home.
Upon entering the Toachi Canyon, our hike grew a good bit more challenging. Between my balky right knee and Lex’s propensity for biting it on stiff descents, we had to manage our way down with a good bit of care. We passed a few local women on the way, climbing the canyon in traditional dress and, shall I say, footgear that is not exactly the kind of thing you’d find in an outdoors shop.
“Where are you from?? How long before you return to your land?”
“There is a man, a foreigner, who lives up top the northern hill who looks just YOU.”
We did our best to return the small talk, but were a bit too gassed from the hike and the altitude to carry these conversations on for very long. Eventually, after taking a few respites in the corn fields on the way back up, we found our way back to town. After some hot showers and enjoyable dinnertime conversation, we were back in our room, huddling under blankets in the highland chill. I soon became aware that our day of high-altitude ascents and descents did not have a beneficial effect on the bus-bug I had been trying to shake off. Sure enough, I took to a new level of illness and was unable to join Lex on the following day’s pony-and-cheese adventure.
Tonight, we are back in Quito, rejoining our bags at the Hotel Chicago. Perhaps some backtracking is in order here, but it is worth mentioning that Lex and I spent a few days in Quito last week. There are no pictures to post, since it is unwise to have anything of value with you when you leave your front door. Quito is, without a doubt, the most unsafe city we have been to. We’ve spent time with people who have been living in Quito, all of whom have endless amounts of mugging and robbery tales to share, most particularly those targeting tourists. The moment night falls in Quito, it seems as though everybody rushes inside and locks their doors. Not exactly a great vibe. We’re not quite sure why Quito is spoken so highly of in travel-writing circuits, while Lima always gets the shaft. Sure, Lima has some crime problems as well, but at least the entire city doesn’t come off as being paralyzed and paranoid.
On a brighter note, this week is the celebration of Inti Raymi. That’s right, summer solstice! I’m not sure how the ancients put that one together here in Ecuador where the length of days and nights stays exactly the same all year round, but, suffice to say, Inti Raymi is a holy day and a holy week for many of the Quechwa-descendant people throughout the Andean high country. Tomorrow, we are headed north to Otavalo to witness some of the Inti Raymi processions and, hopefully, learn more about the craft traditions in the surrounding villages.
astonishingly beautiful place, hope you are feel way better Mark 🙂
Hi Guys – Reading about yor adventure brings back memories of my times in Equador. Sounds like your are gathering great experiences in your travel and seeing the real SA. Sorry you feel uneasy in Quito but it’s best to be cautious. This past April I spent 3 weeks trekking the coastal areas of Panama. I flew into San Jose, Costa Rica. I had only been there for several hours and just checked in to my Hostal. About 6PM I went out myself looking for something to eat. It was not at all dark, but momentarily the street I was on was empty. Two young guys about 18 approached me and growled in spanish to give them my backpack. I acted like I did not understand them, then one of them pulled his shirt up to reveal a gun tucked in his pants. I dodged and ran across the street. At that moment a policeman on foot turned the corner about a block away. They saw him and fled. I got the police and several others attention and they gave chase, but the thieves got away. I was very lucky to get away unscathed and not lose anything.
Thievery is ever present in Latin Amer and one must know how to safely navigate, and that comes through experience and instinct but is not 100%.Harold (JBS) Schwartz
Happy Inti Raymi! And hope you both feel better soon! You’ve been in the territory of the Inca Empire (as I learned from Nat’l Geographic April Issue which featured Inca Civilization===and which I’ve saved fyi) Cusco the capital, Quito the northernmost part of an empire stretching through Chilean Patagonia. How did they do this, lacking even the wheel? Is the language you hear actually ancient Incan? Amazing part of the world,