Hi all, Michael here. So, when Kate left off the last blog we’d arrived in the town of Latacunga – not the most interesting place in itself but it is the starting point for the Quilotoa Loop. The Quilotoa Loop is a route going through a number of remote Andean villages, travelling either by bus or hiking between villages. The highlight is Laguna Quilotoa, a huge lake set in a volcanic crater. As Kate decided she was going to sit this little sidetrip out (coming out, as she was, in a rash at the mere mention of hiking), I was going solo for a few days.
I started the trip by getting the bus from Latacunga to the little village of Isinlivi, which was an experience in itself being the only Gringo on the bus. I stayed the night in the lovely Llullu Llama hostel, a converted traditional farmhouse, before setting out on the 11km hike to Chugchilan the following morning. From there I would hike on to Quilotoa the following day before getting the afternoon bus back to Latacunga.
Now, the thing about hiking on the Quilotoa Loop is that the trails are poorly signed, if at all, so it’s not too hard to get lost. But the hostels give printouts of pretty detailed instructions (complete with pictures in one case!) so what could go wrong? Well, not too much on the first day but I did spend about 30 minutes at one stage walking up and down the trail looking for a turnoff that didn’t seem to exist before finally finding it.
The second day turned out to be a bit more problematic. The first part of the hike was down to the bottom of a canyon and then back up. According to the directions I got there should be no confusion going back up the canyon as there was only one trail, leading up from a bridge at the bottom of the canyon. Well, I definitely took a wrong turn somewhere, as when I got to the bottom of the canyon there was no bridge and no trail going up the other side of the canyon. So, I was left with going back up the way I’d come down and starting from scratch or walking along the base of the canyon to try and find my way back to where I was supposed to be. Perhaps not too sensibly I decided on the latter, and spent a slightly anxious 45 minutes clambering over small boulders until I eventually found the bridge and the path I was supposed to be on. I was getting visions at one stage of a sequel to 127 Hours being made about my story, as if anything happened to be down there, there was nobody finding me any time soon!
From there I managed to keep my bearings but it was a pretty tough hike, going up from 2800m to 4000m at Quilotoa. The last part of the hike, around the rim of the crater was particularly tough but worth it for the amazing views.
The whole hike was a great experience, through canyons and along cliffs to small traditional highland villages and farmsteads. Some parts of it actually reminded of a slightly more extreme version of parts of Ireland, with the greenery and landscapes, not to mention the intermittent drizzle! It definitely felt like getting off the usual tourist trail (though all the guidebooks mention it as a highlight of Ecuador), as I only met a handful of other people along the way – all really interesting people.
After the Quilotoa Loop and Latacunga, we made our way to Canoa, a small hippyish beach town on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. We just spent the few days there chilling out on the beach and in the sea, along with the odd cocktail. We had planned to take a surfing lesson but I ended up getting sick (again!) so we had to knock that on the head. We’re back in Quito now, preparing for our trip to the Galapagos tomorrow, which is bound to be one of the highlights of our time here.