January 22 – 23, 2016
Our last night in Mindo we walked through the drizzle into town to have dinner. I carried an umbrella from Willy’s and wore my Gore-Tex jacket. We had dinner at Cafe Mindo where Sue gave the son of our server numerous temporary tatooes. We were having fun but couldn’t connect with the cafe’s wifi to make reservations for the following night in Quito (take note here of our perceived states of mind). We went across the street to an internet storefront and took care of everything. Then we went to a mini-mart to purchase water for the bus ride. Just as we were leaving we met a couple from Toronto, Neil and Barb, who were renting a house in Mindo for a month. Neil had led a variety of tours to Ecuador previously and they invited us back to theirs for tea and info.
Their rental was beautiful. All wood, lovingly finished. And right on the river. We had a great talk into the evening, mostly about all things Ecuadorian.
On the way back through the now quiet town I realized I didn’t have Willy’s umbrella and figured I’d probably left it at the cafe.
The next morning we had our final huge breakfast and chatted with a couple from Paris. Then we set off to town to find the umbrella. The cafe wasn’t open yet so we viewed a few sights we’d previously missed, had juice and coffee (!) and finally the cafe was open. Anna presented us with the umbrella (and a few tatoos Sue had forgotten) as soon as she saw us. We got it back to Willy, paid our bill and hiked back to the bus office with our gear. We boarded the bus almost right away. I was looking out the window and saw Barb and Neil so called out “Adios!”. They ran over and told me I’d left my jacket at their place. Doh. I hadn’t even missed it. And here we were planning on trekking and it was my one and only and the bus was about to leave. I made a quick decision and told them we’d be heading back to Mindo and would pick it up in a month or so. On the ride out of town I was questioning my decision.
The trip to Quito went by quite quickly and as we crossed the peaks and came down into Quito the clouds parted and the sun shone. We had started to feel as if we and our gear might never dry in Mindo so were happy to feel the dry air and heat. We shared a taxi with a Norwegian woman also going into Quito’s Centro Historical. The taxi drivers don’t know all the streets and hotels so have to call in to get directions frequently. Our driver dropped our fellow traveller off somewhere close to her hotel and then spent about fifteen minutes circling around trying to find ours. Finally we realized we had the right address but the wrong hotel name which had confused us all. (the driver got a tip for his time and effort).
Our hotel, the Inter Americano, was a place from another time. We agreed it would make a perfect setting for a David Lynch film: endless hallways with odd ’70s furnishings, frequent courtyards and air shafts and no one around really despite its having 100 rooms. We took a fairly large room so we could spread all our gear out and then went off shopping for a jacket to replace my left behind one.
It wasn’t easy finding one for a person of my XXX Grande size. One woman really wanted to sell me a Land’s End “London Fog” style trenchcoat, for a mere $US100. We persuaded her it might not be the best choice for trekking around in the Andes. Finally in a warren of shops we found a light windbreaker that actually fit (and will fit even better when I lose weight). It was $US25 but at least was made in Ecuador. Relieved we wandered down to La Ronda, a street of artisans and restaurants. It was only around 5pm so wasn`t very busy yet. We did stop for dinner at a small restaurant where we chatted with a young expat Cuban who`d recently moved to Ecuador. He mentioned La Ronda wouldn`t really be happening until about 8 so we went back to the hotel where I sorted photos for our blog.
Around 8 we walked the block or so back to La Ronda where there were many more people by now. We spent the next couple of hours walking back and forth, checking out the scene, as were hundreds of other people. Sue said it reminded her of an innocent version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans before it became so overwhelmed with tourists. Most of the people walking on La Ronda were Ecuadorian, many of them families. Musicians, puppeteers, crafts people, living statues and hawkers all sought our attention. We spent around half and hour watching a quartet of South American musicians playing under an archway. Several women danced on the street and they had a sizable crowd gathered plus a few people watching from windows.
We stopped for fluids at another hole-in-wall cafe and then walked back to our hotel. The music from La Ronda pumped through our windows so out came the ear plugs and we slept peacefully.
We had breakfast at the hotel and saw a family group who were probably the only other guests there that night. However, the front desk clerk, Victor, was very helpful explaining to us (in Spanish) how to get a local bus to the inter-city bus terminal on the south side of Quito.
Our bus was packed but we made it safely to the terminal and quickly got our tickets and were on the bus heading south to Latacunga, entry point for our trek around the Quilatoa Loop. We stayed at the Hostel Tianda, a colourful building just outside the town centre. Here we were given a map and directions for the loop trek plus a map of town and local info. The town was very quiet on the Sunday afternoon with very few businesses open. We eventually stopped for a set meal at a restaurant specializing in chicken. Once again we entertained the locals with our bad Spanish and odd (to them) dress and habits.
Back at the hostel music pumped in from somewhere (at first I thought the hostel but later discovered there`s a gym next door that pumps out loud music at all hours). Sue put in earplugs and I my iPod.
The town came alive. Slowly slowly more and more businesses opened during the morning. I was now on the lookout for a rain poncho, one big enough to cover me and a small pack. It took some time and lots of walking but I spotted a motorcyclist going into a motorbike shop wearing a perfect poncho. We followed him in and when I asked where he`d bought his poncho he pointed to the words “Policia“ on the the front left side. But the shop did have rain ponchos and I bought one. Probably more than I would`ve paid at home but problem solved.
We traipsed around town for a couple of hours stopping for coffee and tea and to pick up some fruit bars like we`d had in Quito from a wonderful little shop. But we eventually grew tired and hungry. We found a small restaurant serving “tipica“ food. It took some time to figure out what to order (once again to the amusement of many) but we ordered soup. Which turned out to have tripe as its meat source. However, it wasn`t so bad and served its purpose.
The rest of the day we spent looking at maps and websites planning our trek and I worked on my Spanish (it`s coming along!). Tomorrow we set off trekking, leaving most of luggage and electronics at the hostel for a few days.
Up early and walked to bus station with our minimalist gear. The 9:30am bus left closer to 10 but it was a sunny morning and we were soon out of town and heading up into the Western Andes. The bus wound its way around valleys and ridges giving us spectacular views. As we got close to the town of Quilatoa Sue chatted with an Australian woman sitting behind us who was visiting from Columbia, where she’d been living and working for the past few years. Lindsey’s command of Spanish was to prove very helpful for us when we arrived in Quilatoa.
Upon arrival we paid an entrance fee to the small village. It is situated at the edge of a huge volcanic crater filled with water: Quilatoa Laguna. As we walked into the village a pre-teen boy queried us in Spanish. With Lindsey translating we found he was offering us room at his parents’ hostel for a very good price that included both breakfast and dinner. We liked the room and took it.
After Sue and I dropped our gear the three of us went to the top of the trail down into the crater. As we walked down the steep, and sometimes sandy slippery trail, we met many folks coming up, huffing and puffing. The landscape was fabulous: arid and crisp. It took Sue and I about half an hour to get down; Lindsey had sped ahead to take a kayak tour on the lake. When we were ready to head back up we spotted Lindsey coming in from her tour. It took Sue and I about an hour to get back to the top edge, with many pauses to catch our breath. The altitude at the rim was 3800 meters and hiking up was a bit of a strain.
Once back we strolled around the village, visiting an artisan’s shop (Sue bought a hat), a larger craft store (where I bought a scarf) and stopping for tea, just as a downpour began. By the time we got back to our room we were a bit wet. After a short rest we went for dinner in our host’s home and shared dinner with the parents and their five boys. While sitting we watched some Ecuadorian TV news and saw that there was flooding up and down the coast. This may impact our future plans.
After dinner one of the boys lit our fire (our room was chilly at that altitude), listened to the rumble of thunder in the night but were soon asleep, resting for our three day trek.
After breakfast we packed up and left the hostel. Leaving the hostel we saw a motorbike hit a dog, the bike and rider tumbling over the dog. The dog ran off, with Sue in pursuit while I helped the rider lift his bike back up. Sue never did find the dog, so we hope it was alright. She applied some anti-biotics and bandages to the rider. Then we stopped back at the artesan’s shop where I bought a small painting from the artist’s wife.
Soon we hiked out of the village and along the crater’s rim, beginning our Quilotoa Loop trek. The views were amazing in the morning light. The trail was fairly narrow, often climbing up and down thin ridges and sometimes plunging between steep rock walls on either side. We looked down, down, down to the surface of the lake and down, down, down to where we were headed. After an hour and a half or so we began our descent to the village far below.
The trail was often a narrow channel between rocks, created by the intense mountain rains. Our footpath was less than a foot wide and often had ten foot rock walls on either side. Our descent took us down 1000 meters to a stream at the bottom of the valley. Now we began an 800 meter ascent to the next village: Chugchilan. Once again we were frequently climbing in narrow channels, scrambling our way up, up, up. We passed through tiny villages, passed farms on incredibly steep slopes and saw a variety of animals grazing the slopes. After a last huff and puff, six hours after we began, we entered the village and found our next hostel: Cloud Forest, a large, rambling wood structure.
First things first we got two big cervesas and jumped into hammocks to put our weary feet up. We chatted to some fellow travellers, including a French woman of our generation, Patricia. Later, showered and rested we joined our fellow travellers for an excellent, large dinner. Sitting at long tables encouraged lots of talk and exchange of travel experiences and info. Patricia indicated she might join us the next morning for our walk to Isinlivi.
Up early for a superb breakfast and then Sue, Patricia and I headed off down the main road. After about half an hour we found what was supposed to be a green pathway heading down off the road, but now was a construction mess as workers made a concrete water channel. We soon were beyond them, however, and went down, down, down. Along the way we saw where water had created a hole through a narrow ridge.
We passed through a village, and then were told by a local we should have turned down another path back where we entered the village, by his new, small hostel. We retraced our steps, fortunately on flat land, and were met by Miquel at his new construction. He showed us the view over the next valley we were to descend into and then gave us a tour of his building and showed us his painted, carved pictures. Both Patricia and I bought one each. Miquel’s mother joined us for a photo op.
We then went down, down, down to the river at the valley bottom. Patricia was not feeling well and the constant ups and downs were hard on her. However, we were able to walk in the valley bottom, along the river for about an hour. It was lush and green and we met many other travellers going the other way who had various words of wisdom about what was coming up for us.
We did have to start climbing again and experienced some difficulty finding the right path at one point. Although we had trail maps supplied by the hostels, and there were sometimes signs and/or painted rocks/trees, often the multitude of paths made it difficult to decide which was the right one. As we got closer to Isinlivi the path was cut into a steep green wall and we looked down into what seemed like a green paradise with a creek winding its way through pastures, tree copses and pampas grass.
We walked down to the stream, crossed a log bridge and wound our way back up the other side to the village. After our 8 hour walk we decided on some luxury and stayed at the Llulu Llama Hostal, a very beautiful adobe building and cabins. Sue and I splurged on a cabin. Out our front balcony we overlooked the valley; out the back we saw the llamas. We had a nice hot shower, a fireplace and lots of room. It was Happy Hour; Patricia bought Sue and I Pilseners and we all relaxed before dinner.
We’d heard about the meals at Llulu and were not disappointed. Multi-course and delicious. Our hosts were a young couple from Seattle who were volunteering as hosts. They had recently arrived in Ecuador from Columbia where they’d been volunteering on farms and projects. After dinner Sue and I retired to our room, lit the fire, played cards, watched the stars (looking for the Southern Cross) and saw some sheet lightning silhouetting the mountain peaks and ridges.
Fabulous breakfast ( I am trying not to go on about the great food too much, especially the fruits and juices). Patricia, although now recovered from her sickness and walking pains, decided to take a ride to Sigchos to catch a bus. Sue and I decided, despite rather ominous clouds, to continue our walk onto Sigchos where we too hoped to catch a bus back to Latacunga.
Our walk began with a beautiful green path down to a stream and back up with a view back to Isinlivi. We had to search but found our next path down to a village with an orange roofed church (made it easy to pick out from all the green). This day’s walk was a much easier four hours, mostly taking paths that short cutted between road segments. We did one 25 minute up, up, up that we thought was one of the hardest we’d done but overall it was pleasant. The scenery was more arid than that of the previous day and we could tell we were moving out of the previous days greener valleys. As we approached Sigchos I took one final photo looking back towards Quilatoa, a distant ridge now (in the photo below it’s about 1/4 from the right).
We walked into Sigchos, hot and dusty and sweaty (oh we were looking forward to clean laundry!). As we walked into the bus yard we could see a woman waving at us. At first we thought we were being directed to another entrance but it was Patricia, who had arrived via a collectivo truck. The best news was our bus was to leave in about half an hour (we’d heard all kinds of times for the bus).
The two hour ride back to Latacunga wound down out of the mountains, passing through mists and rain and out into the drier valley between the Andean ranges. Patricia continued on to Banos and we walked back to Hostel Tiana, where we showered again, got our laundry done and planned for the next destination: Banos, home to hot springs, white water rafting and an entrance (through the eastern Andes) to the Amazon.