As the week drew to a close we began to plan our weekends adventures. We decided with a group of the volunteers that we needed to get out of Salasaca for the weekend to go hiking somewhere beautiful and preferably not too far away. After much deliberation we decided on Quilotoa, a beautiful lake in the crater of a volcano. Emma and Damir had previously been to this spot and advised us to do the circuit walk which followed the edge of the crater, rather than walking down to the lake and back up again. There were mixed reports on the length of the walk with the median being five hours round trip. We found out that the length of the walk was only twelve kilometres and laughed at 5 hours saying we could do it in about three our less, but failed to take into account the variation in altitude and the steep peaks that would soon make us eat those words. With a bus change in Ambato we made our way to Latacunga, a bustling little town on the way to Quito. From Latacunga we caught another bus high into the mountains. It was an incredibly colourful bus journey, from the urban-like bustle of Ambato the steep incline led us high into the clouds and the crumbling suburban atmosphere led us into farming land, some of which was built right on the side of towering mountains and volcanos. The angle of some of the plots was astounding, almost too steep to climb. Cows fed on thirty degree slopes and a band of three eight year old girls led a huge flock of sheep along the highway to new ground. The traditional dress changed as we moved on, the Salasacan prototype varying almost in increments of colour and style. Old, stooped women clambered onto the bus with huge sacks, moving and writhing as the bus twisted and turned. An occasional beak or foot of a chicken bursting from the Hessian. Colourful and elaborate wraps covered women’s shoulders with only tiny baby feet giving hints to their load. An old couple helped each other on and off the bus, so ancient that they looked to have become a part of the fields themselves. Higher and higher we rose till the clouds flitted amongst the heels of the bus and we were driven into areas more and more remote. The concrete blocks of houses gave way to traditional housing of packed mud and thatching, the huts blending into the fields.
At last we came upon the entrance to the reserve of Quilotoa, payed our entrance and went in search of lunch. A couple of tiny hostals, a single restaurant and a couple of small corner stores made up the infrastructure of Quilotoa. After a costly meal we traipsed through the small indigenous market and found the mouth of the circuit trail. The lake was brilliant azure and turquoise with the jagged rim of the volcano towering above it. Formed in an eruption some eight hundred years previous the lake had accumulated into a mass of water three kilometres wide and two hundred and fifty metres deep. The peaks of the volcano reach a massive four thousand metres above sea level. From the viewing platform behind the restaurant the path didn’t look very daunting and we swiftly began our walk. The fields along the walkway still maintained their impossible angle and played host to a herd of Llamas and horses. Tanya quickly began to lag behind as she spent far too long taking pictures of the horses ( and there ass’). As we began our ascent of the first peak we realised that the hike was actually incredibly difficult. The path was really steep and the altitude kept us breathless. We soon realised that the first peak was the tallest and we struggled and struggled our way to the top for an incredible view of the lake and surrounding countryside.
The peaks never ceased, with rise giving way to steep descents and rarely a flat to ease our legs. As we made our way further around the mouth we entered the clouds and a magical atmosphere of sweeping views and dense fog. Our group a small bundle of figures emerging from the clouds and sinking back into them as the path narrowed. We eventually emerged from the largest bank of clouds to a landscape unlike the sandy rock and sparse brush of the start of the walk. It was like a lunar playground, vast, pocked drifts of sand carving valleys into the broad vista of the moon. Losing the path we found ourselves edging along cliff faces and meeting a dead-end. Soon we turned back and once again entered the eerie and strange landscape. From the moon we entered a sparse and different forest, not unlike secondary rainforest. The plants changing rapidly as we moved on. Admiring the majestic view of the lake from all 360 degrees as we rested our lungs and legs from the punishing and beautiful hike, we nibbled on snacks. Mostly eating those that Lizzy bought along, our snack queen hosting a cake of carrot mould (sounds bad, tastes Fantastic) and trail mix with chocolate. Much better than our stale tasteless crackers.
The sun began to color the sky in gorgeous reds and it seemed that no matter how close the end looked it was just beyond our reach. Googie surged ahead and disappeared into the distance as we trailed behind, eager to finish the walk before the end of the sun. At last a final peak bore witness to the final road giving a spectacular view to the sunset and the small village of Quilotoa. Albeit exhausted we were coaxed into attempting a final group jumping photo, leaving us giddy but happy and feeling we had accomplished quite a feat that day.
Ed swiftly began negotiating our way out of Quilatoa in an attempt to make it back to Salasaca that night. With a bit of bargaining we were soon perched in the back of a camioneta on our way to the closest major town where we could catch a bus back to Latacunga. Luckily for us we waited no more than five minutes in the cold before a bus roared up beside us. We were quickly followed by a group of local men who were handed a strange uncapped bottle through the window of the bus. We soon realised what this liquid was as the fumes filled our lungs in the small contained area of the bus. It was the local cane liquor, a beverage with an alcohol content sometimes reaching eighty or ninety percent. The liquor is brewed from the excess sugar cane left from the refining process and sometimes causes extreme alcohol poisoning and even blindness. The smells and fumes emanating from their exaggerated card game behind us left us feeling quite ill. We focused on getting through the journey without being losing consciousness or being sick and made it Latacunga after what seemed to be an eternity. We decided to refuel on some delicious pizza and with another stroke of public transport luck we found a bus to take us all the way to Salasaca, with the biggest flat screen television we had seen on a bus. After a good dose of a violent movie we arrived home again.
A moment must be spent here to explain the experience that most Ecuadorian buses afford. Of the people jumping on and off to sell you varies snacks and beverages there is a particular kind of sales person not just satisfied to yell out their wares and then be gone with a few quick sales. No, he will spend between 15 min to half an hour, depending on the bus trip, preaching his wares as if god himself had endorsed it, which a lot of the time they say he has. Then the sales person will walk down the bus handing out their product for you to hold, on one occasion we held a lolly and were told to behold the face of god within. Another time we held some health drink powder and were told to experience the cure of cancer. The man would then ether collect money for the item or you would just return it. What we found even stranger is that without exception the movies being shown on the buses are always extremely violent. Many an uncomfortable moment has been spent trying not to listen to a brutal rape or murder scene whilst wondering how the little girl sitting opposite us is feeling.
On our arrival back to Pachamama we saw a motorbike parked by the front door. curiosity as to who our new house mate was lead to the introduction of Pedro, a Brazilian from Rio with a familiar english accent. When quizzed with a hundred getting to know you questions it was discovered he had lived in New Zealand for 10 years. Pedro was quickly absorbed into the group and shoved into teaching english as well as working with Dotahn on construction.
(Thanks Tanya for many of the photos seen here, your pictures rock)
Also for Googies point of view and some more wonderful photos check out – http://googiegoesglobal.com/2010/04/18/quilotoa/