Our Quilotoa Loop Adventure

I’ll tell you now – the 3 day hike called the “Quilotoa Loop” in the Andes in Ecuador was g*ddamn HARD.  Arnie and I found it particularly difficult for a number of reasons – but primarily because we had no map and basically 0 clue what we were doing.

Anyway, here’s the tale of our adventure, complete with some pictures, and a few funny stories that are only funny now in retrospect 🙂

Day 1: Hiking from Sigchos to Isínlivi

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Trying to look at a map that made no sense to me!

Our day started off getting dropped off in the tiny village of Sigchos. Our first calling point was the Sigchos Tourist Office, since we had no map, no idea where to go nor a clue what the day would entail. To our lovely surprise, the Tourist Office was abandoned, and all the plants inside looked like they hadn’t seen water or care in at least 2 months.

 

So what did we do? We wandered around and

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Asking this fruit lady for dos bananas and directions!!

spoke in broken Spanish to try to figure out where we needed to go. It was easy to ask for directions. It was NOT easy to understand what the heck they actually said back to us. This carried on for at least 3 attempts before an old man took pity on us, walked us outside, and very slowly shoved & pointed us in the right direction. After his useful push, we found the entrance (90 minutes after getting off the bus)!

 

Some additional pics from Sigchos:

 

 

DSC_0111Once we were on the trail, everything was a little bit better… except for the times we’d reach a crossroads or a fork in the trail and there was no indication of the correct way to go. Luckily Arnie & I had gotten on the trail very early (even in spite of us taking forever to find the start) and usually we only had to wait about 5 minutes until someone else came along and knew the direction to go from the MapsMe app on their phone. Apparently everyone knew this was the thing to have – except for us of course.

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The trail was really nice-going, until it was horrible.  These two indigenous farmers pointed us up to the next part of the path, through one of their cowpaths, and straight up the side of this mountain. It was an hour of vertical climbing. I will also add that I stopped to use nature’s potty on the side of the trail/climb and a grumpy British dude totally saw my butt while I frantically tried to pull up my pants.

After the climb, it was a nice walk into the town where we stayed the night.

The hostel we stayed in was called Llullu Llama and was the best hostel we’ve ever been to. It had a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, delicious meals and cozy fireplaces. AND the key to our room was a llama!!

Here are some additional pics from the first day:

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Day 2: Hiking from Isínlivi to Chugchilan

Our second day of hiking was pretty drama free (thankfully)! We walked with a group of people for the first portion of the day, which was fun & really helpful for navigation. The trails were also marked MUCH better, and our hostel gave us a map with written directions. So from the start, our situation had vastly improved.

Throughout the day we passed & crossed a beautiful river, then a small little town. The dogs in this town were after my lunch, but seeing as they were so cute and skinny, I gave them some of my sandwich. How could I not!?

Upon reaching the Cloud Forest Hostel, we were tired and a bit sore, and definitely ready for a giant beer. We met some really nice people and had dinner that wasn’t too shabby. All & all – it was a successful day!

Here are some of my favourite shots from the day:

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Day 3: Hiking from Chugchilan to Quilotoa

DSC_0322Now day 3 came along, and we were starting to feel pretty tired & sore before even leaving the hostel.  Day 3 was the hardest day, at the highest altitude, with the greatest overall ascent of the 3 days. We actually ascended more in the third day than we did in the two previous days combined.

 

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We started a bit later than usual, and took our time taking goofy pictures and wandering aimlessly on the easy parts. Our procrastination was greatly regretted later when we actually had really long, arduous walking to do. I was feeling pretty rough due to the altitude, and was dizzy & nauseous most of the day. This combined with the difficult climbing and scorching heat meant we were walking slooooooowwww.

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The culmination of the 3 days of hiking was reaching the crater lake on top of the extinct Quilotoa volcano. After reaching the crater, it was supposedly an easy walk around the crater rim to the town of Quilotoa.

 

Some views from the hike:

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We finally reached the crater around 5pm, which is about 1 hour before the sun sets. We were going to make it before nightfall if we really stepped on it.

Once we reached the crater, my adrenaline kicked in and I took off on the marked path. We were powering through this trail, and I was pumped for getting to the town before sun down.

About 15 minutes in, and a small descent, we passed a machete and a violent looking hoe on the ground ahead of this small Andean mountain farm dwelling. There was a really creepy scarecrow, and the markings of the trail on a contorted dead branch protruding from the ground in the middle of the path. The paths from this point on were small and didn’t look quite right; this was the point where Maria, a small indigenous woman, came out of her dwelling and offered us some help.

We were skeptical, but we were also desperate, and took her offer of help with the knowledge that she’d expect compensation.

Maria then led us up the side of the mountain on a non-existent locals-only path. Her small body zigzagged up the side of the mountain, and her tiny feet moved her along like a mountain goat. We saw a more robust path to the right, and we tried to convince her we were going to go that way. She was trying to persuade us that we were gravely wrong, and her assertions proved true when a vicious guard dog sprinted out from the path with violent barks and growls.

Pictures we sneakily took with Maria:

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Maria reacted to this by making a really weird, creepy hissing noise, and by throwing rocks and sticks at the dog.  Our companion Andrew was nearly attacked, but we made it away from the path unscathed. We listened and followed Maria a bit more attentively from here on out.

Finally we reached (again) the top of the crater rim, and the path we were supposed to take to our final destination was clearly visible in front of us. Maria wanted $20 for her assistance, and though we greatly appreciated her help, this was a bit bonkers. I was also convinced she planted incorrect trail markers to lead us to her abode & force her help upon us. We gave her $10 and a hug, and we were on our way!

The pictures at this point of the night were the silver lining, as no one else (in their right minds) was out on the crater rim at sunset. The view was gorgeous, and despite the trials and tribulations from the day, I was so pleased we got to see this in our final moments of the hike.

Sunset views above the clouds:

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We reached the town of Quilotoa as the brightness of twilight subsided, which would have been *perfect* if our hotel was actually in the town of Quilotoa. But noooooo, I had the smart idea of booking a hotel 30 minutes further along the crater rim, in a mountain lodge in the middle of nowhere, run by a local indigenous family.

We wandered through the darkness of night along the crater, and nearly had a heart attack when a while llama came out of nowhere and crossed the trail in front of us.  Our hotel had no signs, and we had to guess using the really crappy google maps location finder thing on Arnie’s phone (which doesn’t work very well in the vast nothingness where we were walking).

Eventually we arrived, and sat down to a dinner that consisted of 80g of chicken and some french fries (basically nothing). The hotel was also run by a bunch of kids, and while I was glad we had found our room, I wasn’t a big fan of the apparent child labor taking place. We got to our cabin, which was filled with spiders, and had no running water.  After convincing the child the water wasn’t working (she didn’t believe me), we got it fixed, took showers, killed spiders (sorry) and fell asleep.

Our trip the next morning away from Quilotoa was equally adventurous, as the 2 hour “bus” we were supposed to take actually ended up being the back of a pickup truck.

At this we could only laugh and enjoy the views; we had our first “real” adventure, and our sore, tired bodies were happy to be on the way to Baños to relax 🙂

Here are some final pictures of the Quilotoa Loop (and our awesome bus ride):

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Getting Lost in the Cloud Forest

Welcome to Mindo ~

How can I even start to describe the wonder that is Mindo?  It’s a sleepy, small town in the middle of the Cloud Forest in Ecuador with nothing left to be desired. It’s likely to have at LEAST 1000 times more hummingbirds than people, and you can hear them & the plethora of other bird species at all times of day.  The sound of Mindo is the sound of the bird choir, and I could spend all my day just listening from the hammock and looking up at the sky.

 

The Cloud Forest ~

The first day Arnie & I spent in Mindo, we got ourselves a bit lost in the jungle.

DSC_0587We started off by walking 7km just to the entrance to Las Tangaras Reserve in the forest. As soon as we entered, it was like being in what I can only describe as the real life version of all the botanical gardens I’ve ever visited. The sounds, the smells, the colours – it was such an unreal experience. I think we moved about 10 feet every 5 minutes, because we were just in awe of everything around us.

 

fullsizeoutput_23b1Every time you stop and look around you, you notice so many different micro environments and so much more than what you thought was just right in front of you. At times the forest was so incredibly dense, and spiderwebs would form just 2 minutes before you across the path you had just passed through.

There were lots of different colours, plants, bugs – and the sounds of water, wind, birds and bugs were all-encompassing.

We also came across this suspension bridge that took us over the Rio Nambillo:

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DCIM103GOPROGOPR3361.JPGAfter lots of slow hiking, we eventually went in to the Reserve area itself, and chose one of the may paths to take. Once we started off along this path, the clouds came in and we started to really feel what it’s like to walk in the clouds.

I’ll also mention that we left our hotel around 9:30am, returned around 5:30pm, and didn’t think to pack a lunch or anything substantial with us – we survived the afternoon on the energy of 6 oreos. You can imagine how tired we were getting, especially since it was so wet too! It doesn’t really rain inside the clouds, it’s like the water droplets just suspend in the air around you.

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We found one really awesome swimming hole, took some pics, and made our turn back.  We eventually stopped in another swimming hole once we knew we’d have enough time to make it out of the forest before it got dark.

We made it out safe and sound 🙂 but next time I think we’ll grab a map and maybe some lunch!!

Our swimming holes ~

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And finally, here are pictures of some of the species we encountered ~

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Hiking & Biking the Cotopaxi Volcano

Volcan Cotopaxi outside of Quito is the second highest volcano in Ecuador, and the highest active volcano!

Cotopaxi is a female 🙂 and the translation of her name comes from Coto (meaning “neck”) and Paxi (meaning “princess”). Apparently this princess has a bad temper, and whenever she gets “full,” she explodes.

Arnie & I had the incredible experience of climbing Cotopaxi up to the ridge of the glacier, and then we biked down the side to a lake. Hiking to the top of Cotopaxi is extremely difficult and expensive, and you have to be very careful not to damage the glacier which is slowly melting away.

For you here, I have some pictures, a few descriptions, a video of our guide talking about different types of lava rocks, and a video of our bike ride down the volcano.

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We started our journey @6:30 in the morning, and first stop was breakfast. The restaurant where we stopped sold some gloves & hats made from alpaca, and there was a lovely lil llama hanging out outside ready to greet us.

Breakfast was absolutely delicious, and the coffee was amazing and necessary.

 

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From here we started our drive up to the mountain. We took this big van up to the parking area, with all of the mountain bikes on top.

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When we got to our first stop, our hike began. Not going to lie, I was a bit skeptical because we were legitimately in a cloud, and could see nothing except the grey ash beneath our feet & the white clouds all around. It was also drizzling and cold.

Take a look at our start:

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Before we knew it, though, the wind swept the clouds away and it started to clear up. Soon enough we were at the refugio, and ready to drink some coca tea. That’s right – coca leaves. Coca is very good at helping you adjust to the high altitude.

When you’re this high up, it is ridiculously hard to breathe, your body feels super lazy and tired, and you can start to get dizzy really easily. You can also get ridiculously horrible headaches & nausea.

Apparently the coca leaves have a way of stabilising whatever is out of whack in your system, and initially they were used to help with really bad stomach pain. It’s a shame we can’t have these leaves in real life without having to be all druggy about it.

Here are some pics from the refugio as it started to clear up:

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Our hike then continued on, and we started our walk along the side of volcano to see the edge of the glacier.  Andres gave us a lovely overview of the different types of rocks that you can find made from lava, and where each type of rock could be found in the “lava lake” as it starts to form then cool.

Right before we reached the glacier, the visibility improved tremendously and the whole valley under the volcano opened up. It was so cool because you can pretty much see how the lava was flowing down, and the pools / lakes that it created below.

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Then, finally, we got to the glacier edge. I was so surprised to see the glacier so white and bright. The glaciers I have seen before have all been blue, but this one was totally white. When you looked inside the crevices, you could see the blue on the inside, but it was very faint.

Here are some pics of the glacier, with the incredible red lava rocks beneath:

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The colors here are just amazing

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Arnie jumping for joy at the glacier’s edge

 

After our visit to the glacier edge, we headed back down and were greeted by some majestic views. When we were walking down the steep part of the volcano, it felt like you were gliding down the moon. The ashes are so soft, like the most finely ground sand you’ve ever walked on – and when you descend, you glide down on your heels. Super cool.

Views from the decent:

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At an altitude of 4690 meters
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This is just so cool how you can see in this picture the way the lava was flowing

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When we got back to the van, we got on our mountain bikes and were off down the volcano! It was sooo bumpy and I basically had to lay on the brakes the whole time, being a big chicken & all, but it was so much fun!

Poor Arnie got really bad altitude sickness right about now and we had to stop a bit early, but I won’t dwell on that too much.

Here is the video of our bike ride down:

 

 

When we finally got to the late, we were greeted with this view of the lake as it started to really rain down hard:

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Last view here of the lake

 

The last stop was back again to visit our lovely llama friend, and to have lunch. I was so hungry I didn’t take pictures, but just use your imagination – it was delicious.

I couldn’t end this post with anything better than a shout out to our two guides, Andres and Marco. Here are the guys who led us up, and brought us back down. They were great – and I’d highly recommend checking them out @ CarpeDM Tours if you are ever in Quito.

Shout out to Andres & Marco!

 

 

 

 

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