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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Flying through the Mindo Canopy

Our favourite tourist attraction in Mindo was the Mindo Canopy Adventure. This is a series of 10 different ziplines – flying you across the treetops of the Cloud Forest.

Over the 10 ziplines, you mostly ride “normale,” but you also have a few different options for rides too 🙂 First, there is the “rapido” line which is super fast. Next, you can fly like “superman,” where you ride with a guide behind you on the line and stretch your arms out in front of you so you go head first down the line.

The last position you can try is “mariposa,” translating to “butterfly,” where you essentially fly upside down!!

Once our adventure was finished, we jumped into the back of a pickup truck for a quick ride back into town. So much fun!!

Here are our pictures & videos from the adventure:

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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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Jem of Quito Old Town: Calle La Ronda

Calle La Ronda is a narrow, flower-adorned, colourful street in Quito’s lovely old town. This was our favourite spot in the capital city of Ecuador – let me tell you why!

La Ronda in the Sunshine:

First of all, La Ronda is gorgeous. I can’t decide which picture to show you because I love them all. There are so many colours, potted flowers, and flags that line the cobblestoned semi-circular street. The vibe is super Spanish and you can really feel the influence here.

La Ronda gets the name from an old traditional song typical to this street. Calle La Ronda has always been a popular place for musicians and artisans, and young men used to come and sing under the balconies of young women. The men would sing for the fathers, and if the father approved, he would allow the man to come in for a chat before meeting the young woman. However, if the father disapproved, they would throw water onto the man. The songs these young men would sing were called “rondas.”

There are a lot artisanal shops on this street too – including jewellery, paintings and incredible chocolate.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from La Ronda during the day:

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La Ronda
Potted plants lining the windows is so telling of the Spanish influences during the colonisation period
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The buildings along the narrow streets are so colorful!
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I hope this guy doesn’t mind being in my picture!!
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View onto La Ronda with the hill to el Panecillo in the background

 

La Ronda at Night Time

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The next reason I love La Ronda is because at night time, the street booms with music from every shop and restaurant – it totally comes alive. There is a lot of hassling from the restaurant/bar workers to come & look at their menu, and to come inside – and they don’t just do this to tourists! Literally every person who walks by gets swarmed by persuasive restauranteurs speaking really quickly in Spanish.

fullsizeoutput_23daWe had a drink of the Canelazo as well, which is a traditional Andean sugary & cinnamon-y hot beverage. It is SO good – much better than it looks in the picture. They also sell giant empanadas here – Empanadas de Viento (which translating to “Cloud Empanadas”) – which are stuffed with cheese, puffed up, and covered in sugar. We haven’t tried these yet, but I hope to get some in our quick stop back into Quito!!

It is worth mentioning that Calle La Ronda was very safe at night. There are police and security guards everywhere, and there are cabs just waiting at the top of the street for people to take at the nighttime rates.  We did not spend much time going out at night, but here, it felt very secure and we had no worries.

Here is another picture of the night time. I will also included 2 videos of this amazing band playing classical guitar, ukulele and the pan flute! (Need to wait to upload when we get better wifi and it will actually upload….)

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Walking down to La Ronda at night time 🙂

 

 

Views of Quito

Hey mom & dad (and the unlikely anyone else reading this)!

Today we went after the best views in Quito. Mother nature decided to be super cloudy and misty today, but hey, we got some good views in the end when the sun decided to peek her head out from the clouds and shine her warmth down on us.

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Me & Arnie from the top of the Basilica Tower

There were two main places we visited – first was the Basilica. The Basilica had a series of terrifying ladders to get to the top that reminded me of the slippery steps that used to lead me up to the 10+ foot high dives. I don’t like heights – but it was worth it!

In regards to the inside of the Basilica, well – they’ve been building this basilica for over 100 years, and it’s still unfinished. Similar story to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but this one — whilst impressive in some respects, was also a bit… cheesy? Lots of dolls. And crooked words & letters. Oh and there was some saint lady too who will be perpetually subjected to a colourful rainbow light show.

The second place we went to for the views was the  Teleferico, or a tram car that takes you up to a really high view point. This was pretty cool.

 

Here’s a little video I made with music from the day. The background music is native american flute because that’s the type of music they were playing at the top whilst we were enjoying the views. Hope you like it!

 

 

 

…and here is the rainbow glowing saint lady:

Our South America Itinerary

A few friends & family have asked for our itinerary in South America, so here you are!

You will notice that there is a big 6 week period that just says “Driving from the top of Chile to the bottom of Chile” — this is our big chunk of spontaneity so I can’t make any promises where we’ll be! However, I’ve put a few ideas for where I know we’ll end up 🙂

 

Ecuador Quito 02-Oct 07-Oct
Mindo 07-Oct 11-Oct
Quilotoa Loop 12-Oct 16-Oct
Banos 16-Oct 20-Oct
Cuenca 20-Oct 23-Oct
Peru Lima 23-Oct 27-Oct
Paracas 27-Oct 28-Oct
Huacachina 28-Oct 29-Oct
Cuzco 30-Oct 04-Nov
Macchu Picchu & Inca Trail 04-Nov 08-Nov
Arequipa & Colca Canyon 10-Nov 16-Nov
Bolivia La Paz 17-Nov 19-Nov
Uyuni & Salt Flats 19-Nov 22-Nov
Chile & Argentina Drive from top of Chile to bottom of Chile & All through Argentina (including places like San Pedro de Atacama, Fitzroy,  Mendoza, and the marble caves to name a few stops) 22-Nov 03-Jan
Punta Arenas 03-Jan 05-Jan
Puerto Natales 05-Jan 06-Jan
Torres del Paine 06-Jan 14-Jan
Puerto Natales 14-Jan 15-Jan
Santiago 15-Jan 19-Jan
Valparaiso 19-Jan 22-Jan
Buenos Aires 23-Jan 28-Jan

 

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