For the first time in a long time I’ve been without any kind of communication for two whole days; no cell, no internet, no nada. Today, Monday, is a ferriado (public holiday) in Ecuador and so a bunch of us gringos decided to head off for a bit of hiking in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Quilotoa.
On Saturday morning, we all made our way to Quitumbe bus terminal in the southern part of Quito and got on a bus to Latacunga. We had a 1.5 hour wait at the terminal before taking another bus to Chugchilan. At the Latacunga terminal we met up with another two volunteers based in Ambato and then got on the bus to Chugchilan. Chugchilan is around one to 1.5 hours away from Quilotoa and we were staying at a hostel in this small village called Hostal Cloud Forest.
The road from Latacunga to Chugchilan was well very scary. One lane highway (not necessarily paved), no guard rails and the certainty that the slightest miss-direction by the bus would have us all careening to certain death. I held my breath for a lot of the ride (3 hours) and whenever someone moved an inch or so I feared they would ruin the balance of the bus and we would be cliff diving.
Chugchilan and Hostal Cloud Forest
Miraculously we survived the perilous journey and arrived at our beautiful and very cheap hostel. $10 per person including breakfast and dinner. We had a wee snack and decided to do some walking around.I decided to venture to a small shop not far from the hostal and I bought a box of wine. In Ecuador there’s this box wine called Clos and it’s really good. It actually opened my view on the whole box wine thing. There was no Clos at this shop but there was San Pablo. I bought a box for $1. I didn’t think much of it. Clos is around $2-3 and we were in a small village. The stuff was terrible. Tasted like grape flavored Dimetapp cough medicine. I managed about two sips before calling it quits.
I thought I was acclimating to the altitude but Chugchilan must be even higher than Quito. Any slight incline and I was completely out of breath. We did a short hike and then it started raining so we headed back. I was pathetic! I was panting more than a thirsty dog after a 10-mile run.
Some photos of our short hike:
We got back to the hostel but there was really not much to do. Someone had brought along banagrams, a game I’d never played, but enjoyable. Then I did some knitting and started listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman. So far I’m really enjoying this book. Later than evening we had dinner, I went back to my knitting and audiobook and soon it was lights out. Small town living and all.
The next morning we breakfasted and headed out to take a bus to Quilotoa. It was supposed to arrive at 9am but we left at 9:30am; Ecua time… This ride was even more perilous than the journey from Latacunga. Pure mountainous cliffs below and curve after curve after curve.
Yet again we managed to survive. And it was so worth it. Quilotoa is just beautiful! We went into a local store to get some snacks for the hike, used the facilities and chatted with the locals.
Then we headed to the lake. Look at that view!
Our party of nine decided to separate. Four went down to the lake for a boat ride and then two went back up by horse and the other two hiked. The rest of us five decided to walk around the mountain surrounding the lake. Our hostal keeper had warned us to only walk a quarter of the circumference and then take a path back to the hostel. But not us, we decided we’d walk 75% around the lake and then walk back to the hostel.
The views were spectacular though scary at times. The path was very narrow and one misstep and you’d be off to a beautiful death. Going downhill was fine, I had no issues but there was this one section where we were going up and up and up. And me, the chubbiest of the crew as well as only arriving 3 weeks prior, I was suffering. The others were very nice and waited for me every so often. Thank goodness for Gatorade! I probably should have snacked more along the way but I could barely breathe and the thought of eating anything made me want to hurl. It was enjoyable though in a masochistic sort of way.
Views along the way:
25% along the way around the mountain, we started to hear thunder and saw a cloud formation coming in. With the treacherous path, we did not want to be stuck on the mountains in a lightning and thunder storm. So after much discussion, it was decided that we turn back as we were certain of what lay that way and not exactly sure when we’d find a path back to our hostel, especially as it was a 1.5 hour bus ride from Chugchilan to Quilotoa.
At this point, I really thought that I had nothing left in the tank. But I persevered and kept walking. Luckily the first bit was downhill but then we had to climb and climb and climb. I kept asking if there was a peak in sight and the others tried to buoy my spirits along the way.
By the time we got back to Quilotoa proper, we’d missed the last bus. So we decided we’d look for someone to drive us back or try to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is quite common in Ecuador and in way out of the way villages like Chugchilan and Quilotoa, it’s the way people get around. Distances are ridiculously far and vehicles few and far between.
A local came up to us and offered us a ride back in his truck for $30. We negotiated it down to $25 and got in. Check it out.
I was in back for a bit and on the bouncy, unpaved roads, it was not comfortable. Myself and Steph ending up moving up front with the driver while the other three suffered in back. They ended up standing the whole way because it was more comfortable than bouncing around in the back of that truck. We of course picked up some locals along the way and made it all in one piece.
Some views along the way
My first priority on arriving was a shower. I was dirty. I can’t remember the last time I was so dirty. Sweaty from the walking but worse, dust everywhere. My jeans were covered in grime, my fingernails black and me just gross. Luckily we had nice hot showers at the hostel and I washed myself from head to toe. I then joined the group for some rousing bananagrams while drinking a Pilsner Grande. I then headed back to my room for more Neil Gaiman. I had run out of my first skein of yarn and had to hand wind another. I managed to get 400 yards of fingering all tangled up and spent hours trying to untangle it. Thank goodness for a good audiobook.
We then had dinner and then a debate ensued. To leave Chugchilan the next day, there were only two buses, one at 3am and another at 4am. At this time it was still very dark and I think I’ve mentioned the perilous roads once or twice. So the hostal keeper suggested that we get a truck driver to take us at a later time. This truck would be a bit more comfortable than the one we took from Quilotoa to Chugchilan earlier that day but not by too much and it would be a 3-hour ride. I felt pretty strongly about taking the public bus. It was $2.50 as opposed to at least $5 on the truck and the locals took this bus every day, why differentiate myself. Two others felt the same way so the group split. Three of us would take the bus at 4am and the other six would wake up at a godly hour, breakfast and get to Latacunga by truck.
The early bus ride was slightly scary at times but not so much so. With it being so dark you couldn’t see the abyss below and so in its way comforting. We made it to Latacunga safely and then took another bus to Quito. Then a taxi ride home (fortuitously, the three of us that wanted to take the bus back lived in the same area and so shared a cab). I arrived home, dropped my things to the floor and then crashed!
A Note on Entitlement
I mentioned before that we had to take a 4am bus back to Latacunga and then back to Quito. We were all shocked and amazed that that was our main option and more than a little annoyed. I’m not one to sleep on transport, even at 4am and so I was happy to observe the goings on around me. The one thing I noticed was that as we picked up people on a freezing, mountain morning, everyone was all smiles. They seemed thrilled to have caught the bus. Usually, when I’m in NY or London, I get to the bus stop or Subway/Tube station and if my transport hasn’t arrived within 5 minutes, I’m well annoyed. And when I get on the bus or train, my thought is “about effing time”. Here are these people stuck out in the middle of nowhere and forced to leave their homes that early to make it to work on farms or sell their goods at markets and they’re so thankful and happy that they managed to get on the bus. Even if that means standing. It kind of made me realize how entitled I feel when it comes to getting transportation on my schedule. It just made me think a little about all this stupid anger that I carry simply because I feel entitled to this or that service.