Friday, 10th October
We started the day later today as the bus we would catch to Chugchilan, which would be our base for the next two days, didn’t leave until 11:30am. We had our breakfast and checked out which included leaving our large bags in storage at the hostel and taking only small backpacks. The reason for this is that we have to come back to Latacunga anyway before we move on as it’s a transport hub between the Quilotoa caldera and small villages, and we might be hiking between some hostels so didn’t want too much gear with us. We were heading for the so-called ‘Quilotoa Loop’. The Quilotoa Loop is a remote, bumpy, mountainous road linking several high Andean villages and towns with the city of Latacunga. It offers a chance to get off the Pan American highway and see some of the more remote people and culture of the central Andes of Ecuador. We would be catching a bus to a village called Chugchilan and staying there a couple of nights, doing some hikes between villages, then catch a bus back to Latacunga to complete the loop.
We got to the bus station with plenty of time to spare having been warned that with one bus a day to this village, the seats tend to fill up early. We got our tickets for just US$2.50 each and after wandering around a bit we got on the bus with nothing else to do but wait for it to leave. The ride to Chugchilan was very scenic, going through farmland, a mixture of grazing pastures and arable cropping but all seemingly small run family farms, no major operations out here. The bus stopped a few times to pick people up and drop them off at various spots. Being the only public transport of the day through this part of the country it’s well-used. The roads through the valley were winding and steep, driving very close to the valley rim. The views were stunning of the patchwork countryside through a thin veil of rain. We even got to see some llamas, or alpacas (can’t tell the difference yet) along the way along with the usual sheep, cows and pigs.
The first major stop on the ride was at a village called Sigchos. This is a another town popular with hikers and either the start at or the end of the hike if you wish to so the whole three days (around 30km). We were not so keen on three days of hiking so we continued on the bus towards Chugchilan. At this point the road turned into an unmade bumpy ride. We got to the hostel (Cloud Forest Hostel) at around 3pm and checked in. Spanish is only spoken here (at the hostel) which gives us some practise. The ‘Cloud Forest Hostel’ is set up for people wishing to do hikes and explore the local area. They offer breakfast and dinner with the room charge of US$15 a head. Just as well as there is nowhere else to eat here. Chugchilan is a small village or town of around 5,000 people high up in the clouds as the hostel name suggest. From here we could get a grand view of the area and do some walks through the countryside.
For tomorrow we decided to grab a ride in a truck to Quilotoa (a water-filled caldera) and hike back to the hostel. About 10km and 4-5 hours of up and down through a canyon and up again. This is a popular hike and one that isn’t too taxing in terms of directions so we shouldn’t get too lost. For the rest of the day we stayed around the hostel. I checked out the village and saw some donkeys fully laden with goods. The village is very small though so there wasn’t much to see. We found the games room in the hostel with a furness type fire to read by then the games room to play some ping pong and pool. Dinner was at 7pm and we had a three course meal which satisfied, just. We were almost without rice as someone on the table saw fit to help herself to half the communal bowl. A trifling matter you might think but we hadn’t had lunch and Kirsty hadn’t really had anything all day worth mentioning. We contained ourselves though and the culprit survived. With dinner out the way we hit the games room again and played some pool before heading to bed to read for a bit.
Saturday, 11th October
The day began with a cold shower which up here means a freezing cold shower. We then went down for breakfast at 7:30am which consisted of small bowls of basically everything Kirsty doesn’t eat except a hard boiled egg, so I ended up having some of hers too. We find that there is more bread on the table in Ecuador than other countries we have been in lately and a lot of dairy being a big dairy producing region we are in. Our truck to Quilotoa left at around 9am and we were by Quilotoa to begin our hike at 10:30am and paid our two dollars for entrance. Not really sure to what we paid our money as it’s not a National Park or anything but we just do what we’re told and that way don’t get into any trouble. The first sight of the walk was the lake in a Quilotoa caldera which was spectacular. The caldera was formed around 800 years ago when the volcano collapsed following a major erruption.
We then started the walk proper which took us around the rim of the crater then down into a valley 1000m below to the small village of Guayama. There was a tour guide up ahead with a tour group so we tried not to lose sight so as to make our navigation of the hike easier. The directions are quite loose and it’s easy to see how people can take a wrong turn on this walk. The scenery was stunning with great sweeping views down into the valley below and walking past small farms and plenty of potato fields. We started our hike in the rain but by by the time we got to Guayama the rain had stopped and a little bit of sun had come out. From Guayama we descended a bit further into a canyon with a stream which we crossed before climbing up the other side of the canyon up towards Chugchilan. It was an easy to moderate hike and took us four and a half hours to complete. By the time we reached our hostel we were in need of a shower and some lunch. After we washed the cook served up a three course lunch to us. This was around 3:30pm so we only had another three and a half hours before dinner to get hungry again. We then relaxed in the hot lounge room with the fireplace and had a nap before dinner. On the way to Quilotoa we got chatting with a tour leader of a group staying at our hostel (Nick). He has plenty of information about the places we are heading to in the next couple of months, so just before dinner we sat down with him and got some names of hostels, places to go and things to do to help us on our way. We haven’t done much research for this part of the trip so are more reliant on picking things up as we go. For dinner we had another three course feast. They really look after us at this hostel, arranging activities and making sure you are well fed. We then paid our bill, intending to get a bus at 6:30am. They even made us a breakfast for the morning bus ride.