A Travellerspoint blog

The Quilotoa loop

A few days in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes

sunny 20 °C
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A couple of hours south by bus took me to Latacunga, back in Ecuador's picturesque Andean foothills.

Latacunga

Latacunga is the setting-off point for the so-called 'Quilotoa loop', which I'm beginning to think might be an invention of Lonely Planet. There's a whole collection of small villages dotted around the rolling hills to the west of the town. Are they hills or mountains? I'm not really sure, since I've never seen anything quite like it in the UK. They are small mountains or big hills. Cerros, the locals call them.

But I digress. The idea of the loop is to travel by bus, camion (truck) and/or foot through these villages and back, the far point being the Quilotoa crater lake.

Brief interlude

English in general seems to be a bit trendy in Ecuador, but the Ecuadorians really, really love the English word 'full'. It pops up everywhere in posters and signs, isolated among text otherwise entirely in Spanish. For example, a business might offer full servicio or (more grammatically worrying) be called full cars. But in Latacunga I found my favourite of all, which must have been a message between feuding lovers:

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Translation: Karen, I love you, full apologies

The hostal Llullullama, Isinliví

So I set off on the first leg of the loop, by bus: perhaps my first real taste of unpaved roads in the trip so far. It was a large bus, maybe with 40 seats, but the driver crashed on undeterred over the dust and rocks.

After a few hours we arrived in the minuscule town of Isinliví:

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Myself and the German couple I had met on the bus were the only guests at the spectacular hostal Llullullama (yoo-yoo-yaama), where the menagerie (including the somewhat threadbare namesake llama)

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presided over the spectacular views across the valley:

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After a short walk up the cerro opposite

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we spent the rest of the day playing with the animals. I've not encountered a more chilled-out hostel.

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It was my birthday! They served an excellent dinner, including cake for dessert (my slice with a huge white table candle sticking out of it)

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Trek to Chugchilán

The next day the three of us hiked all day to Chugchilán.

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Through some of the most beautiful and rugged valleys I have seen. But every possible surface was cultivated.

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Across a rickety footbridge with cartoon-style missing planks:

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Even the smallest village had a church (with walls of straw and mud), and of course, a volleyball court:

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Chugchilán

We stayed that night at a hostal in the tiny town of Chugchilán, which had more than the usual complement of stray dogs hanging around for scraps:

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We got our first glimpse of Quilotoa. The whole part lit by the sun is the rim of the crater:

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The crater is several kilometers across.

Quilotoa

Bright and early the next day, having exchanged my German companions for a dog-phobic Californian named Blake, I set off on the hike to Quilotoa. On the way we rescued a sheep that had fallen down a slope, and was being suffocated by the rope it was tethered down with. Here I am with the poor critter, who after having been untied and set upright seemed too deep in shock to run away:

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After a whole day walking (in which Blake repeatedly deployed his anti-canine device, which looked like a taser and apparently emitted a high frequency sound, to no effect; thankfully none of the dogs we encountered actually tried to attack us, not that this prevented a preemptive US strike), we travelled the last stretch in the back of a truck we flagged down:

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And on arriving in Quilotoa discovered the route we should have taken, which was about half as long:

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Here I am at the lake. It was freezing:

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Meanwhile the Ecuadorian navy seemed to be doing exercises below, in a tiny inflatable raft:

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Maybe it was the navy. At least, they were all dressed in camo and had guns. They had set up camp in a motley assortment of tents by the lakeside, and were roasting meat over a campfire and generally making merry.

Blake and I were the only guests in the hostal Pachamama (meaning 'earth mother' in Quechua, the language of the Incas, and still the first language of many folk throughout the Andes). It too was cold:

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Despite Blake's appearance after he had put on all his winter clothes at once:

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The family who owned, lived in and ran the hostal were incredibly friendly. Mirasol and Blanca prepared the dinner (and seemed to run the hostel practically by themselves) while dad made paintings and mum knitted hats and gloves from llama wool. They sold these goods to tourists, though demand in Quilotoa was surely low (Blake and I seemed to be the only gringos in town), so perhaps they took them to market elsewhere.

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After dinner we all sat around the small stove. The family spoke to each other in Quechua. Blanca knitted a shawl for herself:

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And with great pride told me about her hat, which was of 'super fino' quality, and cost something like 150 US dollars. A small fortune for that family: Blake and I paid less than 10 dollars between us for the room and dinner.

Blanca even let me have a go:

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Posted by hughw 16:30 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Quito is Ecuador's capital, and at 2800m seems to have the same climate as Bogotá (2600m): slightly cold, despite being only 15 miles south of the equator. It's also no less hectic, the streets heaving with packed buses, minibuses, colectivo minivans, taxis, and three different mass-transit systems (all different sorts of buses, some powered from overhead cables like trams). Traffic lights are treated as recommendations, and crossing the road is a matter of beating the drivers in a contest of nerves.

Around Quito

I stayed on the edge of the old quarter, full of colonial buildings like Bogotá's Candelaria district.

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Gringo central was a 10-minute taxi ride to the north. There were a few streets jammed with hostels and gringo drinking establishments (the ubiquitous Irish pub, an 'American sports bar' etc). Meanwhile I resided close to the more sedate and picturesque old-town central plaza, home to itinerant shoeshiners, military bands, and street comedians.

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El Teleferico

The Quiteños proudly opened this 2.5km-long cable car route in 2005, which climbs 1100m vertically from the edge of the city up the neighbouring (periodically active) Pichincha volcano.

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Welcome to the teleferico, at the height of your emotions!

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From the station at the top it is possible to climb the rest of the way up to Rucu Pichincha, the peak at 4700m.

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I made it nearly all the way, until my Australian chum, who I'd met on the way up (spot him in the picture above!), pointed out that my lips were turning blue and I was slurring my words.

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Maybe I should have taken more than a t-shirt and raincoat, given there was snow on the ground.

The Basilica

Quito's enormous Basílica del Voto Nacional was consecrated by none other than Juan Pablo II in 1985:

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One of the most vast and sombre of the many religious buildings I have seen on my travels, for a small fee it is possible to enter...

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... climb the clock tower...

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... go all the way up past the (curiously graffiti'd) belfry ...

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... and climb out on a precarious ledge with nothing to stop you plunging 80m to the ground. Here are the towers viewed from the other end of the building:

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Spot the guy out on the ledge:

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The words of an Irish traveller I met in Colombia echoed in my ears: "The difference between here and home is that here they allow you to die of stupidity."

El Panecillo

Sticking up in the centre of Quito is a 200m-high hill known as 'El Panecillo', meaning 'little bread loaf', as seen here from the tower of the Basilica:

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Built on top of the hill is a 75m tall aluminium statue of the virgin Mary -- the only one in the world, the Quiteños claim, with wings:

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An of course, next to the statue, the obligatory volleyball court:

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The Equator

A short bus ride north took me to the Mitad del Mundo site, or 'middle of the world' as the Ecuadorians call it, since the name of their country already means 'equator'. Straddling the equator, the government built a monolithic monument housing an ethnographic museum, along with a rather eerie and ghastly complex of other smaller museums and overpriced shops.

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You can stand with one leg on either side of the equator ...

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... except with the advent of GPS in the 1980, the builders discovered that they were out by about 240m. Whoops.

Salsa

I took some salsa classes! The wonderful and pint-sized Fernanda was my teacher, and poor lady, mistook for modesty my genuine warnings about my dismal physical coordination skills. Here she is floored by an especially 'energetic' performance on my part:

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It's probably for the best that no photos exist of me dancing salsa. Vas por buen camino, pero para tí el camino es muy largo were more or less her parting words: 'You're on the right path, but for you the path is very long'. Actually I lie -- she was nothing but encouraging. But I could tell this is what she was thinking, in her patient teacherly way. Sorry, Fernanda, for treading on your feet on a daily basis.

It was actually a whole lot of fun and it's something I'd like to continue when I get back to England.

With some suppressed giggling, Fernanda and her companion demonstrated the show they were preparing for a show in a 'night club' that evening...

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It turns out 'night club' (spoken by the Ecuadorians in English) is a euphemism for 'strip club' (Fernanda and co were the warm-up act only, she assured me). You could be forgiven, as a tourist, for ending up in the wrong sort of place.

Other things in Quito

The former home (now museum) of Ecuador's most famous indigenous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. His works all seem to depict different shades of suffering:

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Perhaps the chap below is contemplating what an error it was to choose the viola

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Or portraits of the oppressors themselves (Pinochet here):

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I leave you with a scene from Quito's inconspicuous 'vivarium', a kind of zoo just for reptiles. Yes it's venomous. Enough to discourage anyone from visiting the Ecuadorian rainforest?

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Posted by hughw 15:18 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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