Who Needs Directions?

Valley Views @ Quilatoa Loop

Scarecrow Over Crater Lake @ Quilatoa Crater

The bus to Latacunga ended up being much faster than we thought and we had arrived in just an hour and a half (always a nice surprise!). We walked to our hostel, Tiana, which is super set up for people staying before and after the multi day Quilatoa hike.

There wasn’t a lot going on in Latacunga as we walked from the bus station, although we were conveniently offered many rugs to buy by at least four different vendors, for a second we considered strapping the 4×3 metre carpet onto the the already bursting backpacks, but thought better of it and politely declined.

Besides being the starting point for the Quilatoa loop for many tourists, locally Latacunga is best known for its twice yearly festival, ‘La Fiesta de la Mamá Negra’, the first one organised in celebration of the ‘Virgin de la Merced’ who apparently stopped the Cotopaxi Volcano from erupting in 1742 (did she though?!). The second one where all locals and surrounding towns celebrate independence day. Both festivals are a mixture of indiginous, Spanish and African influences, and include a lengthy parade of various cultures and costumes, with the ‘Mamá Negra’ being the last person to pass through, face painted black, riding a horse and spraying the crowd with milk. Pretty gutted we missed it to be honest.

Two Asses @ Quilatoa Loop

We dropped our bags off and headed out for a market lunch and a bit of snack shopping for our hike. That night we actually had a huge kitchen to ourselves as we cooked dinner and met the dribs and drabs of travellers coming and going from tours to the Cotopaxi volcano and the Quilatoa loop. We had planned to get the 9.30am bus to the starting point the next day, but as it was a Sunday, we soon found out that it didn’t exist. From there we heard conflicting stories about buses running at different times, but the only confirmed times we could work out were 6.30am and 11.30 am. As we had a five hour hike ahead of us that day, we opted for the super early morning bus, other travellers starting the same day opted for the later bus but we were pretty happy to start the trek just us, to enjoy the walk and scenery.

We arrived in Sigchos at 8am and after a quick breakfast stop, we were off. It was farmers’ market day and the locals were walking their newly purchased livestock on ropes through the village. This includes everything from piglets to huge bulls.

We had managed to pick a perfect day to start the trek, the sun was shining, the skies cloudless and blue, and the scenery was stunning. I don’t know whether the people who gave out the hiking information were super generous or whether we walked really fast but the hike to the Mountain lodge, Llullu Llama in Chugchilan only took us three and a half hours. The directions we were so vague, at one point we walked straight past a turn, and it wasn’t until a farmer whistled out to us from about 300 metres away that we realised we were meant to cut up through a paddock, with no signs of markings. We hiked up the side of the mountain, through this paddock for a pretty steep 900 or so metres, before following the road around and into the tiny pueblo of Chugchilan.

Flowers and Crater Lake @ Quilatoa Crater

It didn’t take us long to find our Lodge, all the accomodation was pretty expensive here, but we had been told numerous times that Llullu Llama (pronounces- “Jew-Jew Jarma”) was one of the highlights of the three day trek. We checked in and within seconds could see why. The lodge sat atop of a canyon and the views were incredible. The whole lodge was newly built, extremely clean and offered two meals with the accomodation. We sat outside for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sun, views, quiet, the giant Saint Bernard called Baloo and of course a couple beers. It wasn’t for a few hours that the lodge started to fill up with people coming from both directions of the loop. It was so nice to have the lodge to ourselves for the afternoon! We met a really nice American couple called Jess and Jason who we ate all of our meals with and chatted away.

Alice and Lapdog Baloo @ Llulu Llama

Dinner was served family style buffet on long wooden tables, vegetarians made to sit away from their group’s on a table for themselves. Serves them right really.

An early night ready for an early morning and a head start away from the crowds.

We woke up the next day and were completely ready to go, so as soon as we had family breakfast, we grabbed our packed lunch and set off ahead of everyone else. It was hot and sunny so we picked a secluded place to strip off into shorts and were on our way. First we headed down the side of a valley, along the river bed and then a tough hike straight up the other side. We were once (very nearly) attacked by some dogs, and subsequently saved by a thee year old to whom the dogs belonged to. She waddled along after them and pulled the aggressive one back like it was no trouble. We also managed to stay clear of any other tourists until right at the end where we stopped at a mirador and bought some strawberries off some very grubby children, then gave the strawberries to some other very grubby children further up. Why they weren’t at school was anybodies guess, but if they had to hike up and down that valley, I couldn’t blame them for skipping.

Viewpoint @ Quilatoa Loop

During the day, although having received much clearer instructions from Llullu Llama, we still felt often really lost going up and down hills, through people’s paddocks. We came across some red and yellow painted signs and stones that had been put their by our next hostel “Hostel Cloud Forest”. We even came across a full swing bridge in those colours, that the Cloud Forest hostel had created along the path to help people find their way. Although our instructions actually told us to ignore the red and yellow bridges. We did it in sections and every time we found a landmark we were sure of we felt relieved we were on the right track but then felt confused again in about ten minutes. This was probably because we hiked alone without following anyone. There was one point when we felt really lost and going through what looked like private fields until we found a big pregnant horse and another goal blocking the gate we needed to get through. We were really worried it was going to go a bit mad at us but luckily it just watched us squeeze slowly past for the most uncomfortable 30 seconds of our lives.

At one point we were told we would walk 500 metres and see a gate, which didn’t appear for about 2 KMs, there time and distances were way off. I just don’t understand why it would be so hard to create coherent accurate directions?! This was a relatively new hike to do alone, as in it used to only be done with a guide and a tour group and we had been warned that doing it alone was too difficult but that was such nonsense. It just needs better directions and we still made it fine with the wildly ambiguous ones!

Windy Waters @ Quilatoa Crater

Countryside @ Quilatoa Crater

The last part of this day was a gradual walk along the side of a road for about 5 kms, which honestly sucked. We could have jumped on any passing bus/collectivo or horse, but we decided not to cheat and stuck it out.

We were staying at the Cloud Forest hostel, which was basic but absolutely fine, and we were appreciative of the red and yellow signs they had places along the route leading to them. We arrived much earlier than it said we would so ate our lunch at the hostel and rugged up as the freezing cold night air set in. As more and more people arrived who we had met the previous night, we got talking to a an Australian guy that Alice recognised but couldn’t place. She never forgets anyone, she is like an elephant. It turned out she had very briefly met him in Santa Ana in El Salvador months before and borrowed used his toilet in his room. To be fair, Julian had an unforgettable loud Australian accent. Jess and Jason had come up with the idea to skip the last day hiking actually to the crater and get a taxi so as to hike around the crater lake and spend more time in Quilotoa. We looked at the itinerary of the day, which looked pretty difficult, so in the morning we joined our new lazy mates and took a taxi to Quilotoa town in hopes to spend most of the day hiking around the crater.

We Made It! @ Quilatoa Crater

Peaks From The Crater @ Quilatoa Crater

When we arrived we were surprised to find out that Quilotoa village is basically on the crater. We were all packed up for a full day of hiking when we asked for directions to the crater. The woman just pointed in a direction and shortly after we realised there was no hike up tot the crater at all. The hike around the crater would have also been a bit pointless as your view would barely change. A bit disappointed but with a lot of time on our hands we spent the next couple hours hiking around part of the crater and taking in the stunning views of the lake and the mountains surrounding. The weather was perfect, and we had the best views of the crystal clear water.

We walked back through Quilatoa village and caught a bus (that took nearly two hours to finally leave) and headed back to Latacunga where we collected our bags, stayed the night and took the first bus to Guayaquil the next morning.

Ecuador, you are shaping up to be one stunning and lovable country!

Countryside @ Quilatoa Crater

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