After the excitement of our summit adventure, we were enthralled with the central highlands and thrilled to linger in them as long as possible. To stay in the presence of these giant volcanoes. To keep our legs moving, our eyes wide, our lungs full.
|Latacunga or bust.|
After thumbing for a bus on the Panamerican Highway, we arrived in Latacunga Thursday as our jumping off point for the Quilatoa Loop. Most travelers use Latacunga as a transit hub... to get to the big mountains or big city or the jungle. We found Latacunga to be an absolute delight and were glad to have the better part of two days to roam the cobblestone streets and elegant squares. We ducked into a incredible place for lunch, where the kind hosts were very accommodating to this vegetarian and where Travis ate, what he has deemed, the best chicken of his life. Our hostal, Hostal Tiana, is a bright and lively spot, that has provided the best shower yet in Ecuador and tons of hiking information from the women who run the joint. And if that wasn't enough, Hostal Tiana absolutly won us over with the roof top terrace that provides a 360 degree view.
|Happy little traveler|
|Plaza Vincente Leon|
|The ever vibrant Hostal Tiana|
|From the roof|
Soaked in a sudden downpour (complete with about 20 minutes of dime-sized hail) we boarded a bus to Isinlivi, our first stop on the Quilatoa Loop. The Quilatoa Loop is a circuit of mostly unpaved roads that winds for nearly 200km through villages and hillsides in the highlands, passing through small villages and past miles and miles of patchwork hillsides. While there are dozens of ways to piece together a trip around the loop, we opted to walk a large portion.
|Out of the hail and on the bus|
After an absolutely gut wrenching bus ride to Isinlivi, we arrived at our hostal (the only hostal in town) Llullu Llama. Llullu Llama was a very cozy spot with hanging chairs in the living room, roaming chickens and (yes) llamas, richly painted walls and a composting toilet with an exceptional view. Over a delectable, family style dinner, we swapped travel stories with hikers from all over the world: Holland, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, and Colorado.
|Llullu Llama lliving room|
|Let the light shine in|
|I know there are nerds who read this blog that can appreciate this composting toilet.|
|The view from the john.|
Saturday, after what might be the biggest breakfast imaginable, we set off from Isinlivi toward Chugchilan with Karen and Matt from Austraila, and Sarah from Colorado. With a photocopied map and handwritten directions, the five of us took off into the vast green landscape of the rural Andes. Every half hour or so, one of us would stop, mouth wide open and take in our surroundings. The hills looked like quilts and children would run to the trail waving and shouting 'Hola! Hello!'.
|Hiking Crew, Day 1: Sarah, Travis, Maggie, Matt, Karen|
On the meandering trail, we made our way toward Chugchilan. While our written directions did a very thorough job of explaining the route, they failed to mention the over 300 meters of uphill switchbacks we needed to take 45 minutes before reaching town. The hill was a monster and when we reached the top, we were greeted by the face of Miguel, a painter and carpenter who was happy to lead us to the best overlook in his village and sit a spell with us. Travis and Miguel were fast friends and as we gathered our things to make the final push toward Chugchilan, we stopped into Miguel's wood/paint shop. His intricately carved and painted pieces were stunning and we felt honored to see them and part of the process.
|Huffing and puffing with a village below|
After leaving Miguel and his shop, we had about 45 minutes on a dirt road to reach Chugchilan. We rolled into town and right up to the door of the Hostal Cloud Forrest. For $12 per person per night, including dinner and breakfast, private toilet and double bed, we were sold.
|Hostal Cloud Forrest|
Upon arrival to the hostal, Travis could not shake a feeling of regret from not having purchased one of Miguel's paintings. As I kicked off my shoes and got comfy in a hammock, Trav jogged back to Miguel's village to see about supporting his artwork. An hour and a half later, Trav returned, empty handed... Miguel had closed up shop for the evening and his 4 year old nephew couldn't give Trav directions to find him. Our hearts sank a little and Trav resorted to the 'it wasn't meant to be' way of thinking... that was until about an hour later when a motorcycle roared up to the hostal, Miguel hopped off and trotted right up to us. His 4 year old nephew had told him that the bearded gringo had come looking for him! He was so humbled and excited that Travis wanted to buy some work, and he promised to return the next morning. Like clockwork, the next morning at 7am, the motorcycle roared up again and the two artists swapped handshakes, hugs, artwork and smiles.
|It WAS meant to be!|