Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Out Of The Loop, On The Loop (Part II)

Once Miguel hopped back on the motorcycle we took a few minutes to admire our new piece of art before heading to a group breakfast at our hostel. Over coffee, fruit, granola, and yogurt it was decided that a group of  seven would be hiking together from Chugchilan to the Quilotoa Crater Lake. Our group included the Aussie couple we hiked with the previous day along with a couple from Denmark and a guy from New Zealand. The owner of the hostel was kind enough to draw us a map in orange marker on a small piece of paper. As simple yet confusing as the map looked, it proved to be spot on. After breakfast we all stuffed our packs and headed out to find the trail to Quilotoa. 

The road ahead from Chugchilan

We found the trail behind the village library, which led steeply down a hillside towards a small river in a valley. In short time we were sharing the trail with many indigenous Quichua people, horses, donkeys, and sheep. The local Quichua put us all to shame with their ability to nimbly scale the steep trails while carrying large sacks of goods to sell/trade at the small village markets. We all enjoyed the downhill scramble to the river while taking in the views of the green valley that surrounded us. It's a good thing because it would be the last time we hiked downhill for the next five hours.  

Mags and Karen (from Australia) river crossing

For the next hour and a half we slowly made our way up the opposite valley wall. The trail was very steep and we gained quite a bit of elevation which led to numerous stops for a breath of air, a drink of water, and a photo of the valley below. We all found ourselves mesmerized by the endless green mountains surrounding us. Once we reached the top there were high fives all around along with many photo ops. 

Central Ecuadorian Highlands = Green

From the top looking across the valley to Chugchilan

Post breather/photo session we kept moving along the trail and eventually came across a men's soccer game happening on a dirt field amongst the mountains. We stopped for a bit to watch and the locals seemed to get a kick out of us. We rounded the corner into the village square and were greeted by another soccer game. This time a women's match on a cement field. Again, we stopped to watch and the locals stopped to watch us. 

Mens Soccer

Womens Soccer

Once out of the village we found ourselves again climbing steeply through mountainous pastures. The higher we hiked the grander the view became. One by one, the volcanic/once volcanic peaks began to appear. We were all in awe of the majestic snow covered peaks of Illiniza Norte, Illiniza Sur, and Volcan Cotopoxi. Up and up we hiked through more green pastures littered with cows and sheep. We could see what we believed to be the rim on the crater lake above us and wanted nothing more to get there. 

What are you lookin' at?

Illiniza Norte (left) and Illiniza Sur (right)

Another hour of slow, steep steps up the trail and we finally reached the rim of the crater. Again, there were high fives and hugs all around as we stared at the sparkling green lake below us. Every step of the way was justified with what we saw before us. Many pictures followed along with everybody pooling the little bit of food in their packs for a shared lunch. Simply delightful. 

Quilotoa Crater Lake

 Slightly rejuvenated we spent the final hour of hiking around a portion of the crater rim to the small village of Quilotoa. With the exception of our Aussie friends the group decided to spend the night in Quilotoa. We all drank tea and played cards by a wood burning stove until our eyes would no longer stay open. We retreated to our rooms and fell asleep to the crackling of wood in the small wood burner that heated the frigid Andean air.

A sight we'll never forget


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