1 of 5 posts from our 4 day trip around the Quilotoa Loop. Only have video of Day 1 so watch for updates when we figure out how to embed them!
We departed the comfort of our first airbnb early. Caught a very kind taxi who took us to an ATM on the way to the Terminal Quitumbe. There are no ATMs on the loop and all hostels are cash only. The ATMs were fairly easy to use but on busy streets so use some caution. We would say the same for taxis. It was explained to us on our first day that most taxis are safe but there are varying levels of official. For the most legitimate look for taxis with green stickers with their ID number and a red “seguro” sticker. Then before you get in, confirm they will use their meter, check for the safety cameras in the back as well as a comforting yet concerning red panic button. If anything feels uncomfortable, you can always wave them off. We did not have issues with any driver that we found but appreciated these checks as we took several taxis.
Once at the Terminal Quitumbe, we quickly found buses going to the Cotopaxi region and the city of Latacunga. For $4.35 we had 2 tickets on a bus leaving in 5 minutes. We believe buses leave on the route every 15 min or so. The 1.5 hour bus ride took us down the Pan American highway. It was nice to once again be on I35! Ecuadorian buses have added entertainment of alternating vendors that present food and different medications for the captive audience. In addition to their major destinations, these buses will pick up locals and drop them off at homes and other stops along the way. The number and frequency varies and can drastically change the length of your ride.
We arrived in Latacunga around 10am and took a taxi to the Hostel Tiana. It is not far from the Terminal but we did not bring a map nor look up the directions which is a common occurrence on the trip so far. For $1.50 a day you can store most of your belongings here in a safe basement and bring only the essentials to the loop. They advised of buses leaving to Sigchos every 30 minutes and provided a “map” to guide us from Sigchos to Insinlivi. A quick walk back to the Terminal and a stop at the grocery store for snacks, toothpaste and mosquito repellent and we were on our 2nd bus of the day.
The $5 bus ride to Sigchos was an amazing introduction to the rolling green hills that we would be hiking through later that day. After two hours we were at our starting point.
Out of the safety of the bus we quickly realized that we had no idea what we were getting into. The locals in the town asked us where we were going and made sure to mention we could just take a bus there, but we were ambitious and excited to get started so we thanked them and walked our way out of town.
Despite the locals laughing at us, we were committed to our hike! Off we went, accompanying us was a delightful grandmother who at one point asked us “when are you going to start singing”? She was a very much needed guest on our journey as the directions provided to us by Hostal Tiana were a bit ambiguous in the beginning. We encountered our first roadblock, a giant pig guarding the path between two corn fields. Bekah was so concerned by the beast that she veered right into a barbed wire fence, snagging her shirt and pants, but walking away unscathed. It was at this point that our elderly companion decided to leave a us and “help” harvest the field for the farmer. This was the perfect opportunity to start a new fellowship, as a playful little pup picked up where she left off. For the next 7 miles, our quadra-pedestrian would prove to be of service as he scared off (or encouraged) the myriad of dogs that ran up to let us know we were in their territory. Bekah really thought he was there because he smelt her despair; like a vulture picking off its prey, he was a predator patiently waiting for her to fall. In my opinion, Buster (our dog) is a Warg and possessed this dog to follow us and ensure our safety.
The beginning of Sigchos to Isinlivi is primarily a downhill hike, Bekah even made some casual remark about how she felt bad for the hikers coming uphill from the opposite direction. She must have not heard me say that everyday was a 600m climb to Quilotoa, so I politely said “we have 6 miles left, it might just be uphill.” 450 meters of uphill to be precise. At this point, I must warn you it is not the best of ideas after traveling between three cities to just hop off a bus and try and traverse 13 kilometers of unknown. Especially when the city you live in isn’t even 300m above sea level. Bekah referred to this trek as her Mordor, I was her Sam, our packs the ring (on the contrary, she was much obliged to give them up). One hour of pure ascent, questioning “why didn’t we take that bus”? “What are we trying to prove”? “Why did I only bring half a bottle of water”? I have ran half marathons, but this was a new evil. Eventually, we heard the familiar sound of a truck’s gears as they cranked and struggled to get up the hillside. We knew we made it. The final leg was along the roadside to Isinlivi. We walked to our Hostal, exhausted but proud of our feat. We were quickly humbled by an elder village woman who appeared out of nowhere, climbing a hill of what seemed like a 90 degree ascent and worst of all, she had a propane tank on her back, secured only by a blanket. We hung our heads in shame, mustered out a “buenos tardes” and continued on, pup and all. We arrived at Llullu Llama, greeted by two friendly faces who seemed to understand the trials and tribulations we just undertook.