After Saquisili, the road heads up into the western Andes and a series of small, mainly indigenous villages popular with us gringos, the Quilotoa Loop. What’s great about the loop is there are small hostels in almost every town you can stop in where you can drop your things. So wherever you are when you decide you want to stop, well, you can stay there. It creates a real sense of comfortable adventure.
And some adventures we had. If there was anything to set the tone for our three days, it was our bus ride into Isinlivi, our first destination after the market. We climbed steadily into the clouds, and soon, a light rain. As we neared Isinlivi, the bus stopped before a sharp corner and the driver and ayudante got out and started going at the road with a hoe. Many other people got off and started moving rocks around, much to our confusion. It was then we noticed the mudpit in front of us. After twenty minutes of digging, we tried to pass, and while it felt like the bus was going to topple over, we made it through. But looking back after we passed, it was evident the bus behind us wasn’t going to make it. But they did try. And failed.
So we spent the next two hours trying to get the bus behind us through and then repairing the road so that the busses could make it back through the next day. The rocks that were moved with so much effort only made things worse. So then very muddy men hauled all the rocks out. The mudpit was drained and drainage ditches cut, leaving a very heavy road angle, but passable. So we moved on. The two hour bus ride took over four, and the hostel in Isinlivi, Llu-llu Llama, was all but shuttered thinking no one was coming that day. After a stroll through the one street town, we purchased lunch for the next day at THE store and settled in for a comfortable night.
The next morning, armed with a hiking guide from the hostel, we set off to walk to Chugchilan, many hours by a detouring road, but only a five hour hike from Isinlivi through gorgeous terrain and across a canyon. The recent rains made the ground pretty muddy and more than a few mudslides had wiped out sections of the trail, but we picked our way down to the river and back up into the clouds, finding a Don Bosco Italian woodworking carpenter student at the top of the cliff, anxious to sell us his crafts. While we were completely exhausted from our climb, he was friendly, did beautiful work, and comforted us by telling us it was only a half hour flat walk to our destination. Unfortunately, we had no means of carrying a four post bed away with us.
We arrived, sure enough, a half hour later, to Chugchilan filthy and just in time to witness an epic Carnival waterfight between the female workers at our hostel and the male construction workers. Both sides ended up soaked and covered in mud, flour and … other things. We felt downright clean by comparison after just walking through five hours worth of mud. We steered clear and observed the merriment from our second story balcony. Later, a volunteers birthday meant an evening party at the hostel, and being the only guests at the hostel (again), we were invited. It was a really nice evening of chatting at length with the owners, the three German volunteers and many of the locals they knew. The cuba libres flowed freely and regueton (I think every country has a different way of spelling this …) played loudly. Everyone was festive and cheerful and so friendly and easy to talk to, and really, so was everyone we met on the entire loop. I don’t think we passed a single person who didn’t initiate a buenos dias, buenos tardes or buenos noches, and often followed it with more conversation.
While we had originally planned to hike to the crater of Quilotoa the next morning, we were convinced by everyone at the party that it was a bad idea and we were better off hopping a ride with the hostel owner the next morning who was making the trip anyway. So we sat in the back of a seemingly shock-less pickup truck as it sped over potholes and around tight corners, though as we climbed and climbed we were quickly thankful to not be walking.
Instead of hiking up, we decided to hike around the crater, a striking beautiful set of cliffs diving down to an emerald green lagoon. The views out over the surrounding farmland (including almost all the way back to Isinlivi) were more striking than the the scenery within the caldera, at least until the clouds rolled in and all became shrouded.
Tired and dirty and ignoring the “warnings” from local hostel touts that there would be no more busses out of Quilotoa that day, we lucked into two direct bus transfers back to Latacunga, which also meant we missed the end of the market in Zumbuhua, much smaller than Saquisili, and the local art gallery in Tigua. Looking back on it, this is the kind of short trip I really enjoy, just a few days with a pack and the ability to piece together a trip, be it hiking, hopping a bus, or making friends and hopping a ride. It’s the kind of short trip that really feels like an adventure.