Quilotoa Loop

I headed to the bus stop in Alausí desperate to catch the 1:30pm bus to Quito. I arrived early and realised it was just a sign on the road. I asked a lady waiting if it was the right way and she said no but I didn’t really understand her reply. A bus pulled up and i was told I needed to wait on the other side of the road. I grabbed my bags and waited in the heat for the bus to come. To be fair it was practically on time but I started to melt in the heat and there were a few other busses that either drive past or turned off before they reached me. Still I always trust in South America and set a time in my head where I’d try another option if the bus hadn’t shown up. Low and behold, soon after the bus showed up and stopped. Well I use stop in the loosest possible term.

Generally all busses in South America have at least two people on board. The driver and conductor. The role of the conductor varies from company to company and country to country but in Ecuador they really do earn their money. The conductor jumped off as the bus continues for another 20 metres and let passengers off. I grabbed my bags and ran towards it, the conductor took my big bag and put it in the hold, another man tried to take my backpack, I’m assuming to help but I always keep it with me, and then we all jumped on the bus without it coming to a complete stop. I was blocked from getting on as the door was open and as it continued people jumped off and I realised for he rest of the journey the same thing happened. I don’t think the bus stopped.

It was four hours to Latacunga and I was eventually dropped at the edge of the motorway junction, again the bus didn’t stop, and immediately was directed to a local bus, which also might have been moving and took me the rest of the way into town.

I was soon at the next hostel just before it went dark. I don’t normally name hostels but if you are reading this to get information on the loop then it makes sense to include. The hostel is Hostel Cafe Tiana, and it’s about a 10 minute walk from the bus station. I selected this on the advice from other blogs as they said it was easy to meet people doing the loop and it was. Everyone there seemed to be either going on the hike or coming back from it. It’s a good hostel although the showers could be better and breakfast is not perfect but I’d recommend. although you can get dinner for around $3.

In the dorm I met Josh and as we were talking Ben and Mary walked into the room. We realised we had met before but took a while to realise that they were at the Asado in Mendoza back in May. For me that was a bit of a shock as they had been heading to Buenos Aires, but turns out they went north through Brazil to Colombia and were now headed south to Peru. Also they were doing to loop as well so we joined for the hike. I had dinner in the hostel and in the room met Dulce, from Mexico, who was heading to work at a hostel in Cali. So swapped details with the hope of meeting up in Colombia.

The next morning we left for the bus station and there were a few gringos on the bus. One was Patrick, born in Canada but grew up in Australia, who would join us for the hike. You have to take the bus to Sigchos, which is 2 hours from Latacunga. Once you get into the lush green mountains its a beautiful journey and I found myself wondering how many times I’d now been travelling along winding mountain roads and switchbacks.

When we arrived we weren’t sure if we needed to register and it seemed not, so we started the hike anyways. Annoyingly the blue sky had turned grey, something that does happen here in the afternoon. The first day was only around 10km and this was a different hike for me as much of it was along dirt tracks and passed villages. Most hikes I do are in the middle of nowhere. Still it was beautiful and it felt good to be moving. I found the first day a challenge, possibly due to not having acclimated still, especially the part up the steep hill.

Due to the promxity to villages, farms and houses it meant there were people around, who put us back in track when we went the wrong way and we saw lots of farm animals. It was really nice to be hiking with English speakers. Not that people don’t speak English but there is a connection when you can speak to people from your own country. Ben is actually from Emsworth, which is about 2 or 3 miles from where I grew up. It is actually where I grew up. So it was nice to reminisce. But for now here are some sheep.

It turned really grey as we reached the end of the hike and we were all really happy to see the hostel, Luluilama which I had booked via email. It was pretty busy and worth reserving this in advance. The hostels in the hike include breakfast and dinner and this hostel was paradise for $20. There is a full restaurant, fires, hot showers and spa all available to use along with a free yoga class which I didn’t take.

We grabbed some beers and waited away the wet afternoon until dinner, which was delicious before heading to bed. But the best thing about the hostel had to be the wonderful dog.

The yoga class wasn’t 7am but instead I decided to take photos and get myself ready. Breakfast was at 8 and we seemed to be the last to head off at around 9am. Today the sky was a beautiful blue but it meant that it became hot quickly. Still this was for better photos. The beginning of the trek was mostly down and therefore fairly easy.

We followed the signs that you can see in the picture above and made good progress winding our way around the mountains halfway up the valley. At one point we ended up on a precarious path leading around the side of the mountain. We saw some others in the valley below and beside being an exciting prospect we decided to head back and wind through the valley.

We ended up following a small stream along a beautiful green valley. According to my map we had to cross a log bridge that didn’t really have much support but by now I was happy to take on these things and we walked up the right hand side of the river. Soon we saw a proper bridge and met one of the French girls that had been in the hostel the night before. It turned out that she had come along the correct route and I realised that my version of Maps me didn’t have the correct trail. Mary’s did and it then made sense why she had been saying we had taken a wrong turn, which we had, but we were back in the right path now.

The path then started ascending and we found ourselves high above the steam looking at a beautiful valley.

Then the path took a turn to the right and we ended up waking up yet another mountain. This was more taxing than the previous day but we took on the switchbacks and all collapsed at the top. We took a little detour to a view point and saw some turkeys, one of whom was showing off his feathers.

The sky turned grey, really quickly and we followed the trail along to the road. Ben and Mary had brought some sweets as the children of teen ask for them and are rewarded. This is how different it is here where children can ask strangers for food and it’s not a strange thing. All the hostels provide lunch boxes that come with cookies and candy. Then the local children come running up asking “Tienes candy?”. The first time we offered he packet to the kids and they nearly took the whole thing. So after that we rationed it. Again we would probably be arrested in Europe but it’s different here.

After the track ended we had to walk up the road for a couple of kilometres to the hostel. I toyed with climbing up an extra hill but decided against it. On the way up we passed lots of schools children walking home. We were the first at the hostel and despite booking a dorm I was excited to be given a private room. Although I was annoyed to discover that the bathroom was locked. It took me a long time to work out and several conservations that the room key also unlocked the bathroom. My Spanish still has a long long way to go.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and all met up for a group dinner and a few games of pool, on one of the worst tables I’ve ever had the privilege to play. I opted for an early night as we agreed to meet for breakfast at 7am so we could leave early. By this time we had realised that the mornings were sunny but the clouds came out in the afternoon.

A little gato joined us for breakfast. I stopped him from walking all over the tables and he happily sat on my lap and then stole the cheese from my plate. I suddenly realised his game.

The sin was shining brightly as we left and you could see the clouds hanging low in the valleys which made for a beautiful sight.

We turned left off the main road and went downhill taking a few shortcuts before we hit the main trial. Sadly there was a lot of rubbish but on the plus side we saw a donkey.

We reached the “main” road and were conscious that we needed to make a decision between walking the hard way and the easy way. Unfortunately we were to realise later that by taking one of the shortcuts we had missed the place where we would make the decision. So we ended up on the easy path. We then spotted a sign on the path below and trekked down to that ending up on the hard paths which was beautiful, but alas hard.

We walked down into the valley and crossed a small stream before ending up on a really narrow path with a small landslide. We had to jump across the gap and material was constantly sliding down the hill. It was easy but the drop always makes it feel worse than it is.

We then went up what was the hardest climb so far of the trek, climbing out of the valley up to a mountain. At the top exhausted we decided to go and visit some cascadas but sadly they turned out to be a little lacking this time of year. Having taken a side track we turned around and realised that the clouds had almost covered the sky. It was barely 10am and they had arrived already. We powered on no less walking the last few kilometres before we became slightly lost. We couldn’t find the trails on maps me but we did find one heading directly upwards so decided to follow it hoping for the best. This was the steepest climb of the three days. It was literally walking up the side of the mountain, at nearly 4000 metres, with no switchbacks. But we made it! And then we saw the crater.

It was beautiful, sadly not as beautiful as it would have been with sun, but stunning none the less. We stayed and had lunch and then decided to walk around the side to the town. On the way we ran into a local woman who said we were on the wrong path. I think we would have ignored her but we had had a little trouble identifying the actual path a few minutes before. She told us she was going back to the village and would take us the right way. Which turned out to be a perilous path, and then she demanded money from us. If we had ignored her we would have been fine but alas it’s confusing sometimes. We headed around the rest of the lake to finish the trek.

Arriving in town I saw a hungry dog so gave him my disgusting sandwich.

We then walked to the bus stop where there happened to be a bus and waited until someone told us the bus had broken down and we needed to take a taxi to the next town. Reluctantly we did this and as soon as we arrived there was a bus leaving for Latacunga. It was a long two hour ride and we were exhausted. Patrick has opted to stay in Quilotoa for the night and it meant he would get good pictures in the morning. The rest of us decided to leave. If I had more time I would have stayed but I needed to head to Colombia as I was already late.

We arrived back at the hostel and opted for pizza and beers which was amazing. There is a pizza place on the edge of town and I’ll share it with you one day.

We grabbed some more beers, headed back to the hostel and had an early night. The next morning I grabbed breakfast and went for a little walk around town. The centre of Latacunga is very pretty and it’s probably worth spending a little time here is you can.

After I returned we said our goodbyes and I was alone again. I headed to the bus stop and was immediately on a bus headed to Quito which was a short two hour trip away.

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