Monday, 9 April 2012

Hiking in the Andes

We headed back to Quito for 2 more nights unexpectedly, to apply for a new passport at the embassy after having it stolen on a bus. Luckily we didn't have to wait there for it as the very kind embassy lady said she could post it on to one of our future destinations which was a relief as we wanted to continue with our travels and not wait around in a town that we had already enjoyed for a quite a few days. So we set off for quite possibly one of our biggest adventures so far - 3 days of hiking around the remote andes and villages armed only with a guide for day 1 and trek notes off the internet!! We caught a couple of buses through spectacular scenery and then hopped in the back of a truck to make it to the tiny village called Quilotoa. As soon as the truck stopped two very enthusiastic ladies in traditional dress led us to their hostel to encourage us to stay there. They were so friendly that, after exploring the town a bit and deciding that theres was definitely the best hospitality on offer, we headed back and took a room. We enjoyed a hot tea around the stove with some other foreign travels. The tea was very welcome as it was pretty cold and misty in this village - not surprising as we were at 3900 meters!! We headed to see if we could see the volcanic lake and the main reason travellers come here. And after not being able to see anything at all as everything was completely shrouded in mist we were lucky as it cleared away and we saw the most stunning lake. It was getting dark so we headed back for a truly international dinner. There were 12 of us from at least 7 different countries and it was fascinating as most of the conversation was conducted in Spanish, which was great practice for us, and occasionally French and English. It was a lovely evening with very friendly people finishing up with some dice games. Jonty and I then gat

hered up some logs for our fire that we were very excited to have in our room. It was great having a log fire. After hearing reports that it gets bitterly cold at night, we were a little worried, but lets just say I think we were lucky as we had a very efficient fire going long into the night. We set off on our walk down to the crater lake at 8am ish after an early breakfast and it was a stunning walk. We had it pretty much all to ourselves and the water was so turquiose in the sunlight. We made it down to the beach area in about an hour and then the hard walk back up began. It really was an incredibly work out for the legs going back up but that really was just a warm up as after that we found a local guide called Augustine who would lead us on to our next little village,called Chugchilan, on our 3 day expedition. Augustine was quite a character and looked very dapper and totally unprepared for our supposed 5 hour walk! He was dressed in an orange cardy, smart khaki trousers and black business shoes with no grip, a hat but no water or food. But, he was like a mountain goat and he set a good pace for us. The walk really was stunning. We walked along the edge of the crater to begin with up and down and then through some moon like landscape and then descended down into some tiny villages with very cute and friendly children playing in the streets and lots of people herding animals. Towards the end of the walk we came to this incredible canyon that we realised we would need to descend to the bottom and climb up the other side. This was pretty tough especially as we realised that Augustine really had been setting an incredible pace and that we were going to arrive at our destination an hour and a half earlier than the walk was meant to take. We'd been going at such a fast pace as Augustine needed to walk all the way back home before night fall. On the walk up the canyon we met a English girl, Sarah, who was also staying in our hostel so we walked with her. There were also two other English people in the hostel (only 5 of us there that night) and this was the most English people I think we had met all trip. We had dinner together and then played table footie and table tennis. Sarah was walking on to the town we were heading to too so we decided to walk together and this time it was just us and the trek notes we'd printed out. Although we were lucky enough to pick ourselves some canine guides again - I don't know how we do it. We had two golden retrievers guiding us for at least 3 hours of our walk. They were so gorgeous and friendly! The scenery was amazing again, rivers, canyons, patchwork mountains, pigs, lamas, sheep! WE also enjoyed crossing an Indiana Jones style bridge. Sarah was good company and 6 hours later we made it to a lovely hostal in a tiny town called Isivili. And as luck would have it there was a religious festival taking place when we arrived. We investigated and joined in a religious parade and brass band which went around the streets blessing each of the houses in turn, throwing petals. It was a lovely thing to just come across and everyone was very friendly. We ate some local food in the main square and chatted to some children who were so full or beans and were all brothers,5 of them! There was a band playing very lively music in the main square but it was quite funny the Ecuadorians here didn't go in for big exuberant dance moves it was a very restrained little shuffle that everyone performed. Jonty and I adapted our moves and we think managed to pull off a very satisfactory shuffle of our own!! We were exhausted from our walk so it was a pretty early night that we had. But we were up the next day for brekkie at 6.30am. Sarah caught the bus to the next town but we wanted to complete the full 3 day hike so we set off with our trek notes in hand again. But unfortunately, the notes weren't particularly good for this route and we found it hard to work out which tall eucalyptus tree we needed to turn by!! Hmmm, we worked out we must have taken a wrong turning so I asked a lady who was in her garden for directions and was very surprised when I couldn't understand the answer as I didn't think my Spanish was that bad. But, I then realised that the lady wasn't speaking Spanish she was speaking Quechua a local dialect it was then we realised what a remote area we were in. She was very eager to help and made big gestures with her hands but unfortunately we didn't take much from her suggestions. We continued on and made our own way asking people, who did speak Spanish along the way, but after an hour or two we did manage to get back on track after spotting a bridge we knew we needed to get to - and crossing several barbed wire fences and fields of cows to get to it. It was a hot beautiful day with much of the walk going near a raging river and up and down the mountains of course once more. We made it to Sighos a market town after 5 hours and we were pretty tired once more. After a quick look round we caught a bus which had a strange passenger travelling or surfing you might say on the roof - a sheep that had been bought at the market. It was a pretty fascinating sight seeing it being winched up there and I'm not sure what the sheep would have made of it's 2 hour journey round the winding roads. We were planning to get the night bus that night to our next destination, Cuenca, but there was an unbelievably storm that started when we were on the way to buy the bus tickets. We had to shelter for about an hour as hail and rain lashed down and shop fronts came down. We decided not to travel in that and stayed a night warm in a hostel in Latacunga instead.

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