Travel Mumblings

May 17, 2008

The Quilotoa Loop

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:39

Another balmy bus ride later saw us back in Quito. Our plan was to hire a 4×4 to drive the Quilotoa loop. We managed to find a 4×4 at the airport for a reasonable price. I say ´find´ we didn´t steal it or anything, we actually did hire it!

And I guess in retrospect I should use the term ´4×4´ loosely. It was a Toyota Rav4. Hmmm. Still we got a good price for the four days we wanted it, how bad could it be (?) Jayde and I met Shelia whilst we were in Otavalo who didn´t take much persuasion to join us. But with Jayde´s age, and Shelia only having one arm that worked due to a mugging in Columbia, I was nominated ´driver´.

I´m going to go on record right now and say… getting out of Quito without damaging the car and keeping my underwear clean, was hands down one of the hardest things I´ve had to do! Road markings were all but non-existent, red-lights at intersections were merely a ´suggestion to stop´, and every other driver on the road seemed to be obsessively compulsed to honk his horn every other second. After being stopped at a set of lights, if I waited more than a nano-second to pull away once the lights turned green… every Tom, Dick and Hernando would start honking.

When we eventually made it out of Quito (which for the record, must be one of the longest cities in the world), the landscape quickly turned greener and ´rollier hillier´ (what?… they´re words!). We spent the night in Latacunga before leaving early in the morning for ´The Loop´. The road to Zumbahua was mainly paved. We climbed quickly on winding roads and passed through countless indigenous farming communities. I nearly flattened a few of them, herding their sheep on blind bends!? … Not smart… tsk.

Road signs on ´The Loop´, we began to realise were all but non-existent, so we were stopping often to ask for directions, often for us to be left starring agog at the road/track/path that we´d just been sent down. On the map we had the road connecting the villages was labelled as a ´main road´, but seriously, after driving it, I´m certain parts of it wouldn´t even pass as a bridleway back home!

Regardless, after more than a few wrong turns, dodging round the odd landslide here and there, oh and there were a few parts where half the road had fallen away into an abyss, we eventually made it to Chugchillan. 14km took us nearly 3 hours, and I made it out of first gear twice! Oh, and by the by, we ripped our exhaust in half in the process. Oops.

may17-paul-77We thought it wasn´t worth worrying about the exhaust until we needed to leave again, and spent two days hiking around Chugchillan – the nicest being the walk to Canyon Rio Toachi. The morning we planned to leave I patched up the exhaust the best I could with duct tape and a bungee cord. It sounded less like a rally car for about 5 minutes until the duct tape melted off. Hmmm. The road back didn´t seem quite as sketchy as two days previous, but there were a few moments when Jayde and Shelia definitely had white knuckles and their eyes closed!

In Quilotoa we stayed at a cool hostel run by the indigenous people, which cost us $10 for dinner, bed, and breakfast… bargain! The main reason we went to Quilotoa was to see the crater lake. A volcano, dormant since 1800´s filled with water. Amazing. No really. We spent a day hiking around the rim, which was way, way harder than we expected. It was brilliantly sunny when we set off, but by an hour in, the clouds had dropped and it began to rain… the only way we had of knowing that we were heading the right way, were by glimpses of the lake about 1500ft below.

may17-paul-99The path was much more difficult than we were led to believe. There was loads of scrambling, and long stretches of crumbly path, no more than half a metre wide with that big 1500ft drop either side… some of the time, we said we were glad it was foggy, then we couldn´t see the drop! We met a few dogs on the way round too! Dogs out here are bloomin´ psycho! They´re soooo territorial, and start barking and growling before you´re anywhere near their ´turf´. Jayde and I have started taking our trekking poles out and picking up rocks whenever we near homesteads and hear dogs… I´ve never known anything like it. As vicious as they seem, there´s only been a couple of times when I´ve actually thought one´s been ready to attack us. Then lobbing a rock at it´s head and jumping and screaming like a caveman has fortunately been enough to dissuade it! Good times though, the crater rim hike was a cool thing to do, and it was a good workout for sure.

We left Quilotoa for Quito in the morning, only stopping at Zumbahua on the way to see their indigenous Saturday market. Hmmm. It was unique to say the least. They were slaughtering sheep on the street, and gutting them there and then. The street dogs were eating the entrails as they fell to the floor, and people were sat eating their chicken broth soup for breakfast just a couple of stalls away. Friendly place though, and there was more fresh fruit and veg than you could shake a stick at! Ha… and on the drive back, we were following a bus, with 4 sheep on the roof! They were tied on though… so that´s ok!?

May 13, 2008

Quito & Otavalo

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:49

Ok, so I´ve been here around twelve days so far. I´ve seen bus-surfing sheep, have new rules for toilet paper, don´t quite yet need to buy shares in Imodium, and haven´t yet tried ´cuy´(guinea pig).

The flights ended up passing really smoothly, though I hadn´t really thought the 8 hour lay-over in Miami through. Leaving a chilly Whistler, and heading to a damp Quito, I´d naturally dressed accordingly, but walking around Miami in the mid 30´s in my wool socks, long pants and wind-proof fleece did not really work out for me so well! Point of note: Miami is hot.

We got to Quito and had two days there, mainly to acclimatise. Our hostel was amazing with a breakfast terrace overlooking the whole Old Town… amazing views every meal time. We were also given new ´toilet paper rules´. Apparently, Ecuador’s sewage system isn´t up to much, and can´t handle anything but human waste, so everything else has to go into a littler bin next to the toilet… and then some unlucky sole empties all the bins twice a day. Hmm.

Quito was only ok. Jayde and I never really felt entirely safe. Every night at the hostels, people would have fresh stories of muggings and robberies to share with everyone… Oh the joy! We did wander the Old Town and it´s churches though, and it was all pretty nice to see, and bought 2 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges and a papaya for $1.60!…. the crazy thing being I still think we were ripped off! Point of note 2: fruit is cheap.

The next day we planned to take the bus North to a small market town, Otavalo. This was to be our first ´bus experience´ in South America. Here goes. We caught a taxi from our hostel to the terminal terestre. When we were about a minute away the taxi driver asked me where we were catching a bus too (which in England would be fine and normal, but it can take me a minute to process anything remotely Spanish spoken to me). After convincing myself how to reply, and then babbling something about Otavalo to him, he pointed excitedly at a line of buses slowly creeping along a parking lane. That was the terminal terestre (bus depot). Strange, none of them ever appeared to stop. The taxi screeched to a halt. No seat belts. The buses were still moving. may17-paul-44We were thrown out, we grabbed our bags, a little man came and tried to grab Jayde’s bag for her, but she rightly didn´t let go of it. So both of them carried her bag awkwardly. Me, Jayde and the little grabby-bag man ran up the hill to the bus that said Ótavalo on the side. We assumed that was going to Otavalo. It still hadn´t stopped. A crazy guy hanging out of the door shouted, “Otavalo, Otavalo” a couple of times, that was proof enough for me. Another guy gabbed our bags, and threw them underneath. Jayde and I were ushered onto the bus, convinced by now we were heading to Otavalo. The bus hadn´t stopped once. And breathe.

Otavalo was a breathe of fresh air after bein

g in Quito. A lot of the countryside reminded me of home. Our hostel there was sat 300m above Otavalo on the mountainside. It had it´s own massive gardens for us to loll around in, and there were flowers and birds AND humming birds everywhere. I wad quite excited about the humming birds. Jayde and I hiked a short distance to Taxopamba Falls. We got lost only once, and realised after a few minutes that a pretty large landslide had blocked the path, and that the gargantuan pile of mud, shrubs and trees shouldn´t be sat ahead of us.

Otavalo is famous for it´s indigenous market. We weren´t really prepared for how big! We wandered it for the best part of a day, without I´m sure seeing it all. It was pretty amazing how much stuff they had to sell… a cacophony of sound and colour. Hand made rugs, bags, sweaters (Jayde bought an alpaca sweater), chickens (whole, and then by any individual part of them you might ever desire!), tonnes and tonnes of fruit (we bought 12 bananas for $0.50!

The next day we hiked from Mojanda Lake up Fuya Fuya volcano. This was the highest we´d been in South America so far (4263m), and we found it pretty slow going whilst we got used to the altitude. It´s such a weird feeling going to breathe and not being satisfied with the amount of oxygen in the air. Still we made it to the top and had lunch whilst we waited for the cloud to clear. On a clear day we were told that we should be able to see Quito. It wasn´t that clear. We didn´t see Quito. But, it was good acclimatisation for higher climbs later on!

On our last day in Otavalo we hired some horses for a trek into the hills behind the hostel, to look down on Otavalo and San Pablo Lake. I hadn´t ridden since I was like 12 years old on Scout camp… and even then, I think our horses may have been roped together, nose to tail. So, least to say, I was a little nervous. “Horses can tell if your nervous y´know”, Jayde (having ridden horses all her life!) told me … Great! Bloody great! Anyhow, after blagging the most ´tranquillo´ horse out of the three, I felt better. And, I actually enjoyed myself once we´d got going, even though I´m sure on that ride, I was pretty much just taken for a ride. A lot of the route was on a small cobbled road,

may17-jayde-65

and my horse didn´t have any shoes on! If I was to design the most uncomfortable surface for a horse with no shoes to walk on… cobbles would almost definitely be up there! Needless to say, my horse didn´t really want to walk on the cobbles, especially with a fat Englishman on his back. So he proceeded to seek out any patch of nice, soft, lush, feet-friendly grass he could find, which just and so happened to be narrow patch

es down the side of the cobbles. Thus I got dragged through any trees, flowers, spiny plants and bug-laden jungle that was over-hanging the road… which was pretty much the whole way round. Horse riding therefore, remai

ns: Work in progress.

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