Quilotoa Loop, Part 3: Chugchilan to Laguna Quilotoa…and back.

Some days you just don’t have any luck.  This was one of them.  After the previous day’s 14km, we were not super excited for another big hike.  We heard that walking from Chugchilan to Laguna Quilotoa was pretty grueling, with a 900m elevation gain, but that there were buses there that we could take and then have a pleasant hike back.  This is what we wanted to do.  But nope, as soon as we finished breakfast and prepared to leave, the hostel manager told us that there were no buses to Quilotoa town that day and we would have to either hike or hire a truck for $25.  Of course there was no way we were willing to pay that much, so we set out on foot, planning to man up to the difficult hike there and then take a bus back after seeing the lake.
The hike was steadily uphill almost the whole way and at altitude it was tough.  We stayed positive and strong and made it through the 10km in under four hours.  As soon as we arrived in Quilotoa town, of course we saw a bus pulling in from Chugchilan!  Thanks hostel manager for the proper information!  Oh well.

Laguna Quilotoa
Laguna Quilotoa, a volcanic crater lake

The lake was gorgeous and we snapped a few photos.  But even if we had had enough energy to walk part of the trail around it we couldn’t have, because my knee was pretty sore; I guess I had pulled or twisted something on the hike to Chugchilan the day before and continuing to stress it wasn’t helping.  But all was well, we thought, “We’ll take the last bus out of town.”  The general consensus of people we asked was that this bus left at 2pm, although there were a few differences of opinion on this matter.  We had seen many buses coming this direction on the way so figured catching one would be easy.

Laguna Quilotoa
Hiking back to Chugchilan

WRONG!  After sitting by the road for a few minutes, we got too cold so decided to just start hiking down and let the bus catch up to us.  Maybe save a few cents, we figured.  One hour later, we’re at the point where the trail diverges from the road, out of water, my knee is killing me, and there have been no signs of any buses….
I think you know where this is going. OF COURSE we ended up hiking the whole way back.  By the end I was literally crying, limping, and leaning on Zach with most of my weight; my knee hurt so badly.  Luckily we found someone selling water bottles so we didn’t get too dehydrated.  We finally hobbled back into town five hours after we left.  Sunburned badly?  Yes.  Exhausted, sore, and frustrated?  Yes, yes, and yes.  So what is the issue here?  Do the buses not really have a schedule and just run when they feel like making some money?  Probably.  Do people give us made-up information when they don’t really know the answers?  I think so.  It’s one part of backpacking South America that will never be very fun.  The crater lake was gorgeous but was it worth all that?  Don’t think so.  At least we made it through what will go down in history as our worst hike ever.  And don’t worry, a few days of rest were all it took to heal my knee.

But unfortunately, this night was about to get even worse…

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 4

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Samaipata; or, When Things Don´t Go Right!

I’ll just go ahead and say it.  This story has two morals, and they are:

  1. Rules are made to be broken.
  2. Don’t assume anything!

We had an amazing-sounding free hostel that we were scheduled to visit and review in the small village of Samaipata.  The only buses going there from Sucre were the night buses to Santa Cruz.  So we bought tickets for a decent price on a bus leaving at 3pm, supposedly stopping in Samaipata around 5am, three hours before finally reaching Santa Cruz.  Quite the trek, but we are getting used to it.  Everything we read and heard confirmed this itinerary, and the guy from the hostel nicely arranged for a taxi to meet us and a hostel staff member to be up to greet us at this ungodly hour of 5am.

So we got on our bus, prepared for the long haul.  After a dinner stop in who-knows-where, we both tried to sleep, me with a 4:30am alarm set on my iPod.  I knew this was probably unnecessary though, because buses here are never on time and are in fact usually very late.  I also assumed Samaipata would be an obvious stop with others getting off and more passengers boarding to take our seats.  This was all a mistake.  Don’t assume things when traveling in unfamiliar territory, no matter how much “experience with this” you think you have!  We stopped around 12am for a pee-on-the-side-of-the-road break, and although I was in and out of light sleep, I don’t think we stopped again.

I woke up at 4:30am and we were pulling into a town.  “Cool,” I thought groggily, “this must be it.”  I asked a passenger if this was in fact Samaipata and his answer made my heart sink.  “No, this is Santa Cruz,” he replied.  “WHAT???  This can’t be!”  The driver also confirmed it.  “Why didn’t anyone tell us to get off?  How’d we miss our stop?  How are we so EARLY?”  These questions swirled through my befuddled brain.  Somehow, we were three hours early, unheard of in Bolivia, and must have passed Samaipata at around 2am without stopping (that either of us noticed).

Of course this was all our fault for assuming the driver knew we were going there and would tell us to get off the bus!  And for following our previously-unbroken rule: Buses are never early!  Argh.  Although we didn’t know what we’d have done arriving in Samaipata at 2am, we now had to waste time in Santa Cruz until hostel checkout time.  The cost of backtracking to Samaipata then coming back again to Santa Cruz made it not worthwhile, we unfortunately realized.  So we were two days ahead of schedule but super upset about missing a free hostel and a cool town.  Oh Bolivia, you got us again!

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