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…

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Quilotoa Loop, Part 2: Ecuador Hiking from Isinlivi to Chugchilan

Quilotoa Loop, Part 2: Ecuador Hiking from Isinlivi to Chugchilan

After a wonderfully healthy and filling breakfast at Hostal Llullu Llama, we headed out for our second day on the Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador hiking.  We had some directions from the hostel, which we had been making fun of the night before (with a guy who had just done the hike in reverse).  There were many lines such as “take a left at the fork after passing several earth walls” or “when you see a small farm in front of you…”  After starting out and making several wrong turns, we eventually found the “earth walls” and from there it was pretty straightforward.  Oh, except for the “log bridge” that we thought was this one:

Quilotoa Loop, Part 2: Ecuador Hiking from Isinlivi to Chugchilan

The directions clearly stated that we were to cross a “log bridge on our right.”  Even the night before we were told that it was more like “a tree that has been fallen in the proper place.”  However, after crossing this tree and following the path for about 20 more minutes, we stumbled upon a second log bridge, one that was much wider, seeming a little more like a bridge and a little less like a downed tree.  Oh well, our way was more fun.  You try doing this with thousands of dollars of electronics on your back! Ecuador hiking sure is an adventure!

Quilotoa Loop, Part 2: Ecuador Hiking from Isinlivi to Chugchilan

The hike was easy and beautiful until the end when the trail took a hard upward slant.  By hard I mean it was super steep and we were tired and just wanted to get there.  Add that to the high altitude and goofy directions and we were about to be in bad moods.  Luckily, soon enough we made it to the top and had a chat with a friendly local.  He confirmed that we were going the right direction and that we only had one more hour to go.  The trail turned into a road and soon we were fighting for space with the local motorcycles driven by small children (seriously…all the 12-year-olds seemed to be driving them…scary).  We passed a school and bought some popsicles (every school has several weirdos in front of it selling candy and ice cream to the kiddies).  Whenever we need a little boost, not much is better than frozen treats!  Before we knew it we were walking up the driveway of our next hostel in Chugchilan, just under the minimum time that we were told the hike would take.  14km in five hours, not bad!  We spent the rest of the afternoon resting because, man, that equatorial sun is killer!

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