Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inland Ecuador - parte uno

Where do I begin?!  We’ve just returned from the first of two inland trips around Ecuador, to be followed up by another month or so in September.  For now tho, we are on SERIOUS bank account recovery mode.  Heading to the market yesterday, we were delving into nickels and dimes to try to do a bit of restocking of the refrigerator.  The first of the month can’t come soon enough.  We can hardly afford to buy eggs, but Ron got a case of beer.  Mmmm, is that called Captain’s Perogative?

But I digress….

So in order to not bore you, I’ll do the scintillating account of our travels in a couple of installments – (don’t want to lose my readers).  Creating an interesting and varied itinerary, as any trip planner will tell you, takes time, and a bit more time.  We know people that simply wing it – they arrive in a city/town/village, and proceed to wander the streets looking for a hostel, or hotel, or inn to stay at.  Call me anal, unspontaneous, boring….whatever, but I consider TripAdvisor one of my best “go-to” resources.  I have no interest in slogging around an unfamiliar town looking for accommodations after a no doubt long, bouncy, noisy and uncomfortable bus ride, lugging the requisite backpack.  Okay, the rides are usually cheap, but I can still complain, can’t I?   

After 10 very long hours, we finally arrived in Quito from Bahia de Caraquez.  There was some confusion…..I couldn’t remember from our last trip, and I was assured from someone that had absolutely no reason to be so confident, that the bus departed at 6:40am.  We of course had woken up in plenty of time to have a cup of brew (not too much as the buses never have baňos on board) and then to head off.  Missed it by 10 minutes!  There was another bus immediately, but instead of the directo bus, we stopped all along the way to disgorge and take on more passengers, at times filling the aisles to overflowing, turning an 8 hour trip into one closer to 10.  Welcome to busing in Ecuador!

After arriving in Quito around 5pm, we got to proceed with the inevitable taxi dash, the uncertain ride to a hostel supposedly around the corner from the bus terminal, the 20 minutes taxi it actually took, the immediate need for the captain to find a beer…. (helped along the way by the manager as World Cup was playing and he needed a few too) and a decompressing in front of a computer.  (I’m not sure it’s adequate, or healthy, but a computer has a way of bringing us level again after the uncertainties of travel in a foreign country.  Oh, and that beer too…..)  For anyone wanting to hit Quito, we can recommend La Posada Colonial, in the heart of the Old Town, and ½ block away from La Ronda, a walking street filled with bars, restaurants and galleries.  Perfect, and only $8 per person per night. 

La Ronda
This pizza joint (we have eaten pizza in EVERY SOUTH AMERICAN CITY, thanks to Ron) was just a doorway.  They’d figure out what they wanted to make, and display it in the doorway.  You could either eat a slice, or continue on your way.  We stopped, and it was fantastic!  

Another satisfied customer
As we are planning to return to Quito in another month, and we had been there for 5 days last year when we first arrived in Ecuador, we didn’t linger.  The next morning we figured out why the reviews had said that the hostel was close to the buses.  It was.  Just a 5 minute walk to a bus stop, and 25 cents later (rather than the initial $8 cab ride) got us back to the main bus terminal for our onward 2 hour trip to Latacunga, the start of the famous Quilatoa Loop in the Andean highlands of Ecuador.  

My preferred hostel in Latacunga seemed to also be preferred by every other climber and backpacker in the region…no room at the inn!  We got directed to another hotel with dodgy rooms, but they had a massive television set in the dining room, and while it rained outside, we watched the Netherlands try to defeat Argentina – unsuccessful and the local crowd watching with us breathed a sigh of relief that the remaining South American team had made it to the finals.  

The weather was beginning to cause us a few problems.  While we wandered around Quito the night before, still shod in sandals, our footsies didn’t seem too bothered, but we were also in jackets, and I had a scarf on.  Hmmmm, seems I forgot that Quito is close to 9,500 feet in elevation.  Yes, it was summer, but….and we were headed to 12,841 in Quilatoa.  Yup, should have packed the fleece.  
The Quilatoa Loop “is one of Ecuador’s most exhilarating adventures”, according to Lonely Planet.  Highland markets, an amazing and lofty volcanic crater lake and traditional Andean villages.  Seems I had glossed over the words….”bring warm clothes (it gets painfully cold up here)”.  Before we had gone too far, as in still in Latacunga, Ron was asking me where the rest of the clothes that I had packed for him were.  I informed him they were on the boat, and that I wasn’t his mother.  Yes, I was getting the idea that the next few days might be challenging in more ways than one. 

The Loop can be ticked off in a few ways: walking the entire circle, catching various buses and milk trucks along the backroads, or a combination of the two.  Safe in my 80 degree boat, happily researching our trip, I kept asking Ron if he was good with a bit of a walk while we were exploring this area.  10-20kms per day was an average, and I wanted to be sure we were all on the same page.  Come to find out we weren’t even in the same library!  

The first leg of the trip had us jumping on a bus from Latacunga to Tigua, where we were going to be spending the night at a working posada, Spanish for ranch.  As we would be walking a good portion of this loop, I had suggested we leave the majority of the luggage in Latacunga, keeping our carryables to a minimum.  This actually translated to “you know all those warm clothes you don’t have packed?  Well I want you to cut them down by ½, as it’s either that, or you carry them”.  The first day entailed walking from the top of the road down a dirt track to the ranch house – 800 meters, ya, we can do that, can’t we?!  See Ron’s large bag of cold-weather gear?  Magic – doesn’t exist! 

Now you see the fleece, now you don't!
Tigua is famous for its bright paintings of Andean life made on sheepskin canvases.  Due to carrying constraints, we were spared from agonizing purchasing decisions.  We shared the posada with 8 other hearty, and hardy, travelers, and a few 4 legged types, too. 

Posada de Tigua
No heat in those rooms

The nursery
Someone looks like he needs a pet
These were the least expensive rooms
And if the guests wanted to stay, they had to pay....in milk
Accommodation of a different sort
The wind was howling the next morning, but I was game….Ron was rational.  Along with 2 other travelers, we hitched a ride with the sag wagon that was carrying gear to Laguna Quilatoa for two intrepid hikers, and their two guides.  As we pulled out of the property and spied a group of about 20 hikers fully gearing up (and I mean hiking boots, all sorts of technical gear, folks looking like they were off on an expedition of the greatest magnitude), I snorted, as I looked at my hiking sandals.  Ron rolled his eyes at me, and settled in to enjoy the ½ hour car journey (rather than 8 hour trek) to Laguna Quilatoa.  As we got out of the car and were blasted with 40 mph winds, I silently acknowledged that perhaps I had been a bit ambitious.  Located close to 13,000 feet, the wind and altitude, not to mention the views, took our breath away.  

Literally breathtaking
These horses were running down the trail that we had just hauled our heaving asses up, in order to help lazy (smart) other walkers up from the waters edge some 1000 feet below.  Notice HER technical gear…..I believe that’s called a skirt.  

Yes, it really was that steep
So the cold was beginning to affect Ron’s and my relationship – the second night with no heat, in a hostel that steadfastly refused to put wood in the stove until after dinner…WTH?  Was I not paying $10 for the room?  Didn’t they think we deserved a bit of heat?  I don’t want to say that we are getting soft in our old(er) age, or more demanding, but the “because it’s there” mentality of hiking the loop was beginning to wear off, pronto.  Time to get out of dodge……

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