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Friday, July 18, 2008

Quilotoa Crater

Pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/QuilotoaCrater

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The bus from Sigchos to Chugchilan finally departed at 1:30 PM loaded up with kids on their way home from school. After dropping most of them off along the way we arrived at the Cloud Forest hostal two hours later. There are three levels of accomodation in Chugchilan. The Black Sheep Inn (http://www.blacksheepinn.com/) is at the high end, Mama Hilda (http://www.hostalmamahilda.org/) is in the middle, and Cloud Forest (http://www.hostalcloudforest.com/) is the least expensive option. We dropped our bags in our reserved room at CF, but we weren´t really thrilled with it. It was clean and new, but the room was very small and the bed was as hard as a rock. Before unpacking we decided to go for a walk to explore the town and the first thing we passed was Mama Hilda´s (the two properties are literally neighbors). We walked up the drive to ask to see a room just to satisfy our curiousity, and there was the man we´d met in Sigchos who had asked if we were going to MH´s because that was his family´s property (he turned out to be Papa Hilda). He had been very charming, even after we said we were going to CF, and he was happy to show us a room. It was by far the most modern room (while still retaining a rustic charm) that we´ve seen on this trip so far. The bathroom fixtures are brand new, we have a double bed and a bunk bed with plenty of room left to move around, and there are even nice touches like illuminated light switches and a TV (no cable). Best of all there´s plenty of hot water and the beds are soft and loaded with blankets which is a good thing because there´s no heat in our room (although you can get even nicer rooms with wood stoves at MH´s). We liked this room better than the one at CF and when we asked how much it would cost we were happy to hear that he would let us have it for $2 more per person than the rate CF was charging us. It´s a better fit for us socially as well since CF is geared toward the younger, budget minded backpacking set, and MH´s trekkers are closer to our demographic. We offered profuse apologies (and a small tip) to CF and moved our bags to MH´s.

Dinner last night and breakfast this morning were both delicious (included in the room rate), and we´ve met several more interesting trekkers from around the globe (most are hard core trekkers which is what this area is all about, by the way). After breakfast we joined six other people for a one hour pickup truck ride to Quilotoa crater. We had agreed ahead of time that John would do the full hike (on average it´s half an hour down to the lake and one hour up) and I would hike down and hire a horse ($5) for the trip back up. The rim view of the lake was beautiful and it was an easy hike on a good, sometimes rocky or sandy trail down. My horse and guide, 13 year old Walter, caught up with us before we reached the lake (the guides literally run down the hill with the horses, donkeys, and mules) and waited for me while John tested the water temperature and took some photos. At 11:00 we all started up and I had instructions to send a horse down for John if he didn´t appear by 1:00 (his target was 12:30 at the latest). We had gotten there relatively early so that by this time many more people (and horses for some of them) were passing us going down the hill. My horse got me up to the top in 45 minutes or less with a few stops for him to catch his breath. It wasn´t long after I dismounted that I could see John coming up the trail. I was very impressed that it only took him an hour and he seemed none the worse for wear. He´s disappointed that we didn´t stick to our plan to hike here from Isinlivi but I know I couldn´t do it without a horse to carry me up the steep ascents.

Although there were plenty of vendors wanting to show us their woolen goods, the only purchase we made was a wool hat for John. He lost his somewhere on the trip here, and it was a cold ride to the crater standing up in the truck for him. (I sat down with my back to the cab and kept out of the worst of the wind.) We had a hot chocolate with another couple sharing the truck back with us (Frank and Jeanine, originally from the Netherlands, but now living and working at BelMar Diving on Bonaire), and returned to the hostal by early afternoon in time to greet a few of the trekkers coming in from their hikes. The clouds have cleared a bit so maybe we´ll have a sunny day tomorrow.

Linda and John