Welcome to the Adventure

The title of this entry comes from a wooden sign in a village near the Quilotoa volcano which I visited this past weekend with my Andianismo class.  Everything in Ecuador so far has been an adventure, but I still really appreciated the welcome!

The weekend began with a trip to the teleferico, a gondola, up to the volcano Pichincha in Quito.  The cars drop riders off about a two hours’ hike from the summit of the volcano, and there are still stunning views of the city and the peak itself.  As usual for elevations over 12,000 feet in Ecuador, we were surrounded by clouds, which while they obscured our view of the city a bit, added more to the mystery of being so close to a volcano.

We explored the trails up on the mountain and found a horse stable offering thirty minute rides for five dollars.  Even though we had a large group, they had enough horses for all eight of us so off we went.  It was so surreal horseback riding in a different country.  Neither are very common activities, so experiencing both at the same time was incredible.

Saturday morning we left from the bus terminal in the most southern part of Quito for Latacunga.  The city of Latacunga is a stop along the highway to cities further south in Ecuador, and is the beginning of a loop which connects several small towns in the Cotopaxi region.

The main plaza in Latacunga reminded me a lot of city squares in the south.  The plaza had a large statue in the middle, with flower beds and tall palm trees surrounding it.  There were buildings on all four sides of the plaza, much like in Oxford they were all connected and each had its own architectural style.  My favorite was the church which had a Mediterranean influence with a whitewashed finish and smooth domes, much different from the traditional gothic churches I’ve seen so far.

After lunch in Latacunga we continued on to Quilatoa.  Quilatoa is the name of the small town in the middle of a national park, as well as the active volcano.  We hiked down to the shore of the lake, where we could see bubbles break the surface of the lake from the hot magma beneath.

The colors around Quilatoa are the coolest part of the trip.  The water was emerald green, and we could see white deposits from the volcanic ash in the water on the cliffs surrounding the lake.  The clouds prevented us from seeing beyond the peaks of the caldera, which were an altogether different color green than the water.

After seeing the crater, we started the hike to our campsite. What an experience THAT turned out to be.  We started out hiking along a trail at the top of the volcano, which provided stunning views of the volcano on one side and the valleys on the other.

Then it started raining.

And it kept raining.

And then it got dark.

Diego, our Andianismo teacher extrordinaire, told us our hike would be an hour and a half.  Three hours after leaving the volcano we reached a cow patty-filled pasture behind a farmer’s house, wet from head to toe, gear heavy with water.  What should have been miserable turned out to just be ridiculous, since we were all in the same (very damp) boat.

After setting up tents and eating some dinner, we all walked into the pueblo down the road, which is actually only about a half a dozen buildings.  The owner of the one shop opened up his doors, turned on some music and we ended up having a great time drinking Fanta and Pilsener and playing with these adorable little boys.

Sunday we hiked down into the valley more and eventually reached Chugchilan, another small town on the Latacunga loop, where our bus was waiting to take us back to Latacunga.  That day everyone in the town was out on the plaza socializing, eating ice cream and popsicles and watching Ecuavolley (a version of volleyball with three players played with a soccer ball. The net is higher than regulation outdoor nets and prolonged contact with the ball is also allowed.  Betting on Ecuavolley games is very popular.).  It was a great atmosphere to enter after a long, hot hike.

The highlight of our trip back to Latacunga and Quito was a high-altitude dance party.  Our group was so big that we had a bus all to ourselves, our driver turned on some reggaton and our fearless leaders Diego and Romiro “El Lobo” got us all dancing in the aisles.  There is nothing better than beautiful views and clouds combined with some reggaton and dancing to forget our sore muscles and soaking wet night.