Arriving in Latacunga, we hardly had a clue of how to tackle the Quilotoa Loop. We had read several articles on the subject, yet it somehow still eluded us. We decided to equip ourselves with hand drawn maps and confusing directions from the web and figure it out along the way. (Side note: The experience made me realize how helpful others' blog posts were in putting together these puzzle pieces and that I should pay it forward. More on that later.)
The bus ride to Zumbahua went through the central highlands, passing families herding their sheep across fields of long grass dancing in the wind. The sight, so real and so beautiful, moved me. From afar I could see the white, fluffy, wooly mammals grazing as their shepherds, dotted in blue, yellow, red, orange cardigans, watched on.
Laguna Quilotoa reminded us of Crater Lake, immense in size and beauty. We hiked the upper northern rim of the lake and crossed a narrow ridge at the hilltop. The gale forces were so strong, we could have conceivably toppled over. We hugged the ground and moved slowly and carefully to safety. Aside from the indigenous people of the villages along the often unclear route, we came across only one fellow hiker traveling in the opposite direction. The countryside, the valleys, the hilltops, the vast land, and amazing views were otherwise shared between only the two of us. The hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilán spans about 11 kilometers, which we tackled in 5 long hours. For stretches at a time, there was no indication that we were going in the right direction, slipping down steep, sandy hills, only to get back up and climb up other ones.
The next day we faced the hike to Isinliví head on. It was supposed to be faster, less complicated, more spectacular. From high above, we could see and hear the Rio Toachi wedged between walls of earth. We followed a switchback down through a small village to the water, but after 3 hours of hiking, we realized a wrong turn set us back an hour or so. On long-distance hikes like this where signs are lacking and trails are unclear, a misstep is so defeating. With each passing hour, our morale lowered along with our energy levels. We crossed meadows and pastures, we climbed up cliffs and down hills, we passed farms to our left and villages to our right. With the help of loud Christmas festivities, we followed the sound of music and after 7 hours since leaving Chugchilán, we finally made it to our hostel in Isinliví.
On our last day, we took the easy way out and hired a truck to Sigchos and then back to Latacunga, the best way to relax the muscles, hang back, and really enjoy the rest of the loop.