ECUADOR: Quilotoa Loop to Banos

QUILOTOA LOOP  TO BANOS 

I’d read about the Loop’s bus travel challenge, and that’s probably why we met so many people who had rented private cars with drivers.  However, that’s not our style (or budget), so off we set from the transit hub of Latacunga (from where we did our visit to Saquisili) for our true entry into The Loop.  After much web perusal and obsession, we had chosen the Andean mid-loop town of Chugchilan (elevation  10,500 ft/3200 meters) as our destination, from which we would explore.  There was only one bus daily, and we were on it.  It was pretty empty, which was wonderful as I recover from African bus-stuffing trauma.

ImageIsn’t this a pretty bus? Can you tell how empty it is?

The scenery was heavy on the ooh’s and aah’s.

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Then, the bus stopped. I got out to check things out and this was what I saw:

ImageYup, a tree had fallen across the road.  No,that was not so surprising.  What was surprising is that there was already a crew on the scene to deal with it AND THEY HAD POWER TOOLS. They didn’t even seem to welcome my help as I started dragging branches off the road.  Then, in no time flat, tree was gone and we were off again.

Chugchilan is a puebla about 2 inches long with 4 hostals. We chose the prettiest, Mama Hilda’s. Here’s a view from the grounds.

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However, all was not well, for my poor friend was very sick with the altitude and dehydration.  The staff was caring and prepared special oregano tea for her and made it clear they were available to help 24/7. There was a dear young couple from the Netherlands on their honeymoon. The wife had had the same thing 2 days before, so the empathy ran deep, and newlywed husband fortunately had re-hydration tablets so I didn’t have to create a concoction from on-line instructions.

After several prolonged and ugly bouts I won’t describe in any detail, my friend finally got to sleep with our wood burning fire warming the room, and multiple blankets that had ultimately been provided by those cute little sheep, warming us in our cozy beds.  From our room with a view of the Andes.

As friend recovered next day, I hiked up to a cheese factory at over 11,000 feet. As the one driver I met on the road had put it, the walk was muy tranquilo.

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ImageBy this time I was clearly adapted to the altitude, so the hike was like living a dream.  Up at the top there was a tiny little town, with some adorable residents:

ImageIt was a moment of personal triumph when I could communicate to these three year old cuties  “Where is the cheese factory?” and I could understand their answer – aka pointing.

Here’s the factory.  I was really hoping for one with a cheese shop, but instead I paid the requested $1 and got a tour and successfully begged for a sample.

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Image Life in the village looked, well, isolated.  I started to really appreciate the meaning of the once weekly markets like that in Saquisii, where folks get together after a week of considerable isolation.  There’s a good dirt road up to the factory now, but cars were rare, motorcycles seemed to be the luxury that some could afford, and then there are the – here we go again – farm animals.

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Next day my friend was well enough to hike with me, and after our third night, we left.  We were headed to Banos, but first we of course had to stop to see Quilotoa Lake, for which the Loop is named:

ImageGetting here was a logistical challenge, for buses were few, but we did get here and despite it looking so peaceful, it was so windy (go know this is the windy season) I almost got blown away – literally.

We then caught a camioneta and then a bus to Latacunga (transport hub – remember?) and then another bus to Ambato and then another to:  BANOS.  All connections were quick, all buses comfy,but we were both pretty wiped out after leaving Chugchilan at 9:30 a.m. and arriving in Banos at 5 p.m.

Banos is a large town at 5900 ft (1800 meters) surrounded by mountains, including one smoking volcano that has wiped the town out in the past.  It has the most tourist facilities of any place in Ecuador, but fortunately for us, few tourists (this still being off season and all). We got a fab hostal for only $8.50 each daily (private ensuite room with balcony). Here’s the view from our balcony:

ImageThe bath the town is named for is near the bottom of the waterfall. 

The town is a mecca of action activities, including bungee jumping, white water rafting, bike riding, and jungle tours.  We did the bike riding and a one day jungle tour.  Here’s some of what we saw on the bike ride:

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And here’s some jungle scenery:Image

It was just the two of us with a driver and guide.  Guess which of us were the only two that spoke English.  Our guide was indiginous and took us to his family home where there were was a pet tapir and boa constrictor, to name a few.

ImageNote the iPhone.  We were trying to introduce the tapir to the digital age.

ImageWe were happy to leave this pet back in the dark ages.

This fellow was NOT a pet.  He’s a snare snake and really should be called a scare snake.

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Today was our unstructured day, so my friend got a massage and a facial (one hour each, $55 total), and I got my hair colored ($20) so now I look Ecuadorian – I chose a (sort of) dark color so I could go out in the sun (there’s a lot of sun around here) without a hat.ImageNo, I’m not shoothing myself in the head, just taking a photo in the mirror.  I feel like I’m in disguise.

Tomorrow we leave this lovely city in the mountains.

 

ImageWhere taffy pulling is a tradition

Imageand cane juice is not just a tourist drink.ImageBTW – at this little stand, they also sold fermented aka alcoholic cane juice.  I guess the laws are a bit more relaxed here.

So, tonight it’s packing, tomorrow a last visit to the baths, and we both board the same 1 p.m. bus.  My friend is off on a 5 1/2 hour ride to  Guayaquil to catch a plane to SF. I de-bus after 2 hours in Riobamba.  I’ll let you know what I find there.

Hasta Luego,

Retired Nomad

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