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Quilotoa Loop Day 3 - From Chugchilan to Isinlivi

The third day took us from the quaint village of Chugchilan to another mountain top village called Isinlivi. This time we had amazing sunny weather and it was probably the most visually stunning day on the Loop.

Like the previous hikes on the Quilatoa loop the canyon views were stunning, the bridge crossings made one acutely aware of their mortality, and the people were very approachable and helpful. There were children who happily demanded to have their picture taken. One woman freely offered her child for a photo-op! Also, we encountered many animals, both approachable and not. The most vicious of which was a raging goose. Seriously – they are malicious!

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During this trek, S.A.M. had run ahead a little earlier than usual. Although he wasn’t with us, he kept his presence known by creating many little arrows and signs made of twigs or drawn into the ground for us to follow. Despite all of his effort, we still became lost and took a very long route to Isinlivi.

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Fortunately, S.A.M. found an amazing hostel with an incomparable, panoramic view. The hostel was much less expensive than Llulu Llama, the only other hostel in town whose monopoly in Isinlivi was finally going to be challenged. For only $12 USD per person we were provided with a private room with ensuite bathroom, the best dinner we had during our entire trip in Ecuador, a delicious breakfast, and the warmest reception from the owner and her family. As the common area was still being built, we were treated to having dinner at the family dining table in their home. It was memorable and absolutely lovely.

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Posted by krisses 05:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quilotoa Loop Day 2 - heading to Chugchilan


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

It was raining most of the night so we woke up really early hoping that maybe we could catch a nice glimpse of the Quilotoa crater lake and maybe snap a few photos before the clouds move in. We learned from Cotopaxi that the best time to get a good view was usually in the morning. It was cold and dreary but thankfully as we made our way into the crater it wasn’t raining.

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The views were pretty impressive as you can see but you may have noticed there are no pictures from the bottom near the lake. We made one large mistake as we started out in the morning, packed ALL our things and took our backpacks down the side of the crater. Note to self, next time you have accommodations until noon, and you are doing a ROUND TRIP 2 hour super difficult trek at 6am, DO NOT take all your stuff with you! Leave your stuff in the hostel! We only made it about half way down before realizing that if we continued there is NO WAY we would make it back out. We turned around and accepted defeat and it was a good thing because soon after we turned back it started to rain. I was so sweaty after this miserable attempt that you can actually see the sweat evaporate from my shirt in this picture.

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We waited out the rain at the hostel and then set out for our next destination, Chugchilan. When we started it was still quite foggy but as the day went on the weather improved. It’s a good thing too because unlike the previous day and its paved road this was a real trail and it had some absolutely stunning views. The trail starts out going around the Quilotoa crater and goes about a 3rd of the way before veering off towards a tiny isolated town and then a gorgeous canyon. For the most part it’s not a very difficult trail but it did take us about 5 hours or so to do and you do cross into and out of one very steep canyon. The trail is not all well marked but there are maybe only 2 or 3 spots where the trail splits. Once again the locals are so wonderfully friendly that we never really felt in danger of getting lost and we even had some children going back from school escort us through a part of the trail.

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While overall the trail is fairly easy there are a couple of places on the trail that are a bit harrowing. Here are the pictures so you can judge for yourself:

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When I say it took us 5 hours to get to Chugchilan I mean the 3 of us mortals. S.A.M got a bit restless with our pace and ran ahead. He had time to go check out every single one of the hostels in town, bargain with each owner, and then make it back to the trail head to welcome us to town. I am convinced he was waiting for us for quite a while!

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View of the canyon we descended into and climbed out of from the Chugchilan side

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Our hostel in town, S.A.M did an excellent job scouting ahead!

Posted by dariusz 13:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Trekking the Quilotoa Loop clock-wise - Day 1

An amazing trek for seeing authentic Indigenous culture in Ecuador


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

These days there are very few places in this world that remain relatively uninfluenced by western culture. Wherever we go its remarkable to see how similar the customs and day-to-day lives of regular people have become. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t any differences, there are tons, but the basic outline, the sketches of their lives are very similar to our own. I mean DirectTV is everywhere, as are Cinemas, malls where teenagers hang out with their friends, grocery stores, department stores and even the movies played on buses are mostly American. It’s a good thing in many ways since people all over the world strive for the comfortable life we live and many of them are now achieving it.

However, as a selfish traveler, I want to see a bit more of the traditional ways of life. I want to see the Indigenous people dressed in their traditional outfits working their land. I want to see the milk truck make its run through remote villages and farms picking up buckets of fresh milk and delivering them to a small town on the other side of a 5000 meter high pass. I want to see children laughingly make their way home from school dressed in the cutest traditional dresses crossing canyons that make hardened trekkers queasy. If you are a traveller who loves to not only observe but also immerse yourself in completely different cultures then you absolutely need to come to Ecuador and the trip you have to do is the 4 day hike around the Quilotoa Loop.

As far as hikes go this is one of the best ones we’ve ever done. We set out from Lacatunga early in the morning to Zumbahua by bus with our group of 4 adventurers. We joined forces with Joanna, a polish girl from New Zealand, and S.A.M an American guy from [***censored***]. We did the loop clockwise rather than the usual counter clockwise direction recommended because we heard it’s a bit less climbing and decided that was a good thing. We first met S.A.M in Colombia as he was on his way to Venezuela to [*** censored ***]. We learned that he has lots of experience in trekking from being in the US military and speaks perfect Spanish which would both be great assets on our trip. We also learned he likes to chase armed people for fun and once spent an entire month in a forest in freezing cold weather with nothing to survive on except what was around him. This is as much as I’ll write about that because I don’t want to hear any helicopters landing on top of the hostel because we know too much.

The first leg of the actual trek was about 5 hours walking down a paved road from Zumbahua to Quilotoa, which is where the amazing crater lake from which the loop and the city takes its name is located. The walk was pretty but the best part about it was the fact that we walked by a school just as classes were done for the day. The kids, dressed in their traditional clothing, surrounded us and were all introducing themselves. They were so curious to find out where we were from and decided to walk us all the way to town. We felt like a bit like a walking school bus. They wanted to know more about the countries we were from so S.A.M pointed at me and told the kids the reason Canadians are so tall is because they eat children. So there you go, that is the now the rumour going around Ecuador, though thankfully I don’t think the kids believed him. As the kids started running off to the sides going back to their homes all of a sudden one of the girls waved goodbye to us and disappeared into the canyon. It was a very steep canyon so I asked one of the boys where the girls home was. He pointed to a small dot on the other side of the canyon and said “that’s her home!” in Spanish of course. It was all an amazing cultural experience.

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We finally arrived at the Quilotoa town exhausted (all except for S.A.M of course, who probably could have ran the entire way) after seriously misjudging the last uphill and were greeted by the coldest weather we’ve felt in months. It was probably around 10 degrees when we got there but it most likely got down to just above the freezing mark at night. This may not seem that cold until you realize that none of the accommodations in town have any heating and we were all armed with just sweaters and wind breakers. It was fine during the walk because we were keeping warm by moving but once we stopped walking and the night fell it felt colder than it does in Toronto at minus 20. We played a game of hearts sitting right next to a small wood fire oven and continually drinking hot tea to keep warm. S.A.M won of course, probably using his x-ray implants to read through the cards, so we headed off to bed to get some rest. The lake would have to wait until tomorrow.

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Posted by dariusz 15:05 Archived in Ecuador Comments (8)

Ecuador - Cotopaxi

If you are thirsting for travel, have very little time, very little money, and want to do and see many different types activities in breathtaking landscapes, Ecuador is the place to go! It's relatively small compared to its South American neighbors, yet has beautiful jungles, beaches, canyons, and mountains. The other bonus is that food, accommodations, and transit are super inexpensive as well (i.e. USD 30 cents to take an hour bus ride across Quito!) In addition, Ecuadorians are generally shy but warm, friendly and helpful once you break the ice.

From Quito we decided to check out Cotopaxi. The hostel we stayed at was called the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. Although it was one of our most expensive stays, it included all meals, fireplace at night, and many great hikes during the day. The views were absolutely stunning.
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Have you ever had altitude sickness? I have, and it sucked. Your hands and feet become swollen and tingly, you have trouble breathing even while standing still, you become dizzy, and your brain feels like it's trying to make its way out through your ears, eyes, and skull. To avoid this sensation, we decided to take it easy the first couple of days and did very mild activities such as horseback riding.

I have never been on a horse before. Camel - yes, carabao - yes, but never on a horse. Our guide was fantastic -- and his name was "Don Juan!" At 66 years of age, he was full of energy and had such a playful demeanor. He was gentle yet firm with the horses. I wish we had caught him "horsing around" on videotape... (I just HAD to say it!) The best part was Derek comically falling off the horse during his first attempt to get on, practically taking the saddle down with him!
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On our last day we hiked up Cotopaxi from its base to the snowline (5000 m above sea level). My goal was to get to the snowline and throw a snowball. At the 5000m mark, I started to feel the altitude hit me. At the snowline, I crawled towards the closest bit of snow I could reach, barely formed an adequate ball of snow, and with all my might I threw it as assuredly (and as feebly) as Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. I think it landed about 5.6 cm at my feet. Yay me.
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We have met a lot of people who have fallen in love with Ecuador and choose to make it their home for months to years at a time. Also, we have met a lot of people who keep coming back to visit Cotopaxi to explore all of the undiscovered trails, caves, and waterfalls in the area. After visiting this beautiful place, we totally understand why!

Click here to see more Pictures!

Posted by krisses 06:30 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Reflecting over our last border crossing in the Americas

This post is a bit out of order and a bit different since it won't contain any photos or videos. It's just that crossing over into Peru a couple of days ago made me reflect a bit on the trip thus far. We are going to be flying from Lima on to India in a couple of weeks and this event also marks approximately half our trip being over. In 100 days we crossed over 11 borders, covered approx. 8000 kilometers, met some of the coolest people, experienced countless wonderful and different cultures and had more adventures and unique experiences than it's even possible to write about.

We didn't set out looking to "find ourselves", we aren't trying to escape a bad situation and it's not about getting any special insights for us. There is nothing wrong with that being the reason for travelling as you do learn a lot about yourself while you travel since you really only have yourself and whoever you're travelling with to rely on. However, the reason for us is much simpler, we just want to experience life and get to know a bit more of this little rock we call home for the incredibly short time we get to be here. It's the experience of travelling itself which is more than enough of a reward.

When we initially set out I was wondering if I would really get tired or bored of travelling after a month or two as some people predicted. After all we have never really traveled for more than a few weeks at a time. We've met plenty of people who have done it for months or even years but we've never tried it ourselves. I think that question has been answered now. I really don't understand how it's possible to get bored of this. I mean it's not like you are doing the same thing each day. In fact no two single days since we've set out on this journey have been the same. Every single day brings an entirely new experience, place, people or culture. If anything going back to our regular lives will be difficult because then really every day is more or less the same.

When we used to travel for just a few weeks we'd always meet a people on our way who took months to travel and think "Wow they are so hard-core!". The funny thing is that now that we're travelling for 8 months we keep meeting people who have been on the road for a year, two years, or longer. It's hard to even call this travelling since they spend months in a single country or even city and actually live there. We met one guy that has been "on-the-road" for over 20 years since his mid-twenties and generally spends at least a year in every country he goes to. He works everywhere he goes of course, usually helping out in hostels, and seems to have established a bit of a brand for himself in making hostels successful. The point here isn't that we'd like to take years to go away, but rather that what we're doing is not really all that extreme, and in fact the continuum of possibilities and ways to live your life is far wider than the impression we get when we follow the day-to-day back home.

I also think the key to a trip like this is to take things day-to-day and be extremely flexible in terms of your plans. Our trip has not gone at all to plan and we couldn't be happier about it! We added Guatemala and much more of Colombia than we expected (We LOVE Colombia!) but took out Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia. It's better to see less countries but do it comfortably and well than rush to meet some predetermined plan. This attitude has also helped our budget quite a bit and we are now well under the estimated cost for this point in our trip. We are spending under $500 per person per week and believe me when I say we're doing upscale backpacking. We've met plenty of people who are getting by quite comfortably for about half that amount. These costs include EVERYTHING, accommodation, food, transportation including all flights, trips, entrance fees, border fees etc. etc. etc. Compare this to the cost of the average all-inclusive and it's easy to see how the companies marketing those make so much money. I guess the point here is that really anyone can easily afford to do this if they really want to.

So now the time is approaching to leave Latin America and go across the world to Asia. It will be a completely different experience, very different cultures, no more spanish (No Mas Espanol for the first time in months!), and i'm sure some unbelievable adventures. We can't wait!

Posted by dariusz 07:36 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

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