This last weekend in Ecuador, Kim and I were finally able to do some serious hiking! Originally, we had planned an extensive weekend backpack trip around the Quilotoa loop, a collection of villages known for beautiful scenery and it’s preserved traditional culture. However, a change of plans motivated us to shorten our Quilotoa exploration and stick closer to Quito on Friday and Saturday.
Since we had already requested Friday off from volunteer work, we decided to dedicate the day to the highly recommended TelefériQo cable car ascent into the mountains that surround Quito. We caught a taxi with our friends, Megan and Meagan, early in the morning to beat the crowds. The ascent alone was breath taking. Quito itself rests at about 9,000 feet above sea level, the cable cars bring you to an impressive 13,000. The ride alone was impressive, watching the city slowly shrink away was an experience in itself.
Most of the volunteers we spoke with recommended the horse riding from this point, but Kim and I were craving a bit more of a physical challenge so we set off on the assumed three hour hike (for fit climbers) up the Pinchincha Volcano. Even with the acclimation we had previously in Quito, breathing at 13,000 feet was noticeably more difficult. We ambled along a ridge leading to the mountain slowly but steadily, pausing for air briefly atop each ascent.
As we neared the base of the mountain, we began to question whether or not we were considered “fit” climbers. We had been hiking for approximately two hours, and seemed far from the top. In order to finish the trip in three hours, we would have to turn back soon. We stopped an enthusiastic European to inquire how much further we would have to go before reaching the response. He cheerfully informed us that we were half way. Uhm… WHAT? We were pretty discouraged at this point. Clouds were rolling in, and it was bitterly cold. We decided to give the mountain 30 more minutes before turning around.
I’m so glad! About 20 minutes later, a Canadian boy passed us, promising that the summit was in fact only 30 minutes away, not two hours. My faith restored, I eagerly faced the last, and hardest part of the hike. He helped us pick out the trail along the steep and rocky final ascent, and we were rewarded for our perseverance with the triumph of standing atop a 15,700 foot peak. As we turned back, we reflected on the climb and it dawned on us that the three hour prediction had been for the ascent alone. The entire hike takes approximately five hours.
Our second adventure of the weekend began a couple days later, as we set out with our friend Jocelyn to find the remote town of Quilotoa with the goal of hiking the Quilotoa Crater. The challenge here rested in transportation to and from the town, armed with limited Spanish. Luckily, the bus transfers went off without a hitch. And we were dropped off at the edge of a dirt road by a bus driver who gestured and assured us we were near the town. A short walk later, we arrived in Quilotoa… a collection of 20 buildings, many of which seemed to be under construction.
I don’t think any of us expected the “town” to be quite so remote. There was no internet to be found in the entire area, only a collection of hostels, convenience stores, and the massive crater. I guarantee none of us expected it to be quite so cold, despite warnings from our host families. In addition, the power was out, so we couldn’t even find a place to grab a cup of tea to warm up. We were able to secure a room in a hostel, with a wood burning stove for a furnace. We even went to bed early that night, just to feel warm under the thick comforters in the room.
In the morning we awoke to a light drizzle. However, we had come this far simply for the crater, so after a quick breakfast we set out. The pathway was sandy and steep, and long strides moved us quickly to the lake shore. It’s about 400m from the crater ridge down to the lake, and the lake itself is about 250m deep (although the locals believe there is no bottom). We spent some time enjoying the magnificence that nature had placed in front of us, and turned warily towards the ascent back to town.
In some ways this hike was mentally harder for me than the mountain. Yes, it was shorter and the elevation change was not so impressive, but as we watched a group on horseback slowly inch closer behind us, it was hard to remember why we had chosen to hike instead of pay the mere $5 to ride up. In the end it became a battle of my physical capacity to that of the ambling horses… I had to beat them. Dozen of steep switchbacks later, our group re-emerged into Quilotoa. Yes, we beat the horses. Satisfied with our experience, we gathered our belongings and gratefully set off on our journey back to relatively warm Quito.
It was such a great weekend. I appreciated the chance to get some fresh air and endorphins. We did also stop by the Mitad del Mundo for a few pics along the Equator line with the Me(a)gans, which was definitely a fun tourist experience! 🙂