Two weeks ago, we spent the weekend hiking in la Avenida de los Volcanes. The first day was spent hiking up Cotopaxi in less than awesome weather. After spending the night at Papagayo Hosteria, within view of the mighty Cotapaxi, we got up bright and early for our second trek of the weekend: Quilotoa.
Our van arrived to pick us up around 8:15 am. It was us and a group of 12 very nice travelers from Israel. We were all crammed into a tour van made for 14 people, but with our guide and driver, we were 16, so it was nice and cozy. Kyle and I ended up in the seats that face backwards, which provided an opportunity to find out if we get carsick when riding backwards…luckily, we don’t. And we got to face a super nice family from Israel. The parents were visiting their daughter, who had been volunteering in Peru. We really enjoyed talking with them about their life in Israel and our life back in ABQ & new life on the road traveling.
The drive from Papagayo to Quilotoa is a long one….about 2.5 hours, which includes crossing over the Occidental range of the Andes. So our trip was broken up with a few stops along the way. First up, a stop at the local weekly mercado in Pujili.
Pujili is a typical local mercado. The surrounding area is full of farms where all sorts of frutas y vegetales are grown. In fact, a lot of produce in the United States is grown here in Ecuador. We bought some coconuts, & they were kind enough to hack them open with a machete and provide a straw for us to drink the coconut water (50 cents per coconut). Kathy also found some beautiful yellow and fuschia new potatoes, grown by a very kind local woman, who was patient with my stumbling Spanish (2 lbs for $1). We also sampled some blackberries and strawberries. The produce here in Ecuador is fantastic! We have never had so much fresh fresh fresh fruit…and all sorts of new kinds as well.
We spent about an hour at the mercado and then piled back into the van to head west over the Andes towards Quilotoa. Along the way, we were treated to views like this from the van:
Our next stop was at a local aboriginal home. The Quechua are the indigenous people of the Central Andes. They live and farm in these mountains and it is amazing to see how high up they choose to farm, and on very steep grades. We stopped at the home of an aboriginal family, who was kind enough to invite us to look at their house and spend time on their farm. This time of year, they were growing potatoes, onions, and wheat. Their homes are very basic, consisting of a frame traditionally built from the stalks of agave, covered with a thatched roof of grasses. Fires are lit inside and the smoke waterproofs the ceiling. The house is one room, and their animals live there with them, for protection, and also to keep everyone (humans and animals) warm.
Cuy (guinea pigs to you and me) are a very important animal in Quechua culture. They are a source of food but, more importantly, they provide a connection to the spiritual side of life. Quechuan Shamans use Cuy to assist them in treating and curing people. It is said that Cuy can read the energy of a person. If they scream when you enter the house, it means you are carrying bad energy. But if they are calm and silent, then you are carrying good energy. We must have been carrying good energy, as the Cuy didn’t make a sound while we were in the house. The Quechua keep Cuy very close to them. The Cuy live on the floor of the house, and the Quechua sleep on the bed up above them.
After a bit of time at the Quechua home, it was time to head on to Quilotoa, with one more quick stop to view Zumbahua Canyon.
Finally, when we could no longer take being crammed into a van, we arrived at Quilotoa.
Quilotoa is the most western volcano in the Avenida de los Volcanes. Once taller than Cotopaxi, Quilotoa erupted 800 years ago and blew half of itself away. Now that only half of it is left, the top is still at 3900 meters. They say that the power of its eruption was equal to detonating 8 to 10 atomic bombs. After it blew up, over time the caldera it left filled up with water and became a beautiful emerald lake that is now 250m deep. The lake is 6 degrees celsius, so rather cold, and no fish live in it, due to the temperature, but also due to fumaroles. Fumaroles are cracks in the earth’s crust that emit steam and gases, and many of the gases emitted at Quilotoa are poisonous to fish. You can’t swim in the lake because it is too cold, but you can hire kayaks and paddle around.
We hung out for a bit and had a picnic at the edge of the lake.
After lunch, we decided we were going to hike the very steep trail back to the top. But about 1/3 of the way up, we got tired. So we stopped a man going down the trail with two burros and hired them for the trip back to the top.
Burros was definitely the way to go! We got up to the top in record time, just in time for lunch! After lunch it was time for the long ride back to Quito. It was a fantastic day and a wonderful weekend. And we were exhausted.
Los pinguinos had a grand time too!