As we began our ascent up to the highest point on the Lago Quilotoa crater rim, we could see just a flash of bright blue at the top. Another hiker, we thought. Slowly, slowly we went straight up the hill, toward the blue. At the top I found myself nearly face to face with a friendly-looking dog.
‘Tu perros esta bien?’ I called, thinking of the quickest but not totally correct way to get my point across in Spanish before the dog lunged at me.
‘Si,’ a voice called back.
As I came over the top of the hill, I saw that it wasn’t a hiker we had spotted from below, but a teenage Kichwa girl wearing dress shoes, tall socks, a nice skirt and a bright blue, crocheted shawl over her shirt. She was sitting on the rocks there, looking out over the valley while her two dogs milled around. She asked us what our names are, where we are from, and how old we are. We asked her the same. Ida, fifteen years old.
Then, ‘Do you have a chocolate treat for me?’ she asked politely and seriously. Kids are the same everywhere, I thought.
I dug in our pack for a box of jordan almonds that I couldn’t resist the day before at the supermarket. I gave her one and got one for myself. I sat down next to her and asked if she goes to school, what grade she’s in, if she likes it, and where she lives. She answered my questions and pointed to her house far below, in the valley in the shadows of this huge crater rim. I thought maybe she was up here just for fun, for something to do after school. After I gave her another almond, she got up to leave and I looked to the left, seeing that a herd of sheep was following her as she started down the hill. That’s why she was here, to herd the sheep. Alex asked if she does this everyday. Yes, she does. She will be very strong, he told her.
After the sheep cleared out of the path, we continued on, descending and ascending countless times. As we walked we noticed places where crops came right up to the trail. That’s one thing America has got going for it, Alex said. All of our protected natural areas. We passed a family of four out working their crops together right next to the trail. We greeted them as their dog barked at us relentlessly. As we hiked into the clouds moving in over the crater rim, we passed two little girls, seeming to be sisters, talking in excited voices and trekking up the hill to look over the edge at the lake. Their horse was tied up and munching in the mist right off the trail.
With all the clouds, we had the trail to ourselves except for these couple of locals and one small group of German hikers we passed early on. It was a wet day at Quilotoa, and we weren’t afforded the views of the distance Volcan Cotopaxi that can be seen from the crater on a clear day. But all was quiet and peaceful, and I was reminded of one of my favorite days in Utah, in Zion National Park when it rained endlessly but we ended up having a great time taking silly pictures in cloudy, misty, quiet park while everyone else seemed to be inside hiding from the wetness. We marveled at the strange fog, something we don’t have much of at home in Colorado.
After four hours of quiet ups and downs on the rim trail, we were back in the sleepy town of Quilotoa. Because it is the town of such a great tourist attraction, I thought it would have a bit more charm to it or at least a bit more to offer. The town is made up of at least 8 hostels, one restaurant, and one crafts shop. We were staying at the Cabana’s Quilotoa and, although the rooms were clean, the granite floors made for a chilly return from our chilly hike. After gloriously scalding showers, we went downstairs to sit by the fire in the community area. When the fire went out, we asked for more wood.
‘Manana,’ the staff told us. Tomorrow.
At most the hostels in Quilotoa, breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate. After dinner we gathered some wood from the hotel next door and Alex sat in the room with his multi-tool, trying to ply kindling pieces off the logs and wishing he had a hatchet. After about 20 minutes of this, there was a knock at the door. In came a young man with a jug of kerosene. He poured it into a tin can in the fireplace, stacked the logs on top, threw a match in and that was that. We were left laughing at Alex’s creative efforts with the multi-tool-
Even with a fire, and even though we are on the edges of the equator here at Quilotoa, it was still see-your-breath cold in our room at 12,000 feet. I bundled in socks, leggings, a fleece, an alpaca wool sweater, and a fleece hat before getting under a down comforter and fleece blanket. Twelve thousand feet is cold everywhere, I guess, even on the equator.
In the morning we woke to clouds again and shivered our way through bowls of oatmeal and cups of tea at breakfast. We asked a hostel employee if we could get change that the owner owed us from what we paid for our room the day before. The owner is not here, she told us, so there’s no change. Slightly cold and slightly ripped off in Quilotoa, we looked at the thick clouds and decided to head on in our travels. Although you can spend the better part of a week hopping between the little towns on the Quilotoa loop, we were content to enjoy the stunning lake on a quick overnight jaunt from Latacunga.