Monthly Archives: June 2014

Quilotoa: Sleepy town and stunning lake

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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.

Brrrr.

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.

 

Lago Quilotoa

Lago Quilotoa

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Playing in the clouds.

Playing in the clouds.

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Arriba Arriba at Lago Cuicocha

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Sunday was our last day in Pucara, and our host brother wanted to take us to the nearby Lago Cuicocha, between Otavalo and Pucara. We caught the early bus out of Pucara and arrived at the lake before many people were there. Our host brother, Luis, told us that this lake is very popular with foreign and Ecuadorian tourists.

Right away we began to hike along the trail that leads along the rim of the crater, and the further up we went the less people there were. Alex and Luis set their sights on a hill about a quarter of the way around the lake, up high where we could better views of the surrounding area. As we hiked we could see the nearby towns of Otavalo and Cotocachi, and the surrounding volcanoes Imbabura and Pinchincha. Volcan Cotocachi is right behind the lake, but it was covered in clouds during our visit.

Up and up we went toward the hill.

“Arriba arriba,” Alex and Luis kept saying. Up up. The higher we went the more fierce the wind got. When we reached the top of the hill, we were staggering sideways in the stronger gusts of wind.

Lago Cuicocha

Lago Cuicocha

 

 

Us with Luis on our hike at Lago Cuicocha

Us with Luis on our hike at Lago Cuicocha

Playing in the strong winds!

Playing in the strong winds!

 

Pucara, Ecuador: Las Piscinas de Nangulvi

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On Wednesday Alex and I left our little cloud forest town and started walking down into the valley, to some hot springs that are past the nearest market town of Apuela. We walked 4 to 5 miles to get there, enjoying the views of the tree-covered hills and plateaus all around us.

When we arrived we quickly realized that we were the only people at the hot springs. For the few hours we were there, no one ever joined us! The property is covered in well-kept gardens made up of tropical fruit trees, bushes, flowers, and vines. The pools are a little funky, with designs in different colored tiles covering their bottoms and sides. There are about 7 pools at the Piscinas de Nangulvi, and 5 of them were still refilling from being cleaned the day before. For $3 each, we enjoyed the two full pools. For another couple bucks we had snacks and a 10:30 am Pilsener (now that´s vacation!), and for $5.80 more we ate a lunch of soup, trout, rice, fried yuca, juice, and cheese with honey…all at a cute little restaurant right on the Rio Intag. At the end of our day trip, we were able to catch a bus back to Pucara right from the hot springs. So, our first international hot springs experience was successful! Here are a few pictures.

Walking on the road we could see the town of Apuela far below.

Walking on the road we could see the town of Apuela far below.

La Piscinas de Nangulvi.

La Piscinas de Nangulvi.

Our favorite pool.

Our favorite pool.

We were very excited to discover a zip line over one of the pools (even though there was a giant dead tarantula-lookin spider in this pool) and equally dissappointed when we realized it was broken and wouldn´t budge! Here I am trying really hard to make it move!

We were very excited to discover a zip line over one of the pools (even though there was a giant dead tarantula-lookin spider in this pool) and equally dissappointed when we realized it was broken and wouldn´t budge! Here I am trying really hard to make it move!

Nice view at lunch...both the dude and the river beyond :)

Nice view at lunch…both the dude and the river beyond 🙂

Scrumptious food pic

Scrumptious food pic

Pucara, Ecuador: The Cascada

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Monday morning we left our house fairly early with our host brother Luis to do a hike to a nearby waterfall. He led us out of town on a trail that was muddy and green and nearly overgrown by the dense jungle.

After about 15 minutes we reached the Mirador, a viewpoint with a gazebo where we could see all the surrounding mountains, even the tall and rocky Cotacachi in the distance with it´s peak pointy like a steeple, and down to the Rio de Santa Rosa at the bottom of the valley floor. Then we began our descent. The trail switchbacked down through the dense jungle, where we walked through grasses almost as tall as we are and tangles of branches and leaves that seemed to pack every spare inch of space. Luis was using his machete to chop plants out of our way, but because he is much shorter than us there were still many obstacles at our head height and I kept getting things caught in my hair! Luis continued to point out uses for various plants as we passed them throughout the hike: vines used for making furniture, grass used for hats, a tree with sap that takes the itch out of bug bites. And our favorite: leaves as big as us that are used as umbrellas and as tents for field workers.

Just a smidge more green than our Colorado forests ;)

Just a smidge more green than our Colorado forests 😉

Alex behind the biggest leaf we´ve ever seen

Alex behind the biggest leaf we´ve ever seen

 

When we got to the valley floor we walked up to an old bridge made out of thick metal wire and half-rotten wood planks. Luis explained that this bridge and this path were how people got across the river before there were roads in the area. As I listened I was looking around for the newer, safer bridge that we would cross. There was not one. This was our way across! Luis instructed us to watch where he put his feet as he crossed.

“I will do Pilates breathing,” I told Alex.

“At least if we fall it´s not that far down and the water is not moving very fast,” he replied.

“It would still hurt.”

“Yep.”

After Luis was on the other side, it was my turn.

P1150124Next we went straight up the hill on the other side of the river. Here we were in taller, less dense forest that Luis kept calling “bosques limpia,” or clean forests. At the top the trail leveled out and, after a while, we passed the house of my Spanish teacher. While Luis visited with her husband I tried to figure out where the nearest road was and realized that she must walk at least an hour into to town to teach me every day.

Past my teacher´s house we reached the waterfall!

P1150106P1150107Then through the forest, across a much safer bridge, up the hillside, and down the road into Pucara!

Pucara, Ecuador: The Fiesta!

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Last Saturday was the big annual fiesta here in the small town of Pucara, Ecuador, where we are doing a homestay and taking some Spanish lessons for about two weeks. We are so glad that we arrived in time for the fiesta! It was quite the party. There was a volleyball and soccer tournament, a game where a pole was greased and kids tried to climb it and get the prizes at the top, a contest where men on horseback rode under a wire and used a pen to try and stab ribbons hanging from the wire, and a pinata smash for the kiddos. After all the games, there were hours of dancing and drinking until people started to wander home around 2am. Here are some pictures from the fiesta.

 

People starting to gather in the town center for the fiesta de San Antonio de Pucara.

People starting to gather in the town center for the fiesta de San Antonio de Pucara.

 

The first kid that made it up the greased pole. It took about an hour for enough kids to climb it and rub off enough grease so that they could make it up!

The first kid that made it up the greased pole. It took about an hour for enough kids to climb it and rub off enough grease so that they could make it up!

 

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Trying to get the ribbons.

Trying to get the ribbons.

 

Pucara is in a cloud forest, and thick clouds often cover the whole town in the afternoons.

Pucara is in a cloud forest, and thick clouds often cover the whole town in the afternoons.

 

Watchin some soccer.

Watchin some soccer.

The luxury of being bored

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I don´t know about you guys, but I certainly consider boredom a bit of a luxury. It´s one of my favorite things about travel, about choosing to stay in tiny villages in particular.

At home I often feel obligated to fill my ´down time,´especially if I am at my house. Sure, I will sit and watch a movie, but never ever ever do hours upon hours pass where I am bored. In villages, you fill your time with boredom it seems. You are allowed, and expected, to slow down to the pace of molasses, a snail, the garden growing around you.

At home, I ask myself why I would want to be bored. But then I sit on a bench outside my host family´s home in the tiny town of Pucara, Ecuador, and I can easily see the value and luxury of boredom. It´s the way you get to know a place. When you slow down, your senses perk up. I sit there and I greet people as they walk by. I watch buses and trucks barrel by, feeling the ground beneath me shake with the speed. I listen to the roosters and the pigs and, once in a while, hear the tremor of a hummingbird that seems to like the tree with the orange flowers. I hear lunch sizzling as our host mama, Inez, cooks us up chicken and papas fritas. I watch the clouds hug the mountains tighter and tighter and feel the wetness settling in. I look at the moss growing from the mud and the scraggly but productive garden that surrounds the house. And eventually it all starts over. And maybe an hour passes. And maybe I get up to go to the bathroom or walk in the garden or see if I can help with lunch.

Ultimately, I am bored. I am still for those times. And it feels good 🙂

Yo aprendiendo

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We have been in Ecuador for about 4 days now and there´s one thing I´ve probably said more than anything else: yo aprendiendo. I am learning.

A trip to South America and learning Spanish have both been on my ´want to do´list for quite a while now, and it´s  finally a reality! Here in Ecuador hardly anyone speaks any English at all. I am lucky that Alex is here, as he speaks very good Spanish, but I still like to try on my own too! I am also lucky that he has been speaking Spanish at me for the last couple years so I can at least understand a small portion of what´s going on around here. Joining in the conversation is a whole another ballgame :). I try though! On our first day here we were waiting for a bus and I wanted some fruit from the store across the street.

¨Go get some,¨ Alex told me.

Of course I was a little sheepish at first, not about walking there but about actually understanding and completing the transaction for my snack. Alex is good at forcing me to do things that are good for me.

I greeted the shopkeeper and then said, ¨Quatro,¨pointing to the bananas.

She then spoke rapid-fire at me in Spanish. She must have read the look on my face.

¨un poco Espanol,¨ I told her.

¨Ah, no entiende,¨she replied. That´s right. I don´t understand…a lot of the time 🙂

And that´s the way it goes. People speak to me and I try to respond and tell them I am learning. Then they usually give up and remain silent, or talk more slowly, or smile at me.

It´s easy to see that we made the right decision in coming to South America to learn, though. Already in the four days since being here I´ve picked up a lot of vocabulary and a few new responses. When no one speaks your language, I guess you have no choice but to try and understand. Spanish lessons started yesterday, so we´ll see how I fare from here on out 🙂

For now, yo aprendiendo!

Tuesday Talk: Busy and Forgetful

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Busy and forgetful. These are my little excuses for not posting for a couple weeks. Summer has settled into Fraser and with it a certain laziness into my brain. Time seems to mean less with more hours of daylight… I’ve been kind of forgetting what day of the week it is lately! Zoinks. 

But this scatter-brained forgetfulness is brought on by busy-ness it seems. Here’s what’s been goin on:

Planning a trip to Ecuador! We leave in 5 days for 6 weeks in Ecuador..we are stoked! I guess we haven’t been planning so much as preparing, doing things like coordinating houseplant sitters, acquiring all the proper clothing for Ecuador’s wacky climate, getting our grown up affairs in order, and trying to soak up all the warm Fraser fun before we go. As far as planning goes, here’s what’s on the agenda so far: 2 weeks at Spanish School in the cloud forest town of Pucara, hot springs in Apuela, chocolate festival and  jungle exploring in Tena and Banos, a ride on the Nariz del Diablo train, hiking in Cajas Ntl. Park, coast time with perhaps some whale-watching and a journey to the Isla de Plata, the “poor man’s Galapagos. And whatever else strikes our fancy!

It’s the last week of school! We both work in schools and there’s a lot to wrap up this week. Not to mention the buzzing end-of-school energy of hundreds of small children… That’s enough to exhaust a person in itself! 

We have had a lot of family/ Denver time. In the last 5 weeks we had the birth of a niece, both my parents birthdays, my sisters’ joint baby shower, Mother’s Day, and a farewell to Alex’s mom before she left for 9 weeks in Africa. 

So there’s the long version of my excuse for not writing. I’ll be sharing stories from Ecuador starting next week 🙂