Quilatoa Loop & Banos – SSE of Quito
We parted ways with Sierra Rob & Emma 0n Tuesday the 17th and spent our morning at the French Consulate finally getting our French Polynesian temporary long stay visas glued into our passports. We then rented a car and headed south on the Panamerican Highway toards a loop of road called the Quilatoa loop. Getting off the highway a bit north of Latacunga, we headed west on some dirt roads. Shortly thereafter the worst detour in the world had us off-roading over dirt berms and up crazy switchbacks. The front wheel drive hyundai suv barely made it, but eventually we got back onto the normal dirt & cobbled road on our way to the Black Sheep Inn, located at about 11,000 feet near the town of Chucchilan. We settled in there while Bill got lost on a run up the mountain, getting back just in time for dinner. Served family style, the vegetarian meals where a nice time to meet the other travelers. We met two Washingtonites, Mac & Frouda (sp?), a Canadian/Finnish/Indian mas San, and a young Aussie, Neda...all very interesting and friendly people. Wednesday we took a local guide, drove partway up the mountain, and hiked up into the cloudforest, a high altitude (12,500') tropical forest. It had amazing trees and plants and more moss than you could shake a stick at. Luckily, the clouds parted for our lunch and we were treated to some amazing views of the surrounding countryside. After lunch, Mom & Bill hiked back down the mountain in the rain while Zak and I got very lost trying to drive back. After an hour and a half offr-oading on mountain ridges, we finally found our way back nd all enjoyed an afternoon near the fire reading and talking, while it rained outside.
Thursday morning we left the lodge with Neda keeping us company and drove to the Quilatoa Lake, set within a dormant volcanic crater. The day was incredibly clear and you could see the mountain peaks behind the large crater. We hiked up to 12,800 feet, the highest we have ever been as well as about 1/3rd of the way down the crater towards the lake before turning back to have enough time to see the rest of the loop. Our next stop was the artisan cooperative in Tigua where some talented painters do their work in a distinctive style on sheep hides. We bought a few keepsakes and one medium sized painting and were back on our way. Around 2:00 we dropped Neda off in Puji (we thought it was Latacunga till we got there 5 miles further down the road –oops, but we were sure Neda had already caught a bus by then, headed south towards Cuenca). In Latacunga, we rejoined the Panamerican Highway and headed up to Saquisili, in search of the famous markets. It seems all but the food markets were closed up by 3, so we wandered around, grabbed luch for the following day and headed to our hotel in San Mateo.
Friday, the weather was overcast, so we skipped our planned visit to mount Cotopaxi and headed southeast towards Banos, a resort town famous for their hot baths and active volcano. We arrived at our hotel in time to make lunch in their kitchen and meet Sophie, stepdaughter of Charles who rode bikes across Tibet with Uncle Matt, and the reason we were staying at the Casa Verde Lodge. In the afternoon we walked around town and made plans for the following day before heading to the baths and a great mexican dinner with Sophie and two of her adult friends in town.
Saturday Bill, Jo, San (who we caught up to the afternoon before), and I hiked up to the ridge overlooking the town (not very pretty really with a fairly dirty city in the foreground, and then we all (zak included) rented bikes for a 17k ride down the valley of cascades. We saw several amazing waterfalls, finishing up with Boca Diablo, the Devil's Mouth. Bill rode home while we took a truck up the hills.
Sunday we left Banos early and found our way, eventually, back to Cotopaxi, an amazing snow capped volcano and national park. We have to say, if it was as hard to find, and drive on the roads in american national parks, no one would ever go, but the views were amazing and well worth the sore back from the rough drive. We then drove back to Quito in prep for our flight this morning to Coca and our stay in the Sacha Jungle lodge.
Also note that Zak's Flikr album is now linked to on the right and is being updated more often, so go there to see some pics from our adventures.