Sunday, 21 October 2007

Crater @ Dawn

It was up early to catch the 4am bus to Quilatoa crater lake. The road there twists and turns and takes close to two houres to reach the crater, despite it being no more than five miles as the crow flies from Chugchilan. The early start was worth it, as in the darkness I stood on the rim of the crater and watched as the rising sun gradually revealed the beautiful lake below.

The walk back to Chugchilan was trickier than I had expected. I had to ask the way endlessly, and I'm sure I got a little lost more than once, but the walk was all downhill, and I could see Chugchilan sat on it's canyon wall. The problem was finding the paths that descended the steep canyons, and fending off rather fierce territorial dogs.

Treking the Valleys

Early the next morning I headed out of Isinlivi to trek four hours to Chugchilan. The weather was kind and the walk was spectacular. The trek was very up and down, this area is riddled with steep sided canyons, and after each ascent I was greeted with a new vista.

Arriving at the hostal in Chugchilan for lunch I then checked out how to visit the highlight of the Quilatoa loop, the Quilatoa crater lake. The consensus was to take the 4am bus up to the crater, a two hour ride, then walk fours hours back.

Cute Foodstuffs

To the west of Latacunga is a very remote and traditional area that scores highly in backpackers reports on Ecuador. The area is titled the Quilatoa loop. I started my looping in the small market town of Saquisili. The weekly market here attracts a lot of visitors, but for me it was not a patch on Guamote's. Interesting all the same.

From here I took the bus to Isinlivi. The ride should have given spectacular views but today the clouds rolled in. There is just one hostel in Isinlivi, the baby llama. I loved this place, one of the nicest hostels I've stayed in, and I was the only one to be there that night. As the rain beat down, I sat next to the wood fire, with the hostels friendly cat on my la, reading a rather good book set in north Wales. For a moment I almost became homesick.


From Baños it was on to Latacunga, close to Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanos on the planet. Again the weather was not too kind for getting a complete view but my trip up the the glaciers was a good day out.

Smoking Monster

From Riobamba I headed downhill east to Baños. On the way, through the clouds I saw the smoking monster that is Tungarahua volcano. This volcano has been erupting off and on, since 1998, and has caused baños to be evacuated many thimes. Fortunately though the eruptions have blasted in the opposite direction to the town.

Baños, located in the cloud forest on the way down to the jungle, was cloudy and rainy, so I did linger long.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Biking the world's highest peak

Today was bike ride day. A bike ride down Chimborazo, the worlds highest peak.

The world's highest peak.............surely not? Everest is the world's highest peak. Depends where you measure things from ...............If you were to stand on Chimborazo's summit you would be closer to the stars and sun than at any other point on earth (including the summit of Everest) The world, like me, suffers a little middle age spread, and Chimborazo located near the equator is lifted closers to the heavens as a result. So Chimborazo is the world's highest peak if measured from the centre of the earth. Porr old Everest!

Fortunately the bike ride was almost all downhill. Starting at the snowline at 5000m up it was a very bumpy but exciting trip. Unfortunately the weather was not so kind and I only got glimpes of the peak (the two clear photos I've added here were taken yesterday during my train ride).

7:01 Train Derails (3 times!)

On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays a tourist train departs Riobamba to head down the Devils Nose, a series of switchbacks allowing the train to rapidly drop down the side of a steep valley. On some days the train is a converted bus that runs on the rails, but I was lucky I had a real engine and old old train carriages. This poses some problems though, as the engine is very heavy, it can crush the rotting sleepers and derail. On my journey it did this three times within a one mile stretch. Each time we would all get off the train to see what had happenned and watch the train staff replace the sleeper the quickly get the train back on its tracks.

Going down the Devils Nose was supberb. I sat on the steps of my carriage and peered over the edge into oblivion.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Poncho In The Market

Arriving in Riobamba I headed to a recomended agency that runs bike rides down Chimborazo to see what was possible. But there were not many gringos in town so I was advised to head to the least touristy indigenous market in Ecuador held each Thursday in Guamote.

Taking the public bus for one hour south I arrived in teeming Guamote. It seemed I was the only camera carrying gringo there, and boy did I go click click. I sat myself on a doorstep overlooking a few stalls and waited for the photo opportunities to pass by. The results are above.

The market was very colourful. One area was set aside for animals, who once purchased were loaded into the back of trucks or hoisted up onto the roof of buses. A really good day out, thanks to the cycle agency chap.

Colonial Glory

Moving north from Vilcambamba (via Loja as I needed to change my Peruvian sols to US dollars, yes Ecuador abandonned its own currency some years back to dollarise, to the third largest city in Ecuador, Cuenca.

Bus rides in Ecuador seem to take ages. Not only is the topography pretty up down, but buses stop for everyone, anywhere, so its pretty slow going. Arrived after dark so took a taxi to my selected hostel. Here in Ecuador I am travelling without a guidebook, which gives a slightly lost feeling. No maps, no Lonely Planet gotta go here gotta go there. Instead I made copious notes on places to stay and see, and just use the internet and other gringos to add to what I know.

Something occured in Cuenca that Ive not experienced since arriving in South America: a day of rain. Despite that Cuenca is no doubt the most attractive city I've visited so far. It is full of old colonial era buildings, squares, and is very colourful.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Into Ecuador

I left Chachapoyas on the overnight, ten hour, bus arriving in coastal Chiclayo early the following morning. Within an hour I was on another bus headed north to Piura, a three hour ride up through the Peruvian desert. In Piura I arrived with time to grab a breakfast in a market before jumping on to a bus headed to Loja in southern Ecuador. This bus took eight hours. Loja is reported to be rather a dull city so I opted to have one more bus ride, this one of just an hour, to the village of Vilcabamba. All in all I arrived twenty four hours after leaving Chachapoyas. What a marathon!

Vilcabamba is a small village sat in the so called "Valley of longevity". People here live long lives due to the good climate and low stress levels. It certainly is a laid back place, and seems to have attracted a lot of hippy type gringos who stay here for long periods.

Located under the mountains forming the Podocarpus national park, which on its eastern side have huge tracks of cloud forest leading down to the Amazonian jungle. Here live spectacled bears, though I'm sure I will not see one as even the one at Chester zoo has never shown me his face!

Today, Saturday, I took to the saddle and had the best horse ride ever. These horses were not lazy and really wanted to "go". For the first time ever I got to bottom up gallop.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Village Of The Dead

The cloud people,like many other ancient civilisations, were obsessed with death and the imagine afterlife.

Starting early todays trip headed down into the river valley and then up 600m the other side to visit two sites: the village of the dead and the sarcofagi of Karajia.

The village of the dead was built on the ledge of one of the limestone cliffs high above the main river. Getting there meant walking along the very narrow ledge, and was somewhat unerving.

Karajia allowed me to get close to the ceramic sarcofagi in which mummies were interred.