Sunday, June 14, 2009

Highlands heaven

Peering over the edge of Laguna Quilotoa

Long story short: Chris was bit by a dog, so our travels this month in Ecuador have been structured around being in a large city every given couple of days so Chris can get a rabies shot. From Baños we jogged back north for two nights in Quito so Chris could get his third shot, then we were off again to explore the amazing Ecuadorian highlands. 800 years ago, one of Ecuador’s many volcanoes blew its top in a devastating explosion that spewed lava all the way to the Pacific ocean over 100 miles away. It left behind a spectacular crater lake that is now surrounded by small indigenous villages, some very high altitude farms, and possibly the prettiest countryside we have seen on our trip. From Quito we first headed to the tiny town of Chugchilan, less than 30 miles off the broad Pan-American highway but a slow three hour drive on rutted dirt and gravel roads. On this trip we have relied on a combination of sparse road signs, asking people for directions, and using our compass (no kidding) as our primary navigation tools. Given the absence of any road signs once we left the Pan-American, the sparse population, and the fact that the road continually split into two equally desolate looking dirt roads, we were amazed that we actually got to Chugchilan without having to backtrack. High rolling hills covered with patchwork yellow and green crops gave way to vertical cliffs, craggy peaks, and impossibly steep farm plots. Llamas, alpacas, and pigs grazed by the roadside and we admired the indigenous people’s brilliantly colored cloaks accenting the hills as they tended their farms. After being treated to some very cute children dancing at our hostel before dinner, we bundled up for the below-freezing night and huddled to sleep in our un-heated hostel.

Llamas around the Quilotoa Loop

The next morning we drove another hour to reach Laguna Quilotoa, the emerald jewel of these highlands. We had hoped to hike around the lake, but we found (unsurprisingly) that there weren’t any signs marking the trail so we ended up just hiking down to the laguna’s beach. While the rim of the crater was a wind-whipped foggy moonscape when we started the hike, it was calm and sunny by the time we reached the lake at the bottom of the crater. Enjoying the warmth, we sat on the beach and watched two boys herd their sheep around the laguna. Once the sheep had surrounded us, the brothers tentatively started a conversation after asking about our camera (Chris’s telephoto lens tends to attract some attention). Reuben and Efrem warmed up as we fumbled with our simple Spanish, and they told us about their farm, their faithful dog Rocky, and their family. We ended up walking back to the top of the crater rim with them, gaining some valuable sheep-herding experience along the way. After parting at the crater rim, we spent a warm afternoon at our hostel, reading and listening to our hosts speak Quechua. It has an unusual shushing sing-song quality that is unlike anything I have ever heard. After another freezing night huddled beneath a mountain of rough wool blankets, we were treated to a crystalline day for our drive from the highlands to the coast. We could see several snow capped volcanoes in the distance as we wound our way down through rolling farms, packed village markets, and roadside llamas. We head next for the biggest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil, to visit friends of the family and get rabies shot number number four.


  1. I like your photos. Keep it up! I hope that dog is ok.

  2. The dog chasing the sheep or the dog in the woman's backpack? Either way, they both seemed to be doing ok.

  3. I hope Chris is OK. Rabies shots suck!

  4. Luckily it's the shots in the arm, not in the stomach, so it's not painful, just a pain to find the shots.


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