Blood, sweat and tears. So shall we ask about the beers?
Quilotoa Loop is something we really wanted to do in Ecuador - that is, before we realised there was actually a massive platform to admire the view built on the edge of the crater and kayaks to rent by the lagoon. Even camping down the crater didn't seem that exciting considering the resort town above.
However, as we are travelling with a tent that we so far have never put up we thought it probably makes sense to test our gear on this trail before going to the higher altitude trails in Peru. So Quilotoa loop seemed like a safe environment to do it, as there are villages and hostels along the way in case something goes wrong.
Most people (or as we learned, all people) leave their main luggage in a storage somewhere in Latacunga or Quito and hike with only what is necessary. How smart this is cannot be overstated. We however, are not. After all, we have all the super light gear, why would carrying it be a problem? Well, it turns out it is. When you also need to carry gas for cooking, food for those three days and enough water for each day, it adds up. Our guesstimate is, that it added up to almost 30kg together... That is a lot and, considering the altitude, it is unbearable!
We ended up in a misery of our own creation and to the very last moment were unsure if we would be able to finish the hike that most people do with smiles on their faces - just because of the weight. On the third day, if there was a bus along the way, we would have surely taken it. But there wasn't so we continued all the way uphill, the last 2km taking breaks every 300m. It was definitely the hardest hike we have ever done (because of the weight), but we have only ourselves to blame.
Getting off the bus and starting the first day in Sigchos, we already knew that we were about to make a huge mistake. But the thought of the jacuzzi waiting for us in the hostel (we decided not to make it too hard on ourselves on the first day) kept us going.
The second day was going almost ok, but it also turned out to be the first time I had to turn back on a hike because we were both unsure about going further. We were just 1km from the place that I marked as a camping spot, but it appeared there was a recent landslide on the track. Even before we reached the landslide, we passed some people from Red Cross which seemingly were part of a search party saying something about a "muerte" (death). A few hunderd metres later we saw the army also clearly looking for someone. When we saw the landslide, in our heads in all added up into an unpassable obstacle, so with heavy hearts and even heavier backpacks, we turned back (despite the army waving at us to cross it!).
We were one step from calling it a day and going back to the closest town with a hostel, but partly reluctance to give up the idea of camping in the wild, and partly that the legs that have already given up, made us decide to find a spot in the valley and continue down a different route the next morning.
We could not be bothered to cook however, so we didn't eat dinner and in the morning had a tin of sweet corn and bananas for breakfast. Bad idea again, but Tadzik, believing that we are going to a hostel anyway, tried to get ride of some extra weight by pouring out one bottle of water, so we didn't even have enough to both drink and cook.
The next day started with low morale and a steep hike up. Luckily, there was a small shop (well, a shed with few bottles of water and coke (disspointingly a coke with no sugar!)) 3km down the road, so after rehydrating (and discovering there are no buses going that way), we made a resolution to continue (as if we had a choice...)
And so we did, in the heat and in pain, and somehow we got to the top. On the top, there was a very nice lady selling even nicer cerveza, so we went for it straight away.
At that point, at 3750m we knew that there was no way in hell we are going down the crater. We made peace with the thought of a cold and windy night - cold and windy it was. But, the tent and sleeping bags passed the test and kept us warm and snuggly throughout the night (even though outside it was just few degrees Celcius above zero) - we didn't even need to sleep in socks!
The last day, with slightly lighter backpacks and new wave of energy from the morning porridge, we did the last 3km and a quick stop at Quilotoa town before taking a ride to a neighbouring village.
We spent the night in the small village of Zumbahua, this time in a room enjoying hot showers and delicious food in the local cafe. The next morning we finished off with a walk around the local market.
At that point, we were definitely done with hiking for a while and ready to head to the coast.
The views on the way naturally made up for the pain, but the pain made it way harder to take it all in - only now we are able to appreciate it all in pictures.
So, if you kept on reading until that point, keep in mind those free tips from travel pricks:
- Never throw away water when hiking. Never. Ever.
- Always travel with the only things necessary. Don't bother carrying anything else, because you will regret it.