Ecuador: tries to kill you

So after a month in Colombia I’ve arrived in Ecuador, the land of fire and ice. It’s a great country with lots of variety in its landscapes, but also the unfortunate tendency to try and inflict physical harm on its visitors.

I got in and out of Quito in less than 24 hours because it’s a hellhole where almost every tourist ends up robbed, mugged, stabbed, or with shit thrown at them (and then mugged). I headed south to an area called the Quilotoa Loop. It’s a multi-day round trip through the hinterlands of Ecuador circling a giant (dormant) volcano called Quilotoa. It erupted in 1797 and blew itself up spectacularly, but since then it’s been quiet. The locals speak Quechua instead of Spanish, and the whole area is about 3, 4 km high.

I’d decided to make this my first venture into trekking and had armed myself with my full backpack and 2 days’ worth of supplies, about 20-25 kg in total. I then set about hauling myself up the mountain, a 15 kilometer walk that ended at 4000 meters’ altitude. Needless to say  I was totally exhausted by the time I got up, but the view was worth it – a pristine azure blue lake surrounded by jagged peaks that were once the circumference of a great volcano. Behind it, taller mountains were hidden by the cloud ceiling.

I stayed two nights there to do more hiking around the crater. The thing was that up there, it never got warmer than 5-10 degrees during the day, and was about freezing at night, with a strong wind chilling the bones at all times. My hostel didn’t have heating, windows, hot water (or running water for that matter), so at night I would cover myself in a stack of horse blankets and hope for the best. Then I ate something wrong, got sick, then got a cold too, so by day three I was pretty much completely miserable.

I decided the best thing to do was take all my stuff and take a bus to a town 1 km down, where it might be warmer (and hot showers!). The plan worked and two days later I felt a lot better, at least good enough to play football with the local kids who were still on summer holiday. The next destination was Banos, a town known for its hot springs and amazing location in the heart of a green mountain valley.

Yesterday I went on a mountainbiking trip with 4 girls. At some point I turn around and see only three of them behind me. I climb back up the hill to the place where I saw the fourth girl, Hannah, fumbling with her bag earlier. There was no sign of her. Did she fall into the ravine? We were just saying that would be impossible when another girl, Emily, rode up the guardrail, slammed into it, and flipped over (bike and all) down into the ravine. Thankfully her fall was broken by some shrubs about 10 meters down. I climbed over the guardrail and we got her out of the ravine, thankfully unscathed. At that point we were sure this was the fate that befell Hannah and we were screaming here name along the road, looking for a sign of her. Then she came cruising down the road with a smile on her face – no worries, she’d only gone back up the hill because she forgot her camera.

One thing to add about this town: it’s in the shade of a huge volcano that erupted as recently as two months ago. The people here are not too fussed about it though.

So, Ecuador. The landscapes too vast to capture, the animals too fast, the locals too superstitious. It’s a tricky place to photograph but I’ve included some highlights below and the full album’s on Facebook here.

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