Flying back from Cuenca, we jumped straight into a taxi and headed south to Lasso, a very nondescript town about 1.5 hrs south of Quito.
The only reason people stop here is to go hiking near the Cotopaxi volcano.
Our plan was to stay overnight and start the nearby Quilotoa loop in the morning.
Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 200km or so loop is becoming an increasingly popular village-to-village hiking route.
We didn’t hike, but we did make it around the loop and up to the crater rim.
I’ve booked us into Cabañas Los Volcanes; it’s pretty basic, but Marcelo the owner is very friendly and helpful.
Marcelo explained we couldn’t start the loop from here and we still needed to go to Latacunga to get a bus. The next morning he walked us to the bus stop and put us on the right bus to Latacunga.
Our dinner choices are rather limited in this one-street town. The busiest place is a women cooking chicken on a propane gas stove out the front.
We have to wait for a seat, so Don goes searching for a beer (it’s BYO). Several little corner stores have beer in the fridge; they just don’t turn the fridge on!
Dinner was delicious and one of the cheapest we’ve had; US$7.50 for two chicken and chips.
The next day we take a bus from Latacunga along a bumpy dirt road, at times I don’t think would pass as a road. We head deeper into the Andes leaving rich fertile plains behind for steep jagged mountain sides.
Regardless, the Ecuadorians seem to farm every square inch they can find, crops run up and down the landscape, scattered with sheep and cows.
We climb up, over and around the mountains. At times the bus is perilously close to the edge, the only thing to do is close your eyes.
There aren’t any designated bus stops, we randomly pick-up and drop-off people along the way, sometimes in the middle of nowhere.
It’s about a 3 hour journey to the picturesque village of Isinlivi where we are staying 2 nights at Llullu Llama.
We are greeted by two americans Karen and John who are volunteer hosts at the lodge. In exchange for food and board they are looking after the place for a month.
Llullu Llama has shared accommodation and private rooms.
Yes, you can assume correctly, we have a private room – a very nice one with its own fireplace. The chilly nights make it perfect for an open fire.
Later in the afternoon, hikers coming off the trail start to arrive looking for a bed. Most haven’t booked, but they’ve heard about the place.
A couple of doors up the street is a slightly cheaper option; I don’t think it gets much business unless Llullu is full.
The lodge has a wonderful friendly atmosphere; by early evening everyone is sitting around with a glass of red, or a beer, swapping travel tales.
The food is also excellent. There is a hearty breakfast and 3 course dinner included, which is a good thing, since there isn’t any other option in town.
The only ‘hiking’ we did was with Karen and John up to the local cheese farm, about an hours climb up the hill. Unfortunately it was closed, but the views were worth it.
Further around the loop our next destination is the village of Chucchilán. If you’re not up to hiking, another mode of transport is to hitch a lift on the local milk truck.
Farmers leave their few litres of milk by the side of the road to be collected by the milk truck. In addition, locals use the truck for a lift, paying with a few coins.
I opt to take the luggage in a ute whilst Don takes the milk truck to Sigchos where I will pick him up.
My transport is a family affair, the driver has bought his wife and two children. One is on her lap in the front (forget seatbelts) and a 3-year-old boy is asleep on the back seat. I rearrange him to a more comfortable position and so I can fit in beside him.
My ute also collects people along the way – regardless of the fact that I’ve paid ‘gringos‘ rates to get to our next destination.
In Sigchos we catch-up with the milk truck and collect not only Don, but also a rear tray load of people heading in our direction.
Our luggage is squeezed in the back with us to make room and the boy (still asleep) ends up on my lap.
Located in the village of Chucchilán is the award-winning, vegetarian eco-lodge, Black Sheep Inn.
Don is a little concerned that he won’t be consuming meat for 2 days and thinks he might starve!
Black Sheep has been around a bit longer than Llullu Llama, but they are of similar ilk in taking an eco-friendly approach.
However, Black Sheep is significantly more expensive and I am not sure that it’s justified. Our room at Llullu’s had been much nicer.
Tesla is another volunteer, an avid hiker she spends a few months each summer volunteering at the lodge, helping Edmundo the manager. She runs through the activities they can help organise and we decide to take the horseback option to the crater.
Don takes a walk into the village in the hope of finding some meat! He’s thinking he might smuggle in a roast chicken, or something, however, the only thing he can find is a women cooking an unidentifiable soup.
Dinner is served family style – everyone sitting around a big table. There are 10 of us staying. The other 8 are from the US: a group of teachers on a trekking holiday from Wisconsin; a Mother and Son – Susanne and Kasey; and another couple Dan and Betsy.
Dan and Betsy kindly offer us a lift to Banos, as we are both heading there after Black Sheep.
Dan works in IT, similar to Don’s past-life and even though he’s on holidays for a week, his boss is still asking for pipeline updates and sales forecasts.
Don offers to have a chat with Dan’s boss and explain what being on holiday is all about!
The following day our guide Oswaldo arrives with his horses. Now Don and I are not experienced riders. This is the third horse ride we’ve done in the past 14 months.
Before that, I’ve probably been on a horse 3 other times in my life. The docile type of holiday riding where you sit on a horse that appears extremely bored and disinterested – just one in a line of many following each other nose to tail.
Today, we have two rather feisty steeds. I quickly learn to canter and work out my horse likes to be the boss and in front of Don’s.
Don’s horse also likes thinks he should have the lead. All day, these two battle over who’s ‘boss’.
I could make an analogy about our relationship, except Don worked out long-ago who’s the boss!
The horses navigate up and down steep ravines, across streams and through farmland.
I didn’t think a horse could clamber up and down such steep terrain, especially with a passenger, but they never lost their footing.
Oswaldo was also brilliant, providing basic tips on managing/controlling our horses.
We nicked named my horse Frijoles, because she seemed to have eaten way to many beans for breakfast. Everytime she sped up, she farted; mostly in the face of Don’s horse!
It was a 3 hour ride from Black Sheep to the Crater rim and a fantastic experience. The ride was challenging and spectacular, my padded bike shorts came in handy and made sitting in a saddle for that long a tad more comfortable.
When we get to the rim we hand our horses over and a driver takes us back to Black Sheep. Don spots a place selling chicken empanada’s and heads-off to purchase one.
Much to his meat-loving disappointment and my amusement, they are out of chicken and he ends up with just cheese!
There are two new guests staying at Black Sheep that night; an Irish couple, Rebecca and Ben. They are keen hikers and Rebecca a keen rider, after hearing of our horse adventures they decide to also ride up to the rim as we did. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did?
We head off to Banos with Dan and Betsy the following day. Banos is renowned for its hot springs and is a popular weekend destination for Ecuadorians. It’s a fairly touristy town with lots of adventure activities like rafting, bungy jumping and hang-gliding on offer.
We pamper ourselves with a massage, pedicure and manicure (I’m sure you can work out who had what).
Of course you can’t come to Banos and not take a dip in a hot spring.
The local public baths have three pools, though one is about 45 degrees, so unless you want to poach yourself it’s a little too hot.
We catch-up with Dan and Betsy for dinner and drinks. They are heading back to Quito and home the following day.
We decide to make the 20km bike ride down to the Devils Cauldron, a waterfall. As we are leaving, the rain begins to fall and is pretty heavy for most of our ride. Aside from the rain, it’s a really easy downhill pedal. Of course, the rain stops when we get to the waterfall.