TACTICAL TIPS FOR BEGINNING OF DAY 3
Ryan and I were up and eating breakfast by 7:30am with our fellow hikers: the two Americans (I forget their names! Ah, I’m awful!). As we stopped to stock up on snacks for the longest stretch of the hike, we saw the two Canadians and the two British girls stroll by a little further down the road. We waved a polite hello and then decided to take a trail down to the left towards the river instead of the main road that said, “QUILOTOA” with an arrow pointing towards the road. Ryan always believes that trails are WAY better and that they are always faster than taking the road. When asking a local woman about the trail, she affirmed our decision in saying that it would be much quicker taking the trail because it was a direct route down the mountain. So, down the sandy path we went with all the locals as the other hikers walked safely down the zigzagging paved road.
BEWARE OF THE SLIPPERY SANDY SLOPE!
Once we crossed a small bridge, we made our way up to a viewpoint where we could now see the peak we were about to summit. First, though, we had to cross another steep sandy pit that looked as if you could fall straight down the cliff with one misstep. Ryan, of course, made it seamlessly across this death trap. As soon as I gathered up the courage to make it across, rocks began falling rapidly within seconds. Now, even more scared than I was before, I had to wait for what felt like ages (but was more like two minutes) for the rocks to stop falling before I could cross. When I finally made it across, I slipped on the slick path just before crossing another bridge.
As I was sitting on the ground, sand covering my body, I almost called it quits right then and there. I think I even told Ryan, “I’m thinking of just turning back.” Ryan, the sweet gentle man that he is, put his steady hand upon me and said he would turn back around if that’s what I wanted to do. But knowing me well enough, he knew that the last thing I really wanted to do was quit and turn around. It’s just not in my nature. I can thank my soccer coaches and endless hours of conditioning for that.
SWITCHBACKS THAT WILL HAVE YOU DOUBTING YOUR REASONING FROM COMPLETING THIS HIKE
We took our time making our way up the steep switchbacks. I am so thankful that Ryan is so patient with me. We would make our way up one leg of switchbacks and he would be ahead of me patiently waiting at the top every single time. He wouldn’t be complaining about how long I took, nor was he exasperated that he had to stand around at every single switchback. He would simply wait with a huge smile on his face as I approached the top. I was able to catch my breath and enjoy the view so much more when we stared out into the abyss while climbing to the top. When we finally reached the summit, we stopped at a mirador overlooking the valley below. After a quick break and some pictures, we continued along a rocky road for another thirty minutes before spotting a sign for Quilotoa that led us on a steep trail straight up the mountain.
BREAKS + MORE BREAKS (TOTALLY NECESSARY ON DAY 3)
We took another break on a bench and then shortly continued on up the windy mountain road. We took a few shortcuts up the mountain along small, steep trails. Thinking Quilotoa was still a few peaks away (which was what Ryan had told me when we started our day), I was totally surprised when we saw the crater at the top. We enjoyed a cold Coke-Cola and took tons of pictures before the rest of the backpackers joined us. I finished my mixture of peanut butter and stale bread for lunch, but heck, we made it (and in one piece!). After more fellowship with our new friends, we decided to do the ‘supposedly’ hour long hike along the ridge of the crater to finally reach the town of Quilotoa.
FOLLOW SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHERE THEY'RE GOING...(I.E., NOT US!)
We saw some Germans take the trail down the mountain earlier when we had just started lunch, so we followed suit. Big mistake. When we were about thirty minutes into our hike, we were approached by a local farmer who informed us that we couldn’t go any further. Then, he swiftly offered to show us the “right” way. I was wary of this because I saw the path continue across the lower part of the ridge and figured we could keep walking and still make it to the town. But alas, this local was pretty insistent on us going with him.
The two Australians and ‘Positive Pete’ had followed us down the same trail. When they saw us stop, they figured they were going the wrong as well. So, the five of us followed the local all the way back up the mountain. When we finally made it up (exhausted, but happy we were back on track), the local demanded five dollars for showing us the correct way. We didn’t even have that much money among all of us, but scrounged up a few dollars to pay him.
SOAKING UP ALL THE GLORIOUS VIEWS
Ryan and I took our time finishing the hike across this ridge knowing this was the last time we’d see this crater. At this point, we decided we would simply leave the next day and not walk around the entire crater (which takes around 3-4 hours). When we finally made it to Quilotoa, we were stoked! It was freezing, so we quickly decided to stay in a hostel right off the trail.. We enjoyed dinner (which was included) but nothing compared to the meals in the other hostels along the trail. The two Australians joined us for dinner and it was a perfect way to end such an amazing trek.
[Side note: If we would’ve walked a little further, there was hostel called Alpaka Hostel that is supposed to be pretty nice for the amount you pay.]
WHY YOU TOTALLY HAVE TO DO THIS HIKE!
To say the least, this is one of our favorite hikes we’ve done so far in our entire trip. Firstly, we loved that we could hike without a guide. This is somewhat of a rarity for well known hikes in South America, and Ryan and I were so stoked to be able to challenge ourselves in so many ways - including reading directions, getting lost, finding our way again, getting lost a second time, and finally reaching a destination. We LOVED the fellowship we had with all the hikers we met along the way. Not having wifi totally allows you to bond so much quicker with people you’re surrounded with. This hike also totally kicked our butts physically, and we loved that this trek really tested our endurance (and patience). Lastly, this was some of the most stunning scenery we’ve seen and we were so amazed that we didn’t see many tourists along the entire trail. This helped us reconnect with nature in a way that we may not have been able to had we been surrounded with so many other people. In the end, DO THIS HIKE, whether you’re in the best shape of your life or not. You can take as long as you want to complete it and will totally be worth the challenge!