INSINLIVI → CHUGCHILAN: AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN (6 hrs. if you find a German/Dutch power duo to hike with!)
After a very filling breakfast of fresh bread, endless cups of coffee, a variety fruits, scrambled eggs, homemade granola with coconut, and mora (grape) juice, we set off on the trail by 8:45am. [Side note: Did I mention that dinner from the previous night + breakfast was included in the price of our stay? → Lulu Llama] With full tummies, we walked out of our hostel and down the road to the left of the entrance and into the valley. We were stoked to start off the day early and be the first ones out the door in the entire hostel! Yes, I’m still very competitive and can’t help it - competition is built in my nature. Thanks, Dad! :D
GETTING LOST WITHIN THIRTY MINUTES
As we descended into the valley, we came across some construction that seemed to block our way down to the river. Sure enough, construction had to literally stop as we made our way across and down a steep sand pit further into the valley. Ignoring the concrete bridge down below, our next clue was to look for a log bridge once we made it down further. We found it shortly after walking down a small trail lining the river. After we walked across it, immediately the confusion, frustration, and realization that we were lost set in. We hiked up a bit of this small trail to a pasture (that we were told to go through). As we came upon the pasture, we stumbled upon some aggressive dogs. The first one was barking incessantly at us making it very well known that we were not to step a foot closer to his owner’s property. But, wait. The directions said we were supposed to hike through the pasture. Despite the obnoxious dog barking at us, we continued on through this property. Then, we came upon another barking dog. Now, it was the combination of the two dogs that were driving us completely nuts. We couldn’t find a path anywhere. While I became more frustrated and anxious with all the commotion, we decided that we would continue walking right and follow the river. We assumed we would eventually come across a path, and sure enough, about five minutes later, we found the correct trail.
THE DUTCH/GERMAN DUO TO THE RESCUE
We took some time after this debacle to slow our heart rates down by taking pictures of the stunning landscape surrounding us. After the 100th photo that Ryan captured, Bernhard and Anne (two adventurers from Germany and Netherlands) had caught up to us. We gladly welcomed their companionship, and in the back of my mind, I was hoping they’d help guide us in the right direction. We had a blast with these two. Bernhard, a 25-year-old German, was studying abroad in Quito and had a fiery and adventurous spirit that was contagious. Ryan and him were like two peas in a pod! Anne, a 21-year-old Dutch studying abroad in Quito, had a determined spirit to become a well seasoned hiker after stating, “There aren’t mountains like this in the Netherlands!” We loved their energy and really enjoyed the entire day with them.
CHILL OUT TIME BEFORE CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN OF DEATH
When we came upon a river, we decided we would take a rest and enjoy some time in the sun and munch on some snacks. As Bernhard and Ryan cooled off in the river, Anne and I chatted about our favorite adventures. Some of the crew that we had met the night prior in the hostel decided to join us beside the river. Jake (an Australian) played music through his speakers, ‘Positive Pete’ from Sudan (as he was shortly named after the hike) jumped into the river with the boys, and Abby (another solo Aussie traveler) joined Anne and I soaking up the sun.
After we had cooled off for about thirty minutes, the four of us (Anne, Bernhard, Ryan + I) decided to continue on as we wanted to conquer the upcoming ascent before the afternoon heat. As we started zigzagging up the steep mountain, I realized how seriously out of shape I was. I mean, I’m not kidding. I was red-faced, hands on my hips, barely able to catch my breath as the rest of the crew hiked up with what seemed like relative ease. I checked my Fitbit and my heart rate was 181 at one point! Although it was difficult, we pushed through quickly so that we could reach the top and cool off once we reached the top. I said to myself in that moment, that I was not going to let the fact that I was traveling deter me from my physical fitness goals. Once we reached the top, we walked up a few more meters and relaxed in the scenic lookout gazebo on the top of the mountain. We ate some lunch (Ryan and I ate PB + coconut sandwiches for the fifth time since we started) and shared our sugary treats with the little local boys who had come up for their village to stare into our souls until we gave them some sort of ‘caramelo’ or ‘chocolate.’
THE END IN SIGHT (BUT NOT REALLY)
A fifteen minute rest break and we were off again. We walked along a mostly flat dirt road (thank God) for another twenty minutes before reaching a paved road leading straight to Chugchilan. We reached this road in hopes that we would be approaching the town of Chugchilan shortly. Well, we were wrong. It felt like we walked on this long black road another 45 minutes (in reality, it was probably another 25 minutes) to the actual town. Ryan and I had made a reservation at the hostel, Mama Hilda since it was a mid-range price and I had done some light research before our trip. Anne + Bernhard decided on Black Sheep Inn as it was known to be the BEST in town.
CHOOSING THE BEST SUITED HOSTEL FOR US
Being conscious about the money we were spending, Ryan and I decided to part with them early and try out the cheaper options (either Mama Hilda or Hostel Cloud Forest). We arrived to Mama Hilda and immediately knew we made the right choice when we were guided to a beautiful cabin-like room that had two stories. When we saw how cozy it was and that we had a beautiful view on the top floor, we decided this was the best fit for us. We only ended up spending $20 for this cozy private room with a shared bathroom, dinner, and breakfast included. We had a nice dinner with an American couple we had met at Llulu Llama and two study abroad students who had hiked the reverse route (Quilotoa → Chugchilan). After our stomachs were satiated from another incredible meal, we finally called it a night. I was slightly dreading the next morning because we heard multiple times from different sources it was the MOST difficult day of the entire trek and I was already slightly dying from the past two days. Ryan closed his eyes and kissed my forehead as he comforted me in saying that we could go as slow as I wanted up the steep terrain to Quilotoa. With my mind now at ease, I drifted off dreaming of the adventures that lay ahead on our final day.