In my last post, W1702 – Andes Adventure 1, I documented the first day and a half of my epic five night shore tour high in the Andes. The second night ashore had been spent in a lovely hacienda hotel out in the countryside close to the Cotopaxi National Park, and I was a little reluctant to leave as we packed up and set off for our second full day of travelling high in the Andes.
The first twenty-five minutes of our drive was on the rough gravel and cobble tracks that had also shaken us up so much the previous day in the National Park. We also passed over a rather unnerving looking narrow bridge:
It was a great relief once we were back on smooth tarmac roads, and after a while we got to see Ecuador’s highest volcano Chimborazo, at 6310m, in the distance. Chimborazo’s summit is the farthest point of the Earth’s surface from the centre of the earth. Due to the centrifugal forces of its rotation, the Earth is not a perfect sphere and has a larger diameter at the equator. The distance of Chimborazo’s summit from the centre of the Earth is 6,384.4 km, 2229 m more than the distance of Mt Everest’s top to the centre of the Earth.
The highpoint for this second full day was to visit the beautiful azure Quilotoa Lake in the crater of a dormant volcano. It was a drive of nearly two hours to reach the lake, and our local guide Fabricio decided to break the journey in the market town of Pujili. He led us through to the local market, which was so colourful with all the fruits and clothing piled high on display. It made a great photo opportunity, especially with the chance to capture incognito some of the local residents going about their business:
While we were at the market, Fabricio asked us if as an extra to the tour we would like to meet up with an elderly couple who still farmed high in the foothills in the traditional way, and who still lived in traditional huts. Naturally we jumped at the chance to learn about the traditional way of life first hand. He told us that he thought it best rather than just to give them money in return for their time and information, that we bought non-perishable foodstuffs in the market to gift to them at the end of our meeting. We left it to him to select the produce and negotiate with the stall-holder over the price, and for five dollars each we ended up with several large bags of produce to give them.
Returning to our car June and Fabricio stopped to eat some fresh mangoes before we set off once more. The road rose steeply out of the town, and after a short while we pulled into the side of the road for another quick photo stop to capture the now all too familiar sight of Cotopaxi in the distance, still producing a trail of smoke. While we were paused Fabricio showed how the tip and strands of one of the local plants could very quickly be turned into a needle and thread:
We then set off once more, and drove for quite some time through and around the foothills of the Andes. The lower slopes were a patchwork quilt of farmer’s fields, peppered with small farmsteads:
Eventually we pulled in beside the road next to a couple of wooden sheds, where Fabricio said they make the local traditional wooden and highly painted face masks. He hoped to show us around, but alas no one was about to let us in, so reluctantly we drove on:
After driving through a couple of small villages, we came to Cañón del Río Toachi, a spectacular deep canyon carved into the local bedrock. Here we made another photo stop, and the couple standing bravely near the edge of the canyon help give perspective to it’s size and depth:
Driving on we eventually came to our main destination, the Quilotoa Crater Lake. Parking the car we had to walk across a large open square surrounded by small tourist and artisan shops, before we came to the crater rim and could look down at the stunning azure blue lake below, the intense colour coming from minerals dissolved in the water:
A stony footpath snaked it’s way down the side of the crater all the way to the lake itself, and Fabricio tried to fool us that we would be walking all the way down and back in quite short time. In reality you would only have to walk downhill as pack horses are available to ride back up the path, but feeling the effects of the high altitude there we all elected to remain near the summit. I did venture down the path a short way in search of some different photographs, but the loose surface and occasional steep step made it difficult. It’s when I turned around and started to climb back up the path that I realised just how much the high altitude was affecting me – I could only manage a short distance before my chest was heaving and my legs were wobbly. With frequent stops under the watchful gaze of Fabricio I made it back up to the others at the summit, much to my relief.
Here Fabricio took photographs of all three of us on our cameras with the lake in the background, and after a while an elderly local man joined us. In return for posing with us he led us back to his small souvenir shop, where I bought a couple of items to take home – I can’t blame him for an effective marketing ploy. On the outside wall of his shop was this attractive picture:
The shop next door also caught our eye, as outside were hanging very colourful ponchos. Both Robert and June bought one each, and I ended up buying two, one for myself and one to take back for a friend.
Returning to the central square near our parked car, we sat and rested on some benches. As we sat there the proprietor’s son from the poncho shop came running over and presented each of us with a small magnetic decorated llama, a touching little gift in return for the good custom we had brought to the shop. While we sat there we ate a packed lunch, provided as there were no suitable restaurants in the area. A few items from the lunch we didn’t want were added to the bags for donation to the farming couple later.
Our picnic completed, we set off once more in the car, retracing our route from earlier through the foothills of the Andes. Eventually the car pulled over to the side of the road, and Fabricio got out to talk with the farming couple and check that they were happy to meet us and explain how they lived and farmed. Looking around as we waited I had good views once again of Cotopaxi away in the distance:
After a few minutes Fabricio returned and said that the meeting was on, and led the three of us to meet the couple inside one of their houses. This was a brand new round house that they were in the process of building themselves, and unlike their old one it had concrete block walls – but still the traditional wooden frame and thatched roof. Inside was very little so far except for some fairly primitive cooking equipment as they were still living and sleeping in their old hut for now. Through Fabricio acting as translator, the man explained how they grew and tended a range of crops by hand, which they took to market in the local town by bus to sell for money.
Next we were led up the hill towards their old and more primitive hut, outside of which were two large wooden cages containing nearly 200 guinea-pigs, which they bred to also sell in the local market as food. To our amazement running free on the floor of the old hut, in which they were living too, were loads more guinea-pigs:
The man had explained that his children had left home and gone to live in the city, and only occasionally visit them at home, so this was very much a way of life that was likely to die out in the future. One of their grandchildren was lying very quietly and peacefully by himself in a pile of grass, and everywhere under our feet there seemed to be cats, dogs and puppies:
As we posed for photographs together, the man so proudly held out the potatoes he had grown. It was a fascinating and very moving experience to meet up with them, and to see and get to understand their fast disappearing way of life. We were delighted to gift them the bags of produce we had bought for them earlier that day in the market, and we could set clearly see the gratitude in their faces at this small help to them surviving their subsistence way of life. I know we all very much appreciated Fabricio arranging and fitting in this extra item to our busy itinerary.
Waving big goodbyes we set off once more, this time to drive quite some distance to our hotel for that night, passing much closer to Chimborazo on the way:
That night we stayed at another hacienda hotel, Hacienda La on the outskirts of the town of Riobamba. This hotel was even more stunning than the last, our rooms were huge, and throughout the hotel there were so many old things to see it was more like staying in a museum than a hotel:
That evening we had a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant, I had a large meat platter served cooking and sizzling on a large hot stone. This was definitely my favourite of the five different hotels we stayed in on this tour, and I was very sorry that we only got to spend one short night there – the next morning we would be checking out at 5:30am to drive to the high spot of the tour – but more of that in my next post.