We were up early and caught a bus to Zumbahua and from there had to get a camoniesta (pick-up truck) to Quilotoa as there are no buses. It was a fun but windy ride and we were holding on the whole way. The locals seemed to stand perfectly still without holding on and with no problems. It was a short walk to the crater edge and the view was fantastic. It looked like a huge spaceship had crashed landed onto a mountain range and is now filled with the brightest emerald green water. There were quite a lot of clouds which made the area even more atmospheric, but gave us the 'hebbie jebbies' that we may have to walk in the rain. Using our map we began our 10.25km walk which took us half way around the craters edge, at some points we were almost on a balance beam of soil trying desperately to walk, fighting huge gusts of winds. It was brilliant to walk around the crater as we got to admire the view for at least an hour. Although we had a small map it wasn't detailed in the slightest and we relied on two small children that were tending some cattle to tell us the way, in our usual limited Spanish. We were feeling a bit peckish and found a patch of soil to sit and enjoy our lunch ration of 'Toni' yoghurt. We had asked a rural farmer where Chugchilian was and as we were over the other side of the crater he easily pointed the town out to us. We weren't far at all. It was perfect the sun had come out so we were enjoying the nice weather. Our rations were used up apart from half a bottle of 7up but we were close to the village so when we came across a family toiling in the fields we gave the children the rest of our drink, they were so appreciative and waved at us until we turned down the path. As we got closer to the village we got a little suspicious, I mean this was a tiny, tiny village there was not a hostel in sight. Then, after walking the length of the village in about a minute, we saw a sign, the first one since the start of the walk, we had another 6.75km left! We rummaged in our bag to get the phone (our only method of telling the time) and turned it on, it was 1:30, we had been walking for an hour 1/2, eaten all our food and still had over half way to go. We reached the top of the hill and the next part of the journey was downhill so after admiring the gorgeous views we slipped and slid down the dust 'path' to the bottom of the valley. It is dry season in Ecuador at the moment and we had to cross over where there was once a bridge, but a landslide has knocked the bridge down, it was a bit sketchy to say the least. 'What goes down, must come up' was the motto of this trek so our last slog, which was only about 2km but was all uphill took all our energy and we were so pleased to arrive at Hostel Cloud forest, Chugchilian.
The hostel price included food and it was a good feed with some nice company, we met three Swiss and after a highly competitive game of pool we sat on the same table, planned to meet up in the last village as they were walking the loop in the other direction and watched 5 minutes of James Bond before heading to bed, I was exhausted.
The second day we set off at 9:30am with two biscuits and a 'map' drawn by the hostel lady which can only be described as a line going diagonally across an A4 piece of paper with four landmarks written on it. We figured it must be quite easy and the path well worn, what could go wrong? After a steep descent back to the valley the majority of the trek was running parallel to the river. It was a pleasant walk and we enjoyed the flat and of course the views were beautiful. At some point we knew it was necessary to cross a bridge and after walking past two quite well made bridges we decided to cross where there was two pieces of tree loosely tied with two pieces of steel wire. We later found out that tourists are told to never cross here. People have been known to fall into the river; the river isn't very deep but the bridge is pretty high, not a great combination. We stopped to eat our homemade biscuits, they were really nice but we wished we had bought more. The last part of the journey was all uphill so it took a lot of mental and physical strength for us to make it, oh and lots of short rests. Our map wasn't clear on which direction we were headed but we were lucky as at two crucial intersections a local came along and pointed us in the right direction. We were concerned at one point as we were heading back down a mountain and found a very old lady washing her clothes in the river. She could barely hear us shouting 'Hola!' so when we asked her for directions and she pointed to the way we had come, we ignored her sticking to the route we were on. We finally reached the top of a mountain and saw two villages, one to the right of us and a little bit closer and one to the left that looked bigger but was uphill, we hoped that it was the village to our right but surprise, surprise it was the village on our left. It was then that I heard a rustle from the grass, it was a snake. I called James back and another one appeared, it was good to see them but we have little knowledge on whether it was a dangerous snake or not so we walked off quickly. In the end we made it and in good time as well. Our hostel in Isinlivi was really nice, with some of the best food of the whole trip. Another group (Mike, Michelle, Adam and Agape) made it after us and we couldn't believe the directions that they had used. It was so detailed a double sided A4 sheet filled with landmarks to look out for and how long you should be walking for, it was a miracle that we got there without getting lost!
The evening was spent showering, playing with kittens (not James), eating delicious food, the others consumed A LOT of hot chocolate and learning a card game called Presidents and Arse holes. We had such a great time and got on well with the others that we decided to tag along with them for the final day. Of course we would also get the benefit of detailed direction as opposed to our biro line!
The last day was a lot shorter but it needed to be, we were all tired and struggling a bit but the views and good company made it easier, and it went a lot quicker than I thought it would. The boys spent the morning at least 100m ahead of us and towards the end Agape and I were dragging further behind but chatting happily as we went. We had also been sensible today and bought a pack lunch from the hostel. It was nice to be able to eat a proper lunch rather than slowly nibble on one biscuit to make it last longer. When we reached our destination we managed to catch an earlier bus to Latacunga where we were going to stay the night and the others needed to collect their big bags. Whilst we were waiting for the bus the boys went to find some cold drinks for us all. They came back without drinks but were not empty handed. Mike and Adam had bought delicious ice creams for themselves, Michelle and Agape. James had eaten his chocolate (something he had previously forgot to mention and Mike informed me it had lots of chocolate on) and vanilla cone ice cream and had bought me back a strawberry ice pop! That didn't go down too well and the others were wetting themselves and rubbing it in that their ice creams were soooo good.