It was well past nightfall, raining off and on and freezing. Hanes, my new friend from the FBU farm and weekend travel companion, turned to me: ¨I think it´s better that we can´t see much,¨ pointing down-- down-- to some tungsten lights in the valley below where our bus swerved and braked, jolted and rumbled from Latacunga to Zumbahua. By now, the combination of hair-raising curves and inexact drivers doesn´t make me flinch, too hard. I laid my head back again, dozing despite the cramped seat and line of locals murmuring in the aisle beside me.
When we arrived at Zumbahua, a small but vibrant community along the windy road to Quevedo in the lowlands, a young man immediately offered a cabinet to Quilotoa. Gee whiz, we thinking we´d call it a day (early rise and harvest at FBU, Easter lunch of fanesca bean soup, and six hours of transit already), but... might as well catch a ride when it´s handed to you, right? Unsure of how long we´d be shivering on the little board in the back of the camioneta, Hanes retrieved her sleeping bag and we huddled closer with another young woman at our side, swinging back and forth at every hairpin curve. Zumbahua´s lights slowly disappeared as I noticed the shadows of the antiplano peaks against faint stars. It had cleared, finally. At long last, I was arriving at Laguna Quilotoa, a place I´ve dreamed about for months: high, thin air, chilly breezes, views of Mount Cotopaxi and rolling green fields below... and of course, the lake. My sleepiness slipped away, and even before I laid eyes on Laguna Quilotoa, I felt more alive, bristling and giddy with anticipation.
Sunrise over Laguna Quilotoa, with the twin Iliniza mountains in the distance.
Early morning, completely blown away by this place. It looks similar to Oregon´s Crater Lake, but the trail around the rim is only 7.5 miles (compared to 35 miles).
The colors of the water shifted throughout the morning, from deep blue to bright turquoise and pale yellow near the edges.
Me and Hanes above the town, jolly and energized by the views and sun. She spoke of how badly she wished her relatives could be there with us. I can´t think of one person I know that wouldn´t love it.
Looking west where the clouds cleared for short glimpses of jagged hills.
The entire rim was llena with wildflowers: purple lupines, yellow columbines, bright pink bells, and even Indian paintbrush. The alpine plains are livelier and more colorful than you might think.
Giddy after the biggest climb, looking south-east toward Latacunga. Mind you, the town of Quilotoa is at 3850 meters, so we were huffing it at over 12,000 feet for parts of the hike. My legs still ached a bit from the Quito-Mindo hike, but my lungs felt great.
About 2/3 around the lake, it started to fog over, rain, and even hail on us. I hardly minded the frozen fingers and wet feet as we crossed paths with alpacas, lambs, and locals yelling in Kichwa about an impending mudslide we had to cross. By far, one of the highlights of my time in Ecuador.