countin' the days

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bumping Along the Quilotoa Loop

After departing Cotacachi, Lauren and I decided to go for one more adventure together. We´d been planning on checking out the Quilotoa Loop about 6 weeks before, but were deterred by a series of landslides and a string of changed plans. This particular area of Ecuador was a must-see because of its challenging accessibility, tiny and unspoiled indigenous villages, and mindblowing scenery. It did not let us down.

We started out early one morning and took buses as far as we could physically stand it. We ended up in the tiny, endlessly charming village of Zumbahua, a good deal into The Loop. Our timing couldn´t have been better, because we´d arrived in time to check out its famous Saturday morning market. Indigenous folks from all around flock to Zumbahua for this weekly ritual, and often haul their variety of goods in on the most popular form of local transport: llamas. We browsed the market for a couple hours, checking out the good on offer: stands of colorful yarns and clothing, bright and fresh produce, stalls of traditional indigenous shawls and skirts, and even squealing animals waiting in line to be slaughtered and sold right there on the spot.

To arrive in our next and far more remote destination, we hopped on a local bus. We sat on the bus and waited for over an hour, as the passengers crammed themselves into it. By the time the bus took off, it had turned into a foul-smelling mess of people and goods: clearly a baby had made a mess of a diaper or two, sacks of potatos and onions and fish were reeking up the air, I had two barely-alive chickens on top of my feet, and to top it off someone had spilled a particulary disgusting batch of homemade booze all over the floor. After an hour and a half bumping along the most nail-biting road I´ve experienced in Ecuador yet, we made it to Chugchilán.

The next day, we realized that the road we´d traveled in on the day before was no longer accessible due to heavy overnight rain. Fearing the worst (ie, getting stuck in the Loop and Lauren missing her flight home), we decided to proceed onwards ´round the loop in the same direction. This was the most "exciting" bus ride yet. About an hour in, we hit a major landslide and got stuck in the mud. Instantaneously, a few guys jumped out and began to dig us out with shovels. It worked. Then 20 minutes later, a woman started screaming "stop!" because the entire back of the bus -- where I was seated -- began filling with smoke. The cause of the white smoke pouring out of the ceiling was determined to be an "electrical malfunction," which after some apparent "disconnecting" classified us ready to be on our way. I was skeptical, but the problem never resurfaced. An hour later, we got a flat tire! At this point, I just had to laugh. The tire was fixed incredibly quickly and, miraculously, we made it out of the Loop to our final destination without any more problems.

Crazy as the bus rides were, truthfully it was all part of the journey. And nothing could beat the views.

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