One the many projects I was involved with during my volunteering period was UNORCAC`s community-based tourism operator, Runa Tupari (www.runatupari.com). They are based out of the city of Otavalo, and have on offer a bunch of tours throughout the local area that include activities like hiking, mountain climbing, and visiting indigenous communities. As the dedicated and hard-working volunteer that I was, I was able to take part in a bunch of these tours free of charge.
The first outing I went on was a four-hour hike up to the summit of Fuya-Fuya (4265m; 14,075ft). It was steep going in steadily increasing fog and rain, but tons of fun. I couldn´t get enough of the amazing flora and fauna of the páramo (Andean highlands), and snapped loads of picturs of the amazing things growing underfoot. We even saw an Andean fox (though I didn´t have time to snap his photo). All the while the amazing Mojanda Lakes were below us, so really any which way I turned I was treated to something beautiful.
Feeling exceedingly confident and enthusiastic, two days later I decided to go for a much bigger mountain: Volcano Cotacachi. We started the trek at 5am, and for the first few hours were treated to an exceptionally good view of the area. Sure, there were still some clouds around, but shockingly no rain! It was 5 hours of straight uphill hiking, not exactly an easy chore with my legs still aching from the other climb 48 hours before. Whoops. But no matter, I still made it. We hiked up to where the snow began -- about 4800m (15,800ft) -- but since we didn´t have proper gear that´s where we had to stop. On the way up and down, we saw 6 different llamas chilling on the high mountain slopes, all of whom stopped to check us out with that particular curious stare so unique to llamas. It was a classic South Ameriacn moment.
Later that same week, I accompanied a Danish couple on the indigenous community tour, acting as translator. The tour goes to three different villages in the area, each one specializing in a certain indigenous crafts. We watched a woman using a stone to pound together pieces of reeds to make mats (a full day´s work for $3); a demonstration and performance with traditional Andean instruments; and a weaver and his wife who process and create wool masterpieces in a tradition that hardly anyone uses anymore. Fascinating as they all were, I couldn´t get over the cuteness of the weaving couple. I mean, have you ever seen anything cuter than this old weaving mama?