Our first destination during our adventure week was the Volcano Quilatoa. We stayed in a low-ceilinged hotel which had a nice lodge feel to it. The hotel sat on the outskirts of a small tourist town about ten acres in size.
Standing in the town it’s hard to tell where the crater lake is. In one direction there is an expanse of about 40 visible miles of rolling mountains painted a brown and green plaid by farmland, (some of the plots higher up on the mountain sides were at extreme angles) and in the other direction was the town center. To find the crater lake we walked, at the time it seemed odd, further into the town. After no more than five minutes of walking, the town suddenly reached an end with an enormous drop-off, after which unfolded the fantastic expanse of the crater lake. The lake was nearly circular and bordered by steep hillsides with ridges. It was an impressive 300 meters deep, and had been formed gradually by repeated eruptions. The lake looked about a kilometer across. The people down at the dock looked like ants from the topmost viewing platform.
The walk down to the lake was made slightly difficult because of the loose rocks and gravel on the path. On the way down we passed multiple hikers on the way up, who all glared at us in warning, their faces red and their breaths heavy.
For three dollars I was able to kayak myself out to the middle of the lake, out of audible distance from the others, who hugged the shore. Marnie and Fritz co-captained a canoe, as did Lilly and Charlotte. Kenny kayaked out to the middle to shout to me when we were due to return. The water was frigid and by the end of voyage enough had dripped down the paddle to soak my thighs and butt.
The hike up was made very difficult by the altitude. Legs cope much better with less oxygen than lungs, so you were tempted to bound up the steps — doing so led very quickly to light-headed chest-heaving exhaustion, so we had to laboriously plod up step by step. Lilly and Marnie paid the ten bucks and rode mules up, which made them feel guilty afterwards, but certainly not regretful.
Baños in located in a mythical-looking valley. Tall and sheer green hill faces surround and insulate the cozy town center. The hills here are too steep even for Ecuadorian farmers, so, as we saw on our scenic bus ride from Quilotoa, the green and brown farms sit in the basins between these extreme hills.
In Baños we met Charlotte’s amazonian boyfriend Louis, with whom we ate dinner the first night. This was a delightful and much-needed social interlude for Charlotte, on whom the stress of shepherding 18 year olds was beginning to ware. They spoke quietly, intimately, and in Spanish.
During our first full day in Baños we went rafting. The rapids were class 3 and 4, 1 being the calmest and 5 being the roughest. Our rafting guide was very enthusiastic and wanted us to be too. He would yell to us: “Are you ready my friends? Let me hear you scream!” and we would murmur a “woohoo” in return. This wouldn’t satisfy him and he would tell us to yell louder, so we mumbled louder. The guide redeemed his awkwardness with his rafting skill though, and steered us through the rapids so that we hit all the biggest waves and avoided the zones that could trap you. I ended up falling out of the boat twice, and Kenny and Lilly both flew out spectacularly at the same time when we struck a large wave right at the end. Us three were all, in-coincidentally, seated on the right side of the boat, opposite the guide.
The afternoon after rafting we, including Charlotte and Louis, went to “La Casa del Arbol”, which, poorly translated on advertisements, read “House of Tree”. This treehouse, which started its life as hidden treasure, a lone wooden shack perched in a tree with a swing attached which carried you out over nothing, had been transformed into an oasis of tourism, crying babies, competitive juice vendors, 30-minute waiting lines, entry fees, plastic trees, safety harnesses, and numerous Casa del Arbol rip-offs on nearby hillsides. The view was very good, though, and the sun helped by casting a picturesque golden glow on the rolling hillsides.
The next day we, again with Charlotte and Louis, rented bikes and rode twenty kilometers to a waterfall called Pailon del Diablo. The biking was all downhill and quite scenic, to our right was a drop-off into a deep, green valley and occasional waterfalls on the opposite hill-face.
Soon after arriving (my rear tire popped, mercifully only a quarter mile from our destination — Kenny had dared me to jump the curb) it began to rain, so it was in the rain that we made the half-mile trek to the waterfall. Those who hadn’t rented ponchos (everyone but me) were entirely soaked through.
The waterfall was loud and powerful, and the boulders around its base had been weathered so much that they were smooth as skin.
We then ate lunch, loaded our bikes into a pick-up truck, and were given a ride back to Baños. Here we said our goodbyes to Louis.
Riobamba was our next stop after Baños. Our hostel was very nice, green-blue Poseidon themed, and the streets outside were a nice cobbled dark-grey. On our second day in Riobamba (on the first day we mostly searched for food) we visited the volcano Chimborazo. The transport took us to up a cozy base camp above where the farmland ended and where the high-altitude tundra began. On this landscape there was sand, gravel, dry-looking plants and cactuses, occasional glass-clear streams which came from the snowy peak of the volcano, and peculiar Alpaca-like animals called vicunas. We hiked (the hike up, like at Quilotoa, was made rigorous by the altitude) to an elevated base camp, which could claim to be above Chimborazo’s snow-line from the single clump or snow next to its doorstep (no other snow existed below). At this elevated base camp (which we were not allowed inside) we had to stand flushed against the outside wall to stay out of the biting wind. From this post you could for miles and miles out over the highlands; looking the other direction towards Chimborazo, the peak (made of snow capped reddish rock — like it had rusted and then been drizzled with white chocolate) seemed tantalizingly close. Be warned, however, for on the trail to the elevated base camp there was a graveyard of a dozen or more graves of climbers who had died trying to scale the icy slopes.
Fortunately for us decent, not ascent, was our intent. After some hot Coco Té at base camp and a few chicken empanadas, we were saddled onto mountain bikes for the ride down.
The first leg of the trip was on a dusty, bumpy, and treacherous road surfaced with sand and loose gravel. Gusts of wind would fling grit into our eyes, and the bumps were extreme enough to blur our vision and rattle our limbs numb. It was on this leg that Marnie fell, tearing her trousers and earning a nice bruise on her right thigh. She managed, along with the rest of us, to soldier on to the next leg, a twenty kilometer downhill asphalt cruise.
If it were up to me I wouldn’t have touched the handle bars the whole twenty kilometers, but our guide controlled our pace from the front so I had to use my hands to break every so often. Our jackets and goggles (we had been given the goggles only after the first leg, go figure) were sufficient to repel most of the misty rain. Fritz, Kenny and I were all slaloming around the reflectors on the side of the road. Marnie and Lily were happy just to cruise. None of us broke a sweat by the time we arrived to lunch, which was included in the trip. While eating lunch (three courses as is typical in Ecuador: soup, main plate + juice, desert) a Spanish reality show played on a TV in the corner: a man who looked like John Travta had just slapped a reporter. The food tasted delicious, and we were relieved of our equipment by our guide and delivered back to our hostel.