Ecuador - cloud forests, volcanoes and colonial cities, part II

The next day we left Mindo very early in order to arrive by midday in Otavalo, after an unwelcome but inevitable transfer in Quito. We arrived in Quito at about 9am but had a half-expected surprise - due to a national holiday the bus terminal was packed with locals heading for all sorts of destinations to benefit from a long weekend. Naturally, with shopping being one of the most favourite local "fiesta" pastimes, Otavalo was the top weekend destination, with the tickets queue stretching from the ticket booth all the way to the other side of the terminal. After some hesitation we decided to not cancel our original plan of visiting Otavalo on that fiesta Saturday and Jordi joined the queue which would keep him busy for another three hours, while I was babysitting Atuk in the company of local women babysitting their kids while their husbands were queueing somewhere else.

Otavalo market:

Otavalo while being a colourful textiles market was quite a disappointment compared to our expectations which as always were set too high because of the over-enthusiastic description in the guidebook. I guess we expected something more in the style of Guamote (which had a much more sober coverage in LP), but it wasn't even half as colourful and authentic. We started the day by a leasurely stroll through this market at a time when locals were still unpacking their merchandise and got the first glimpse of this market's most typical items - colourful woolen blankets, textiles, traditional Ecuadorian clothes, belts, hats etc. After about an hour it was time for Atuk to have his morning nap, so we left him in the hotel shower and went for another walk through the market. By that time it got really busy with a lot of local families arriving to buy new outfits. Quite in line with the universal trend of women preserving the clothes tradition while guys dress entirely according to the western fashion (jeans and t-shirts), we could see that almost all local women without exception were wearing a beautiful traditional outfit of a white embroidered blouse and a black sarong neatly fitting around the waist under a beautiful woven belt, while the guys were wearing and shopping exclusively for jeans. After a couple of hours at the textiles market, we walked a little bit farther from the centre till we reached the animal market. Once there, we regretted not having Atuk with us, as the amount of animals we could have introduced him to was amazing: chickens, kittens, ducklings, sheep, cows, guinea pigs. All the animals were being sold from inside some primitive cages and would pass the entire day in the burning sun without any food and water (for locals these animals are just a product they need to sell, like a belt or a blanket). At times an animal which gets too weak through such callous sales attitude simply gets thrown away like a defective product - that's how we found a tiny puppy that could hardly crawl in a grass lawn at the edges of the market. Luckily, one of the women who were selling puppies, agreed to take him when we asked her if she'd mind keeping the little creature together with the rest of the puppies she had for sale - as a thank-you gesture we brought her animals some water and soup from a nearby eatery... Back at the textiles market we bought a few woven belts as souvenirs (including one for Atuk's collar), and the same day left for Quito in order to bring our puppy for a scheduled second shot of the Multiple vaccination.

The baby, of course, was not for sale :-)

At the animal market:

Quilotoa loop:

After a quiet Sunday at our usual pet-friendly hotel (possibly the only one in Quito), we headed for Latacunga in order to start one of the most popular hikes/drives in Ecuador - the Quilotoa loop, so as to make it to Saquisili village along the loop in time for its famous Thursday market. Sadly enough, because of the appallingly horrible transport infrastructure of Quito, the bus drive to the southern terminal Quitumbe took us about the same time (2-3 hours) as the stretch from the station to Latacunga. Residential Los Nevados just a couple of hundred metres away from the terminal became our comfortable abode for our subsequent and unexpectedly long stay in Latacunga (more on this later)...

Like I mentioned the Quilotoa loop can be both walked and driven through, but because our puppy is still too small to be a fully-functional trekking companion, we decided to minimize the walking (and later saw that it would have been a good decision even if we were trekking without Atuk), so the very next morning we took the 9:30am bus to Quilotoa village. We arrived there around midday and were surprised to find instead of a charming village we expected (once again because of the exaggerated discription in the guide) an eclectic collection of family guesthouses with a lot of started construction projects. The thick fog completely conceiled from us the main (and we'd say the only) attraction of this village - Laguna Quilotoa, or a beautiful lagoon inside a collapsed crater of an extinct volcano. Locals greeted us with some accommodation offers at the same time as local dogs were greeting our puppy with an invitation to play (they stuck around for quite a while till we finally chose the guesthouse). We didn't catch any sight of the lagoon till quite late in the afternoon when the fog melted away a bit and reveiled the view over the neatly-shaped reservoir beneath the rugged edge of the former crater. While Atuk seemed to really enjoy the views of the lagoon (as he kept doing regular stops during our walk to contemplate it), his favourite part of Quilotoa village exploration was meeting all the local animals, like pigs, sheep, horses and chickens.

The next morning we had much more luck with the weather so when we took Atuk for his usual 6am walk we were finally able to see the lagoon without a trace of fog - a truly glorious sight. After a short while we left the guesthouse to start the only walking stretch of our hike - from the Quilotoa village we headed for the village of Chugchilan. After a couple-of-hours hike along the crater with many stops for our puppy to rest, we arrived at a point were we left the crater edge and started walking down to the village we could see below. The first village along our route - Guayama de San Pedro - was definitely ly the most interesting experience of the whole loop. It was a very quiet little place 5km from the village of Quilotoa which we reached exactly around the time that kids were coming from/going to school, so we were able to watch them play unisex football at the field next to the only food stall in the whole village (and naturally, our lunch place). During lunch the smaller kids all gathered around us to check out our puppy - the bravest ones (mostly boys) stroke and cuddled him while the more reserved ones (girls) would just watch him as if he were some kind of miracle. At some stage we even played some football with the boys, Atuk being the main forward :-). Then after a short while of waiting for the rain to pass which was a welcome break for our super enduring but tired puppy, we continued our hike to Chugchilan which was another 5km away. On this stretch we passed a beautiful viewpoint, had a short puppy nap at a cozy camping site and reached Chugchilan by mid-afternoon after a lot of interaction along the way with every type of domestic animals. By now we can safely state that because of their lazy non-chalant attitude piglets are probably Atuk's favourite playmates; sheep intrigue him by their not-so-friendly habit of striking the ground with their hooves to scare him away from lambs; cows are big and incomprehensible; and chickens are weird creatures that should be sniffed at when standing and chased when running (we definitely still have a lot of work to do with our puppy's prey instinct). On arrival at Chugchilan, we assumed our entirely exhausted puppy would just fall asleep which would be a natural thing to do after a 10-km walk and a lot of running and playing with all sorts of animals along the way, but instead he chose to stay at the balcony of our guesthouse watching the horses grazing on a lawn a few metres away, and only fell asleep when we did...

People at the village of Guayama de San Pedro:

On the way from Guayama de San Pedro to Chugchilan:

Saquisili Thursday market:

Our third and last stretch of the Quilotoa loop just like the first one was by bus, as we took a 3am bus to the village of Saquisili - half an hour drive away from Latacunga - to check its Thursday market. To our surprise, we woke up already in Latacunga, having passed Saquisili in deep sleep. Because it was still very early we had plenty of time to make it back to the market town, so we left our bag at the same hotel and took a bus back to the market town. Twenty minutes later we arrived at Saquisili and another five minutes later reached the spectacular animal market, where Atuk had a lot of chances to check and sniff many more animals, we could take some photos of all the colourful action around us, and the locals could have some laughs at our puppy's clumsy interactions with all the animals. Since it was an animal market, the amount of offers we got for Atuk rose manifold, with one guy actually getting out a wallet in an attempt to buy Atuk from us for the same money we got him. And one sales woman repeated at least a hundred times that we should give her Atuk as a gift "because we could get ourselves another dog, and she could never get a puppy like ours". Saturated with experiences and sun, a couple of hours later we left for Latacunga.

Latacunga:

Since on Saturday Latacunga would host a yearly local festival "Mama Negra" which takes its origin in ritualistic attempts by indigenous people to pacify the fire-breathing Cotopaxi, we decided to wait an extra day to catch this event and used it to try to get a close-up view of one of Ecuador's most impressive volcanoes (the one they try to pacify). And while we didn't succeed in getting a closer look at Cotopaxi as by the time we arrived at the crossing with all the taxi drivers who'd gladly take us to the National park the clouds only got thicker, we did have an interesting walk around the nearby village where Atuk befriended a curious llama (the video of their mutual sniffing and llama's kicking is in the previous post).

Cotopaxi - view from our hotel:

To be continued...

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