My overnight bus to from Cuenca to Latacunga was a bit stressful. The guy didn't call out the stop and I missed it. He dropped me off at a turnoff on the Pan American highway and drove off. Just the kind of thing you want to deal with at 6am. I saw a bus about to drive off in the opposite direction and ran for it as best I could with my big backpack. Disaster averted. I arrived in Latacunga about an hour later and somehow talked the cleaner at a nearby hotel into holding my backpack for a few days. I booked it to the bus station and found a bus to a small town called Zumbahua where I hitchhiked (sorry, mom) 15km to the beautiful crater lake Quilotoa. I hiked around it for about an hour and then headed off on the 5 hour hike to the town of Chugchillan, sans guide.
What to say about my little expedition. The route is supposed to be marked by blue arrows but I didn't ever see a single one. I took a wrong turning but found a local woman who pointed out where I could descend down into the canyon. I was halfway down when the trail got really narrow and treacherous. I scrabbled my way down and started heading up the closest hill. I remember thinking this is much too hard to be the real trail because I basically had to rock climb up the hill grabbing onto any brush to keep myself steady on the crumbling earth. I barely made it up to the top only to realize that the small town I'd seen was on the hill behind the one I'd climbed! Luckily the way down wasn't as difficult and I pretty much just slid down on my butt. I made it up the next hill only to run into a horseback riding traveler with a guide who informed me that Chugchillin was another two hours across the valley. I headed back down into the valley and across the river until I came to a well trodden path. Nope wrong path yet again. I had started at noon and by now the sun was beginning to set. I kept walking and finally looked around and realized that I was hopelessly lost and should probably find a cave or something to bunker down for the night.
I'd sworn not to climb any more hills unless I was sure it was the route to Chugchillian but I was at a loss for options. There was a path ahead of me that for the first time didn't peter out after a few hundred meters. I met a young girl on the trail who confirmed that I was actually going the right way. The farther I went the more locals I met which gave me confidence. The last 20 minutes was almost straight up hill but I was so elated I hardly felt it. I made it to the town at 7pm. I took a beautifully hot shower and changed out of all my filthy trekking clothes before heading to the dining room for a communal dinner. I was so tired I could barely eat. I made some small talk with two couples at my table and went directly to bed.
The only buses out of Chugchillan are at 3am or 4am so I had to get up ridiculously early. I slept most of the was to Latacunga and then caught two buses back down south to Banos. I had a wonderful breakfast in a gringo restaurant before renting a bike to ride down a big waterfall about 20km away. Am I a masochist or what? I'd been in Banos back in February and hadn't done anything there because the weather was so bad. The weather wasn't great but I knew that the rain usually holds for a few hours between noon and 3pm so I had to get going. The scenery was beautiful and there were some smaller waterfalls along the way. At two of the waterfalls you can take a small cage thing across the river. I didn't think much of it but it was so scary being that high up in and open metal cage. I made it down to the waterfall called Diablo del Pavilon which required a short hike on my already tired legs. It was worth it though and when I got back up the trail it immediately started to rain. I found a truck to whisk me back up the road to Banos and made my way to an Israeli den. Much more intimidating than I'd thought it would be. But it was cheap and the room had a TV which were my only requirements. I dumped my backpack and headed straight over to the thermal hot springs for which the town is famous. It was just what my body needed and I stayed in there long after my tolerance level allowed.
Up early, yet again to head back up to Latacunga to make a connection to Saquisili to see the authentic indigenous Thursday market. It was a pretty haphazard scene with people everywhere selling just about everything under the sun. Instead of heading back to Latacunga I decided to keep going north to Quito about an hour and half away. My stomach has been pretty off since I've been in Ecuador and I was jonesing for a chicken Caesar salad at a place I knew in the new town. I did some final due diligence on a possible Galapagos trip and was happy with my decision to skip it. I want to do a diving expedition there but its really expensive and because it's low season they don't go to two of the best sites, Wolf and Darwin. So back in the bus and back to Latacunga where I picked up my bag and caught another 2 hour bus for a ride down to Riobamba. I arrived late but the bus thankfully dropped me right downtown, right in front of my hotel.
My new alarm clock failed me and i only woke up at 5am by sheer dumb luck. I headed off to the nearby train station to catch the gringo train to Alausi and then down the Devil's nose. The ride went by surprisingly fast. Everyone sits on top of the train car and intermittently throws candy to kids while watching the scenery. I almost beaned two kids with some well lobbed lollipops but they didn't seem to mind. Scenery was gorgeous and sitting on top of the train was really fun waiting for the train to derail as it purportedly so often does. When we arrived back kin Alausi I ran off the train and just barely caught my first of 3 buses north to Otovalo. A grueling trip but the big market is on Saturday. I barely had 5 minutes between each bus and made it to Otovalo by 10pm but shockingly, everything was closed. I walked around in circles until I finally found a hotel that was open. I was so tired but somehow couldn't fall asleep probably because of the visions I kept having the cockroach I'm sure I saw scurrying across the ceiling over my bed.
Another early wake-up, surprise, surprise. I wanted to check out the animal market which was pretty crazy. I'm not sure PETA would approve. I hit the handicraft market and picked up some carpets for Winks and a few gift items for me, me, me! Well I'm done with Ecuador. Where to next? Well, I was planning on arriving in Columbia tomorrow but my quick check on the Canadian government travel warning website has made for a change of plans. Tomorrow is election day in Columbia and they advise against all bus travel in the country. My entry point in the south of Columbia is a bit dangerous as it is so I've had to backtrack, yet again, to backpacker friendly Quito. I'm back in the same hostel I stayed in back in February where tonight is, as usual, shaping up to be a big party. It's been a crazy week and tomorrow is my day to sleep and do a whole lot of nothing. I can't wait!