Ecuador

Quilotoa Loop (2-10-18)

Day One:

Starting from Latacunga we took a two hour bus ride to Sigchos. We stepped off the bus with 15 other tourists and asked the first person we saw for directions to the trail head. During our day of hiking we passed through farms, enjoyed spectaculars views of Toachi Canyon, and conversed with a 35 year old Swiss guy. We took breaks to chow on a pre packed lunch, rest in the shade, and to snap pictures. The Swiss guy, Samuel, explained that he was an engineer in a Toblerone chocolate factory. Crazy thing is we had met Samuel in Banos, Ecuador at a hostel and discussed a few treks that we both planned on doing.

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Toachi Canyon

We arrived in Insilvi and on our way to the hostel I tripped and landed on my camera shattering the screen. I was crushed but thankful I hadn’t split my chin. Our hostel was fully booked and Samuel didn’t have a reservation so we said our goodbyes knowing we would see him on the trail the next day.

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Hostel Llullu Llama is one for the books. An old farm house turned to cozy mountain home. With wood furnishings, comfy couches, fire places, and a view of Toachi Canyon, we were happy we planned ahead. We sipped cold beer, snuggled their massive Saint Bernard Baloo, and had a delicious family dinner with all the other hikers. We decided this is the cush life of backpacking. Who gets a hot shower, comfy bed, and a delicious 3 course meal while in the back country. It was pretty awesome.

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Baloo

Day Two:

We knew the hike ahead of us was only 4 hours so we had a slow morning sipping coffee and munching on what seemed to be an endless breakfast. With a kiss goodbye to Baloo we were back on the trail. Winding through farms, and up and down the canyon, we talked about how crazy the farmers are with their sheer cliff plantations and whether or not we could withstand the living conditions of some of the homes we passed.

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We encountered kind herders that gladly allowed us to take pictures of their adorable goats and sheep. After a steep climb we were greeted by a eight month old, her mom, and grandma. The trio was full of love, kindness, and smiles.

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Shortly after saying goodbye, we arrived at our next hostel. We spent the night getting to know six wonderful people. Kara and Vincent from Indiana, Stephen and Connie from England, and Nicole and Corinne from Switzerland.

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Side note: when we arrived in Chugchilan we searched for a store selling our favorite snack, habas (a cooked bean that is a salty crunchy snack). The first store we walked into was owned by a friendly woman named Narcisa. Shocked that we spoke Spanish she asked if we would be willing to help her with a few business ideas. Narcisa’s dream is to open a hostel and is unsure what tourists look for in a place to stay. We spent an hour touring her house, answering questions, and coming up with ideas. We exchanged numbers and told her if she ever had any questions she could always call or text us. The next day we stopped by her shop, gave her a big hug, and wished her luck.

Day Three:

The following day we woke up early, ate breakfast and got on the trail with our new friends. First, we got a little lost and a three or four year old girl came to our rescue to show us the way. Shortly after we met a pack of school kids who wanted their picture taken. Instead, Taylor gave his camera to the eldest of them, and he snapped pictures of everyone else.

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After the last portion of our ascent (or so we thought) we arrived at Quilotoa Lake. A beautiful lake caused by a volcanic eruption 800 years ago, causing a massive crater. It’s a small scale Crater Lake and absolutely breath taking.

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We oooed and aahed then took the first trail we saw to get to the small town of Quilotoa. What we didn’t realize is this trail is not the “normal” path. It’s a single track trail on a cliff side. With loose rocks and tired legs, one step misplaced and you’d be long gone. Senses heightened and adrenaline pumping, I felt like my toes were claws, trying to grip for my life. Scurrying over boulders and gripping to anything I could get my hands on was the most stressed I’ve been on this entire trip.

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When we finally reached the top of the ridge where the “normal” path was I think all eight of us sighed with relief…safety at last. Just a quick fifteen minute walk from there and we were at our final destination.

Day Four:

Taylor and I decided it was necessary to feel the water that shined bright blue in all the pictures we had taken. We took a path down to the water, touched it with a toe, and I turned to Taylor and said jumping in was a must.

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With a little hesitancy at first we stripped down and plunged ourselves into the ice cold water. We were unprepared for how cold the water was going to be. We sprawled like lizards looking for the warmest spot in the sun. The view from the shoreline was stunning. Steep peaks surrounding the turquoise and indigo lake.

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What a feeling, with nature like this it rejuvenates you, gives you energy, you feel gratitude for life, thankful that there are places like this, places to encourage you to explore more. What a hike and what a place to end.

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Tungurahua- What a Hike (2-6-18)

When you wake up and its dumping rain, your first thought isn’t lets go on an overnight backpacking trip. Only problem was, after a month on the beach, we were eager for a backpacking trip and weren’t going to be turned away easily. So we packed up our bags, threw on every piece of rain gear we had (garbage bag ponchos included) and walked towards the taxi take off point.

Baños sits right at the base of Tungurahua. On a clear day, the volcano stands tall and proud, rising into the sky. Unfortunately, the clouds decided this would be the week they hung right over Baños. Being the overly optimistic American I am, I figured it might clear up and we’d have an epic view at the top. Intelligently, Alaina had doubts at the beginning. Especially when we arrived at the Bus station and the off road vehicle wielding taxi driver incredulously looked at us like you want to go up there?

Ignoring any lingering common sense we hopped in the truck while the driver shook his head. The drive up to the first ‘refugio’ was flooded and steep. From smooth pavement to rocky paths we made our way up until the refugio came into view through a wall of rain. Running into the reserve we were met by a ranger who immediately demanded our attention for an introduction to the park.

With professional grace the guide launched into a rapid set of warnings, advice and occasional tangents while we made our final preparations. He gave us the option of paying immediately or when we got back for staying in the second refugio higher on the mountain… we opted for paying later just in case we didn’t make it.

The scenery was beautiful when we started. 40mph winds, heavy cloud cover, and a river running down the trail were some of the first sights. This was of course after we walked around for a little bit trying to find the path, afraid that the small river was the only way up. The trail is understandably susceptive to flooding because its at a 45 degree angle running between pastures, making it the perfect waterway.

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Alaina hiking up through one of the many tunnels.

Dirt walls rose up on either side of us forming tunnels at different points. We sidestepped ankle to knee deep mud on parts of the trail, basically crawling. I finally began to doubt my faith in the clouds clearing at the top.

Eventually, we had to question whether it was a good idea. Is it worth it to hike 6 hours in the rain? Of course not

Tungurahua’s peak lies at 16,479ft. Luckily we were only going to the Refugio at 12,600. For our unacclimated bodies, it was getting hard. Sometimes you just gotta push through. Luckily, as we neared the refugio, the rain let up and we could even glimpse the valley floor momentarily. It was just enough to get our hopes up and make us realize how incredibly beautiful it would be on a clear day (mental note to come back).

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Isn’t it just stunning!

Our luck continued to improve as we finally arrive at the refugio. Right as we got inside, the rain started dumbing buckets. Hanging up clothes, making coca tea (for elevation), and generally trying to stay warm constituted our evening until another adventurous pair of hikers arrived. Although the hike was slightly miserable, meeting two avid hikers from Quito made it all worth it.

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View from inside the refugio.

Playing card games, making hot soup, and learning about our drastically different cultures rejuvenated our spirits. Listening to the rain hit the roof knowing we were warm and dry, in the company of newfound friends will simply make you grateful.

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Switch it up. Set the tent up inside.

Waking up early and practically running down the mountain brought us back to the ranger station in under an hour. Soaked, sweating, with blood pumping from the exertion, we stepped onto the dirt road. Of course, we started walking and found ourselves traversing overflowing roads and muddy waterfalls cascading over embankments. At this point the rain hadn’t stopped for 16hrs and we were loving it. Embracing the rain filled boots we walked down the mountain until we hopped in the back of a farmers truck heading to Baños.

In the cold open air of the truck bed, I know that there was no other place I’d rather be than speeding down the flooded streets into Baños, Ecuador.

A Word on Surfing in Ayampe (1-22-18)

The Ayampe surf life is simple. Eat, breathe, and ride waves. Most of the population has moved there in order to have consistent access to the warm, turquoise beach break. The small town public conversation usually revolves around the swell that’s supposed to be coming within the next few days or how damn good it was yesterday.

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Every sunset was a different color in Ayampe.

The surf culture in the states usually has a stigma of being “broey“. This is not the case in Ayampe. Acceptance is as warm as the water. “Que tal” and thumbs up is what you see most in the lineup. Drop in on someone’s wave and they may get upset but they won’t be screaming or beating on you (I’ve heard horror stories in California). Take off on the biggest wave of the set and you’ll hear hoots and hollers of joy as you fly down the line. It also helps that the beach is over a mile long with breaks all along it. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

As with any other beach break, the shape, consistency, and size of waves varies. From low tide to high tide, there’s anything from barrels to sloping wide open faces. I quickly had to get in good surfing shape, because battling against seemingly never ending white water requires endurance. The reward of catching a wave after using your last ounce of strength is worth it.

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Surfing is notorious for its highly devoted clientele. A question I often hear from non-surfers is “why is it so addicting?”. I think the answer is simple; reward. Anyone who has tried to learn to surf understands how difficult the sport is. When you finally stand up on a wave, or learn the turn you’ve been attempting for weeks, exaltation abounds. Once that feeling courses through your veins, all you want is more. It sounds like a drug because it can become one. For this reason, you’ll find locals who have carved out a life in Ayampe in order to paddle out every day they can.

The unique combination of good waves and severe lack of tourism surprised me. The stretch of beach over a mile long only had a few people on it the first week we arrived. Obviously, as the holiday season kicked in, the crowds increased, but nothing compared to the popular town of Montañita just to the south. Ayampe served as a quiet haven, secluded from the usual rush of tourists during the holiday season.

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The Ayampe lifestyle.

The culture and beauty of Ayampe cannot be understated. From the incredible sunsets, to welcoming community, it is a wonderful place.  With a wide open beach that catches any swell, the waves are ever-present. It’s an underrated surfers paradise tucked into the coast of Ecuador that I won’t forget.

Ayampe- A Small Beach Town in the District of JipiJapa (1-3-18)

A tiny ocean-front town with some of the best waves in Ecuador. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon after three full days of travel from Colombia. In the last hour of the bus ride our bodies were tingling with excitement. Excitement to see where we would be spending the next month but mostly to be free from confined spaces. I couldn’t wait to see the beach where I could run like a free animal.

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We had done little to no research about Ayampe. Just heard it was nice and google searched a few images. We were in for a surprise. This town and the apartment beat all of our expectations. The apartment is on the third story of a beach front long-term hostel. It’s bright, airy, and the breeze we get every afternoon is divine. All the front facing windows overlook the ocean. It’s small but functional and a perfect place to unpack for awhile.

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The town is similar to our apartment, small but functional. There are two very small stores, one being the size of a walk in closet; a few restaurants that offer local to international cuisine; and  various places to stay. The dirt roads are lined with colorful homes, friendly faces, and baby chicks.

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Every morning we wake up to the local vendors shouting “camarones, dorado, aguacate, coco!” Shrimp, fish, avocados, and coconut. Fernando, our friend, drives a red truck filled with crates of fresh fruits and veggies. Almost everyday, we chase him down to get the freshest ingredients for our home cooked meals. Every Wednesday and Sundaywe buy warm bread, not just any bread, amazing, gooey, and flavorful bread made by Juan and Mou from Argentina. Our two favorites are their garlic bread and cheesy tomato filled delicacy (its essentially a pizza without sauce).

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We are living a pretty rough life here; wake up, run or surf, yoga, cook, read or nap, surf again or walk the beach, watch the incredible sunsets from our balcony, and in bed by 9pm.

Ayampe Apartment
Beachy apartment

From Christmas to New Years the town filled up with tourists from Quito and Guayaquil. Now its back to sleepy Ayampe, never more than 15 people on the beach at a time. It’s a paradise.

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Last Sunset of 2017