Life's Natural High - The Quilitoa Loop
The longest bus ride we have taken so far was an overnight bus from Colombia to Ecuador. First we took a bus from Salento, Colombia to Pereira, Colombia, and from there we took an overnight bus to Ipiales, Colombia. Then we took a taxi to get to the border, walked across the border from Colombia to Ecuador, and then took another bus from Rumichaca, Ecuador, to Quito, Ecuador. We left Salento, Colombia on December 23rd at 7:00 PM, and arrived in Quito, Ecuador about 24 hours later around 8:00 PM on December 24th.
After this long treacherous ride, every single muscle and joint ached. We were dying for a shower and some real food. Although we were tired, the last thing we wanted to do was sit or rest more... but at the same time, we had no energy to do anything else. I had been experiencing some fevers and chills on the bus, but thought it was maybe due to the poor air quality control on the bus. Sadly, I spent the next few days in our hotel room in Quito recovering from a nasty flu! I did feel some warning symptoms in Salento before we left, so I don't think I got sick from the bus ride, although that probably should have been a big hint not to embark on such a crazy journey! Was it Dengue, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, or just a nasty run-of-the-mill virus? All I know, is that being sick sucks, especially when travelling.
Four days later, feeling slightly better, we actually got to see some of Quito! It's amazing how much appreciation you can have for what you can do in a day, when you are feeling well! We enjoyed walking around the Old Town, people watching at the local parks, and surprise surprise, we found a volcano to hike! We visited the "equator" which was a bit of a sham, as the tourist monument is actually a few hundred meters from the actual equator...but in any case, we were both excited to be the farthest south either of us had ever travelled!
After a few days in the city, we were ready to head into the mountains. We decided on the Quilitoa Loop, which is a fairly well-known multi-day hike not far from Quito. We hopped on a bus and within a few hours, we were in the mountains...and the air was thin.
The first day we hiked from Sigchos to Isinlivi. We were rewarded our first night with a hostel with a beautiful view, tons of windows and natural light, a yoga studio, and deliciously warm showers. We had a family-style meal that night with the other guests, and got to swap travel stories. The next day we hiked from Isinlivi to Chugchilan. By the end of day 2, I was struggling. As luck would have it, after the flu came altitude sickness! Wahoo! This was a whole other beast of light-headedness, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath. My brother Jamie and I had been to Peru before and had experienced altitude, but at that time we both took an altitude sickness medication (Acetazolamide), so we had no troubles at all. This was the first time I really felt out of my element. Devon felt slightly short of breath as well, but lucky for him he didn't get hit nearly as hard. Altitude sickness feels like you’ve suddenly gained 40 years - it hurts to breathe. My head was pounding, I felt my heart racing, I was winded with the slightest exertion, and I all over just felt exhausted. I was beyond relieved to finally reach our hotel that evening! Our accommodation was a really unique and special eco-lodge the second night. There is nothing better than a hot tub after a day of hiking, especially when it is outdoors and you can watch the stars! We enjoyed the fire-fueled hot tub and sauna after dinner, and then read by the woodburning stove in our room. I actually wish we could have stayed longer to enjoy the yoga and reading rooms, and old fashioned games like horseshoes and darts. With no wifi or cell phone service, it was like the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature's beauty.
Devon continued on the third day but I decided to take the bus, as I wasn’t feeling well enough to face the uphilll terrain. We met at the hotel in Quilitoa that night. The view of the crater lake (which was conveniently right across from our hotel!) was really impressive.
Other than the altitude sickness, the Quilitoa Loop was beautiful and quite enjoyable! We used a GPS app (Wiki Loc) for the trail which was super helpful, as the trail was not at all well marked. Parts of the trail were on the road, parts of it we were literally walking through someone's backyard...there were a million little turn offs that were not very obvious - I am actually really impressed by hikers who did the trail just with a paper map/instructions rather than any help from a GPS! The locals seemed to be quite used to lost hikers, so every once in a while they would call out and send us in the right direction as well.
After being in the big metropolitan city of Quito, it was refreshing to see the countryside and hike through the mountains. Weed may be legal in Canada now, but we found a natural high hiking the Quilitoa Loop.