Last week, I spent three days walking up and down the central highlands of Ecuador with my newfound Austrian pal, Kristina. We had met in Quito and decided to hike the Quilotoa loop, on a route that takes you from village to village via canyons and valleys, before ending at the Quilotoa volcano crater. And although it doesn’t look like we walked many kilometres, most of it was at least 400m down and uphill every day. It was basically the hardest walk I’ve ever done.

Day 1: Sigchos to Isinlivi – 14km

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Hiyaaaaaaaa

We arrived in Sigchos to find everything closed, apart from one place selling lunch and another place selling pots and pans. So after lunch, off we started, with our cryptic instructions. “It’s like a Schnitzeljagd”, said Kristina – literally, Hunt the Schnitzel in German – but I think she meant a treasure hunt really.

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Instrcutions, apparently

Treasure hunts are, of course, all well and good until you start playing games on the way and take the wrong path and lose half an hour. But the walk was pretty and we got back on the right path again (although at times we weren’t sure at all where we were). After asking two little Ecuadorian ladies which direction to take, we made it to the last paragraph of instructions. Turns out this meant walking up the steepest hill EVER – l actually thought we might never make it. Kristina was making up the hill really well, so it was quite a relief when she turned round and said “I’m dying”.

And then came the dog, half way up, barking and snarling at us, protecting his farm presumably. He was pretty angry with us for walking past, so we legged it past him, at which point I really did think I might have a heart attack. Thank god the top was mere minutes away, and we made it to Isinlivi in under 4 hours, like we were meant to.

Day 2: Isinlivi to Chugchilán – 12km
We left the lovely Llullu Llama hostel in Isinlivi in the morning to trek to Chugchilán. The weather was gorgeous but super hot, and the views were stunning. This time we had extra instructions from the hostel WITH PICTURES, which were amazingly helpful. Again, though, there were lots of angry dogs along the way. I was figuring out how to best make my way down a rocky crevice when I heard one barking at us and pretty much threw myself down it. “Good motivation!” said Kristina….

These dogs were really beginning to terrify me now – every time a farm came up, you could guarantee that they would start barking and race down the hill at you, snarling, and they all looked like they fancied attacking us (hooray for barbed wire fences!). We remained calm though and ignored them, walked past and carried on. To be honest, we didn’t really have another option.

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Helpful signage

We also accidentally walked over this suspension bridge, which was reminiscent of the bridge at the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but without crocodiles. There were sad faces all round when we realised we had to go back over all the gaps in it again.

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Not up to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's health and safety standards

There was another steep climb up to the top of the valley at the end of the walk. When you look up, you really can’t conceive how you’ll ever get up there. Then the thunder started, and before long, lightening. As we sat with our jam sandwiches, putting our waterproofs on, two Ecuadorian ladies came up the very steep hill after us, not breaking a sweat. Awkward.
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We marched on to Chugchilán and made it there in 5 hours – BOOM. Beer o’clock.

Day 3: Chugchilán to Quilotoa – 11km

By the final day, I had got so freaked out by the dogs and tales of scary dogs in the hostel, that we decided we’d get a bus to Quilotoa, hike round the volcano crater, and go back to Latacunga in the afternoon. Unfortunately there was no bus for us to take, and the weather was lovely, so again we had no option but to carry on walking!

We promptly got lost and some farmers ending up pointing us in the right direction. We were glad to see signs to Quilotoa at the bottom of the Rio Toachi canyon, and hiked up 400m to Guayama, at the edge of which the picture below was taken.

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Yeah, we have to walk up to the top of that

The crater god must have been on our side that day, because we didn’t see any scary dogs at all. Woooooo! The relief was palpable. So on we plodded, to the top of the crater, in 4 hours – amazing! By end of the walk that day we had climbed 1000m and were very pleased with ourselves.

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Bist du deppart, das war ja voll der Hammer!

By the time we’d taken all our pictures, walked round the rim of the crater and got to Quilotoa village, a bus was there ready to take us back to Latacunga. We celebrated our triumphant walk with beer, pizza and lasagne. I hope the Inca trail isn’t this hard…..

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