We had a week of ups and downs, not the “yay” and “wah” kind but the literal kind that makes for a cheesy intro for a blog about climbing and hiking.
Our final full day in Baños was clear blue and sunny so we decided to take advantage of it and head climbing again. As it goes, being outdoors on a nice day isn’t revolutionary thinking and almost a dozen other climbers were out including the duo we had gawked at the day before (turns out they’re guides). As I mentioned last week, there weren’t a lot of (mucho, as they like to say down here) climbs within our comfort zone. Of course all those climbs were occupied by a guided group while the other guides were continuing to show off on the inhuman routes. This left us sitting on our thumbs eyeing two new routes which we learned through broken Spanglish with one of the friendlier guides was two grades harder than anything either of us had climbed outdoors before. Something along the lines of “El principio es facil, y entonces el final es mas duro” as he grimaced and gestured at the last two bolts. Facil…easy….let’s do it. And so the route got the old college try, and reciprocated with the old college beat down. We learned duro means hard, and is synonymous with bailing repeatedly and some severely mangled limbs. Made it within a body length of the top but it wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully our new friend offered to finish the route for us and recover our gear. We belayed another guide on this route after and in return they offered to belay us and coach us through some routes they already had ropes on.
Tired, sore, and stoked we made our way to Latacunga. A nice Andean town that doesn’t offer much in the way of gringo attractions other than to act as a home base for others like us with plans to hike the Quilotoa Loop. Our day of hike prep got a shot of entertainment when we learned that we were in town for the biggest party that Latacunga has to offer, the Mama Negra festival. I’m a little dusty on the facts but I think it celebrates the liberation of slaves from the Spanish, although you would never guess it. The festivities involve a portly man on a horse dressed in drag (Mama Negra) who sprays people with liquor, an endless parade of local families dancing around homemade pig “floats”, and more bottles of booze being passed around than a Rob Ford campaign party. Too soon? Didn’t think so.
Glad we experienced Mama Negra and equally glad it was only the one day as we needed a sober bus driver to get us up the wild mountain road to the village where we’d start our 3 day hike. The Quilotoa Loop is billed as a hike through the Andean highlands between remote villages, finishing at a massive crater lake. They failed to mention these villages are all on opposite sides of a valley, so each day starts with a descent down to a river and ends with a gruelling slog up steep, loose terrain. Most of those who hike it stay at small hostels in the villages and we were told camping wasn’t really an option but our sponsors didn’t let us pay full price for their gear for nothing, so haul it along and camp we did. We managed to find patches of non private land each night a little ways out of each village. High on a hill looking across the valley one night outside of Insinlivi, and near valley bottom at a rest area just past Chugchilán the next.
The final day had us wondering whether we should have just hitched a ride straight to the crater, got our selfie and then made up stories about how amazing hiking through indigenous communities was. Up and then more up, over 1000m of vert gained with our big packs and feeling the effects of some under cooked beans from the night before. Who buys raw beans to cook on a camping stove you ask? Idiots. Idiots who couldn’t believe how cheap raw black beans in Ecuador are. Saved a bunch of cents, but we paid the price.
Up next, we are off to the city of Cuenca, Ecuador’s 3rd largest, where we are going to do a week of Spanish lessons. As long as we learn how to ask where one of us can get a straight shave it’ll be well worth it.
Bonus Feature: We found Jerry tearing it up in Baños. Just moments later he sent a double backflip off a taxi