Jorge picked us up promptly at 845 and we set out to pick up our guides and make the 2.5 hour drive to Laguna Quilotoa. Basically, the volcano collapsed 800 hundred years ago, leaving a deep crater now filled with a beautiful lake.
The drive passed through some colourful pastoral countryside alongside the Andes, with evidence of the local Kichwa people farming the land right up the hillsides. The area is relatively cold as the elevation is above 3000 metres. The Kichwa people wear red ponchos and felt fedoras, and the women wear skirts. Their main non-farming industry is textiles. Here and Otavalo are the main Indigenous textile areas.
We explored a shop of a painter, who expects to spend over six months on his current painting, which seemed detailed and very much folk art. There were also masks and drums. We are likely to have some sort of Ecuadorian instrument in our hand luggage.
Nearby Cotopaxi is an active volcano and is one of the most popular destinations in Ecuador but is above the 4700 metre snow line and requires acclimatization and real mountain gear for the climb. It has thrice lead to the destruction and rebuilding of the large Latacunga town in the nearby valley.
Next stop was the Quilotoa hike. It was cold and windy at the top parking area at 3900 metres, so we decided to buy alpaca llama sweaters for the boys to avoid shivering and whining on the descent. After we survived the ascent, Aubrey and Koren went back to explore the artisan area more fully and the surrounding shops and completed the family sweater set.
It was hard to stop taking pictures and actually start the 1.7 km descent, as the lake-filled crater is beautiful. The shoreline water is bright green from local minerals and then quickly darkens to the depths. Given the extremely steep path, it is not surprising locals believe the Laguna is bottomless. Geologists more specifically believe it is 250 metres deep, which is pretty much the same.
We slid and resisted falling down the sandy path to our lunch spot still a bit above the lake surface. It took about thirty minutes and was surprisingly only 300 metres down. We watched as many people huffed and puffed their way back up, or sat calmly on horses to ascend.
After a cheese empanada lunch, we began the ascent. Our guides thought it would take us 1.5 to 2 hours to get back to the top. The hike is extremely steep and tough footing in the sand of the path, so the prediction seemed about right. And in our defense, the elevation still makes breathing difficult with any exertion. As such, we plodded forward slow and steady. At times it was truly difficult to get one foot in front of the other. Erez, Zev, and Aubrey led the way, taking short breaks every four minutes or so to settle heart rates and rest legs. And shed clothing, all of which ended up in the pack Aubrey was carrying. We were only passed by one little girl and an old local man. Zev admittedly nearly collapsed twice, but we made it to the top in 47 minutes. Koren, Noam, and Teva took 100 steps between breaks and still only took 80 minutes to the top, perhaps spurred on by the dog following Noam most of the way up.
The drive home was uneventful but long. We arrived after dark and so dove into our leftover spaghetti. Our laundry was dry and so led to an important argument amongst two boys about socks. It seems everyone has had enough of long drives, so tomorrow we plan on spending the day doing more driving, getting on and off a tour bus of Quito…