After a couple of weekends in Baños, we decided to just get out and do something. luckily, the offer came up of a lift with our boss to lake quilatoa; a volcanic crater-lake 4 hours drive away, and a further 2000 metres up.
in true road trip fashion, we were delayed in getting away. even with Scott Skinner hundreds of miles away, his influence still reigns.
We took the scenic route. Two of us, Our bosses, Wouter and Mayra, their daughter Karlijn (dutch name), Our friend and colleague Christina, and her two exceptionally cute wee daughters.
The scenic route was a bumpy excuse for a road, but took us through some very remote countryside, with a stop-off at a great hideaway restaurant.
The farmland around the rio pastaza is up near vertical inclines, with the campesinos (country people) intent on utilising every square inch of this rich volcanic pastureland. With poverty so rife in this country, it´s quite understandable.
The roads here are pretty dangerous. nobody really uses their headlights...cannot understand why...too feminine for the macho men? At any rate, it makes driving interesting tosay the least. Did you know that people here BUY their licenses from corrupt policemen (just about every one of them) and this even includes BUS DRIVERS!!I wish i hadn´t found that out.
The other big danger is dogs. They are everywhere, and the sides of the major highways are littered with their corpses. Unfortunately, we added another one...two dogs playing in catch-me-if-you-can, and one of them one by default as the other mangled its way through our undercarriage with a bump, a few whimpers from the passengers and a dead silence for a while after.
The car, although a flashy 4-wheel drive on the outside, is an austin allegro on the inside, and proved this several times on the steep ascent. At one point, in pitch darkeness, the car failed utterly. We were in the process of resigning ourselves to a very cold night in the car, when it sputtered to life again, bump started in reverse.
We finally limped in to the tiny highland outpost of quilatoa late at night, and found an incomensurately warm welcome from the indigenous householders. Tbey whipped up some very tasty grub in the blink of an eye, and then got back to their dancing. The place was warmed by fireplaces and stoves, and had a homely atmosphere. Watching the families dancing together after a hard days slog in the fields was a welcome treat.
We settled down under the mountain of blankets they provided, and slept deeply. The altitude quickening our heartbeats, but fighting a losing battle against our desire to rest.
The next morning was a gloriously sunny and incredibly cold day. The village looked like a barren wasteland, but closer inspection revealed a more colourful side. Invested with smiling people, and furnished with a three-piece brass band trumping away at the end of the road, i decided i liked this place very much.
10 minutes later, after haggling for llama wool hats to keep out the cold, we peered over the edge of the crater. Breathtaking.
It took about 30mins to descend to the lake, scrambling down sandbanks marked dishearteningly with the skull and crossbones. We all rented a boat to paddle out onto the lake, and were the only people out there. The lake is sulphuric in its makeup, and hence, deviod of plant and amimal life. The wind at the top is furious, and hustles the puffy nimbus clouds quickly over the crater. the result is an ever changing play of light on the waters surface, which makes the whole thing glow a phosporescent green, and sparkle sublimely at the edges. The contrast with the milk-white sands is incredibly photogenic.
The boat was knackered, though, and we took on a lot of water. The laughter soon turned to mumbles and we silenced ourselves with the effort of getting back in one piece. Soaking and squabbling, we beached once more to be greeted by our canine companion, who had shown us the way down, and raced aliong the shoreline to keep track of us (he had even swam alongside us for a while!). Beside his wagging tongue, waited hordes of local indigenous boys, asking for candy or just staring.
The walk back up was hard. Very steeo and burning sun to boot. While we hacked our way back up the near vertical terrain, old inca women trotted past us in their brightly coloured garb, ushering their herds of sheep onwards and knitting simultaneously. They knew they were shaming us utterly, but we were too breathless to complain.
the route home took us through zumbuahah, which was in the process of celebrating its existence with boxes of cheap local brew, raucous dancing and wearing two hats. Dont ask.
It was a great affair to witness, except for the two tourists, towering overe the locals and staggering about with stupid smiles, trying to dance with the local girls (very shy up here) and even getting on stage to try and wrest the microphone from the singer. Bad show guys.
I never slept so well in my life, than when we arrived back to Baños late that night, although my foot kept tapping that folklorica rythmn long after i was out.