By Jared Johnsen
Part of the thrill of traveling is getting there. You could, for example, take a train to Aguas Calientes, and reach the legendary Machu Picchu without any real physical effort. This is not, however, what many of the citadel’s half million visitors do every year. Up 1,500 people a day during the peak season, are scaling the 500 year-old Inca Trail to reach it afoot. At the end of several days of trekking and visits to many smaller Incan ruins along the way, the hikers finally take in the majestic ruin at the top, where they are joined by the thousands of others who have reached the same place by train and bus. Therein, lies the ethos of why you should trouble yourself with the Quilotoa loop in Ecuador. What I mean to say is: if you took a bus directly to Quilotoa, you’d miss most of the adventure. Good thing there is no such bus. You’ll have to connect between a few local buses and maybe even spend the night in a small town to make it there. Unlike Machu Picchu, the adventure in this one is not optional, but inevitable.
|View of Lake Quilotoa|
But, as I have said, this is only half the thrill. You’ve got to get there first. Coming from Quito, you will begin your journey headed south on the Pan-American Highway until you reach Latacunga. This is where you will get off and take your bus toward Quilotoa. The problem (catalyst for adventure) is that you will not make it all the way to Quilotoa or Chugchilin, a popular destination 10 miles away from it, if you are not in Latacunga before 11:30 a.m. to catch the only bus. So, if you really just want to see the lake and rush out the next day, leave Quito early. If, on the other hand, you want a closer look at Andean life in some of the remote villages on the way, I have a couple of suggestions.
|Map of How to Get There|
Continuing the loop from Saquisila, you can probably only get as far as Sigchos once it is afternoon. While this town possesses little in terms of tourist attractions, it does have a few accommodations. People in the town will offer you a place to stay upon seeing you. I stayed in a room above the town butcher’s storefront, and even that was quite clean and comfortable. In the evening it will not be a problem to find a local restaurant cooking up some decent stew or chicken. If you try to speak to them in Spanish, you’ll find these people as curious about you as you are about them.
If you are on the main street by 8 a.m. the next morning, your transport to Chugchilin will be waiting for you, along with a few others and several barrels of milk. You’ve got it. The milk truck is my recommended mode of transport for two reasons. One, you stand in the open air truck-bed holding onto wooden shafts as the milk truck shoots through the mountain valley, giving you a ride like the mountain flanked roller coaster ride you never had. And two, you see all the locals rush out of their humble mountain homes to exchange the yields of their cattle for some whey carried on the truck (the whey is to feed to their pigs). It was like getting the chance to meet the community on a mountain ride. I found it a truly euphoric way to begin my day.
|A view from The Black Sheep Inn|