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Date: 18 Feb 2011 18:19:00
Title: Chuchilan and the quilotoa loop - Week 3

Monday (THE WALK)
Despite being at Mama Hillda's for only a day and night we really have made friends with the very child friendly equadorian owner and the merry band of Brits staying at the hostal.
  Just breathtaking scenery.  Photos do it no justice.

We have assembled a merry little group of Devine Donald,  Steve from California, who is a archityple throw-back hippy from the 60's and given he is 65 he is the genuine article, red bandanor and all.  Our lovely guild from the previous days hack arrived with two horses, and 1 donkey for our bags.  But suddenly our team of 6 doubles plus a pile of dogs.  All very relaxed mornings walk down the canyon to the river where we are due to cross,  but all feeling very normal given the relaxed state of Umberto our guild, Umberto's wife is with us and whilst I'm egar to make sure the kids are safe getting down the mountain pass she is about to walk hold young sons hand and miraculously breastfeed her 3 month old.
 
First across the river is Zinnia on the back of Umberto horse, towing the donkey and all our worldly position,  the mood very quickly changes, from calm to petrified everyone.  Z's horse stumbles into deep rapids her grip on Umberto is now using finger nails. It's not easy watching your first borns near demise and for what seemed like an hour it really was touch and go.  Finally the donkey was dispatched to find his way back across the river but this too ment we watched our luggage surged into the raging rapids not really that concerning given the other situation but the river bank was awash with screaming women and 60 somethings in a major state of worry.  Z finally across physically safe but now the only person stranded on the other side of the water, and given her high levels of seperation angsity this is not a great place to be.  After capturing a lot of the previous events on film, Colin is dispatched on horseback, on his own, into the rapids.  He is advised not to us stirrups given the chances of a horse falling, this inables him to kick the flipping horse on, so for some time he is just pirch on top of the horse, in the middle of the raging river, looking rather pale.  Finally after much persuasion and thrashing from behind, the horse stumbles across and whilst wet up to his thighs Colin makes it safely to his very distraught little girl.  By this time, surprisingly, no-one is opting to cross the river on horse back.  Another option needs to be sought.
       At this point everyone was shouting and there was no way I was taking more photos.
  Our walking team including Gustavo's family.  Bridge in the background.

Another off piste stumble up the river edge and half an hour later we at a particularly ill maintained bridge.  The now distressed and well thrashed donkey is first refusal over the bridge.  But the poor retchs plyt is not over. More thrashing from behind.  But this Mule is bloody stubben and is not for moving.  Bags removed and still not a foot on the bridge.  Then the final push comes and in his resolute determination not to cross the bridge the poor boy falls off the darn thing backwards down a drop into the river 4 meters below.  We where all convinced it was all over for the donkey. But no he survives only to be thrashed some more further up stream,  I suspect the poor mule would be making many visits to the Animal Psycologist if in the UK.

Umberto finally gives up, after some gentle pursuation and the donkey is left seemingly rather happily to graze.  He had won his battle.  Finally the people are able to cross, but each foot it placed tentativley due to the condition of the structure. Finally across we bid our goodbyes to the family and donkey and we all continue with horse as carrier of kids and bags.  But it's all up hill from now and really up for the next 2-3hours.  The Kids manage well due to the horse.  Supper fit Donald manages the up with panache but poor Steve is really struggling.  But his back isn't good enough to take the up on the horse.  About an 30 mins from our destination the heavens open, but on the up side the terrain levels out and Steve in given the horse for the remaining journey.  The altitude really does make you think you've been smoking 40 a day since the age of 4, and that includes the kids too.
 
Another bus and the hairiest of hairpin bends finds us at our destination at about 3pm and the peace of Llullu llama hostal was truely broken as we crash through the door to our refuge. Luckily for us the guy running the place was called Angel and name and nature where at one.
 
Whilst happy to have arrived and a box of wine later, Colin and I took  to our beds but it was pretty futile, it took 2 nights before we could rest easy and sleep a full night,  the days events whilst amazing had left a toll of stress of what could have gone wrong, in their wake
 

TUESDAY
Gentle walk,   Just a short 2hr romp upto blue-berry hill,  followed by reading by the fire in the afternoon, I have to hoot with laughter when over hearing a conversation between Donald and Steve, the topic; ' the difficulties of hair care when you've grown you hair long', quite an achievement for two 65+ gentlemen.
 
Very sad to say good bye to Donald, the loveliest 72 year old we have ever met,  and to Steve, our aging californian Hippy.

Wednesday
New mode of transport,  The Milk Truck,  which we share with a pooing and and weeing sheep, two large milk churns which must be fast becoming butter and a rather bemused local man.  This trip is bloody petrifying.  We are all bolted in except for a small ,absent, side door.  This just helps us feel even more petrified as we drive along an ill made dusty track at speed, with a sharp drop down the canyon.  Luckily the truck isn't going the whole 2 hours to our destination and an hour is just enough for me to cope. 
  Spot the sheep sharing our truck with us.
 
The next bus, which is considerably sidate, still manges to hold our attention it's such beautiful landscape and scary drop off just hightens the senses,  these levels of concern are helped by the frequent sighting of groups of crosses next to the road side. 
 Liz being interviewed in shaky English by local University students - The promised 20minutes becomes and hour very quickly.  We did 2 interviews - we were asked to do 22.  We declined, or we'd still be there.  The Kids summit the Cotapaxi volcano in this picture.
 
Colin and kids hop off the bus at the market town, Saksili, in search of the hostal, this place sounds great from the description in Lonely planet.  By the time I get back to town with the much needed injection of cash, the deal at the hostal is done.  Z greats me at the bared iron door with 'this place is weird'  and she is not wrong.
- The cell like room smells damp.
- The Trout lake is filthy.  We decline dinner.
- the aviary is full of rabbits and chickens.
- The ostrichs are totally down at heal.
- there are tunnel-nesting owls in the paddock.
- and the 4 large indoor swimming pool concrete block, well you can't decide wether it's not finish yet all just now falling apart,  probably both. One thing is sure not even a little toe of the Price family is going near that water.

This is the only hostal where at 10pm I consider leaving and catching a taxi to the next town.  Colin dismisses my concerns failing to mention 'in fact it's impossible as we are locked in to the compound.......ahhh scenes from Psyco fill our minds. Colin stays awake during the night trying to remember the name of the spooky owner - ah yes.  Norman Bates.


Thursday
Like most places we have stayed each has a redeeming feature and the morning brings the good bit.  The breakfast in surprisingly edible. the surrounds are rather strange,  back into the swimming pool building and we are the only folk in a 300 seater resturant.....much discussion about Z future wedding venue.  But the best bit is the mass amount of hummingbirds and the kids are able to feed them by hand. 
 
The market in Saskili is one of the largest in the country and very much a local working one.  With no tourist hostal or hotel it's not for the faint hearted.  Best of all is the Animal market. Pig section, lama, alpaca and sheep section, cow and beef section.  Unlike British livestock market, here folk just stand by there tethered stock and wait for a buyer to stroll by.  One chap takes offence to my camera and picks up a handful of stones and raises his arm threateningly,  the next guy with a camera didn't fair so well as the stones where flung. Opps, but he did have a rather handsome lot of alpaca.
 
   Lovely market photographs.      
Cosmo finds his Ecuadorian Cowboy outfit.  Poncho and leather hat.  then we're off on our final pursuit in search of the illussive Cuy (roast Guinua Pig)  and finally we find it.  It goes down a storm with Cosmo,  the rest of us don't think we will be considering a guinea farm on return to the UK.
   
Back on the road to Coxtopaxi,  long walk down road past rabid dogs( cosmo calls them "rapid dogs", which is also true) 2 buses and a camionetta later we arrive at a very remote hostal,  run by 'Youfs'.  On entry we spot someone's harvest of Magic Mushrooms then we are greated by a load of shuffley and 'youfs'.  Planning on 2 days but think we're a wee bit old for this scene, definitely feel nearer 72 than 22. 
 Sitting in the bus going around hairpin bends at altitude is fun.
 
FRIDAY
By the next day the atmosphere has changed at the normal Manager has returned.  The Views are incredible we're able to see 6 snow clad volcanos from our room and the Children are having a blast with the folk in the hostal,  but then again they are closer in age to us.  It turns out that there are some really lovely folk staying and we take a hike with Riene and Nic, yet more lovely folk from Vermont, up to a waterfall. Cosmo very impressed by Nick the Chef he walks everywhere with a staff and no shoes, my middle aged toes just could not cope with the cold mud squelching through them.  So, we are infact rather sad to be leaving and the kids are distraught to be saying goodbye to big kids that come equiped with DSI's and energy. 
  
Next journey starts at lunchtime  as we hop in a taxi another guest has organised, only about 15 mins down the 50 ride down the hill our friend discovers she as forgotten something.  We opt to hop out and hitch, only it results in a 30min walk as not one vehicle passes us.  But it's a lovely day and dispite the heavy load it's nice to be out in the sunshine, it feels and looks like one of those incredible barmy early summer days you sometimes get in the south Downs only the scenery is highlands of Scotland, Magic.
 
What we have become accustom to is seeing hoards of folk traveling in open top trucks,  but for the Price kids the most exciting is seeing a Toyota van and even more of a result is a red one.  Well today we strick the jackpot as the first thing to pass us is, said vehicle.  With out hesitation we thumb it and hop into the back with a couple of young kids.  It suddenly occurs to me we've not done this before and it's bloody dangerous.  When and where in the UK would you find the parents in the comfort of the in door cabin and the under 7 year olds gripping on to the bar frame of an open top truck that is hurtling down a cobbled road at speed.  I've white knuckles and am just hoping the kids are gripping on in the same measure.
 
Back on the highway and we change onto a bus at breakneck speed on our way to Quito, actually we haven't got a clue where we're going as it's our plan to find somewhere whilst on route.  This journey like the delivery onto the bus feels totally manic the accompanied loud marenga music is assisting the mood.  25 phone calls later and we are opting to boycott Quito and head straight up to the Cloud forests of Mindo.  This decision requires us to find a taxi and get through the city at speed to catch the last bus out to Mindo. But once we get to the bus station we discover it was too late before we even left the last bus,  time tables here are not to be trusted.  But decision made Colin is determined to reach Mindo by night fall.  Colin discover a alternative-ish.  Into yet another taxi on our way to another bus station,  half way there we're talking to yet another hostal and we're advised to turn round and be dropped on a street corner. Here we are for the first time feeling a little out of our depth and vunerable,  we get chatting to a very friendly Columbian whilst being circled by a group of rather inquisitive dodgie looking folk.  But it's late afternoon and we are not alone waiting for buses out of town.  Finally our bus arrives and we have to run as fast as possible along with about 25 other folk down the road in hope of boarding the already very full bus. We do and to our surprise find two seats,  poor Colin and Cosmo get the seat next to the fatest Equadorian we have seen....  But he grows roses so is quite interesting.
 
But the highlight of this trip for Zin and I is seeing our rather over friendly Columbian board the bus. You would never go hungry on a bus in Ecuador, at every stop a medley of vendors board the bus with the most fabulous aray of food stuffs other stock,  turns out our dodgy Columbian is a bus sales man,  and his product is spot cream, must of seen me coming,  only Z and I are rather alarmed and cracked up by the ingredient: Allo vera and Slug gel...................  the guy next to us who has a rather bad affliction is obviously desperate and exchanges his $1 for a pot of the slim.  Bloody funny.
 
By night full we are back into the jungle region and  find our last camionetta to take the last 1/2  hr journey into Mindo.  The hostal is clean and the air is warm and we are all exhausted. 

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