We had our first evening border crossing when going into Ecuador. What looked like the easiest border crossing actually turned out to be one of the longest ones because of all the paperwork the truckers in front of us had to do. We couldn’t get to Otavalo like we had originally planned so we stopped in a small town and stayed at a hotel with random water slides.
The next day, we finally arrived to Otavalo. We were very excited as the Otavalo market is very famous and we had been talking about all the fluffy things we were going to buy there. There is aplacca everywhere. Alpaca ponchos, alpaca scarves, alpaca sweaters, alpaca gloves and alpaca toys. And it is cheap. Knowing we would not need warm clothes in LA, we bought mostly presents, though we still added a few items to our small winter clothes collection for South America. I now have a dark grey poncho and Ean a dark grey alpaca lined sweater.
As soon as we arrived in Quito, we wanted to get out. We had grown allergic to big cities with the traffic and the small roads, and Quito was a very large city that didn’t seem to stand out to us. We did go to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a truly beautifully intricate basilica often compared to Notre Dame. We climbed to the top where we saw all of Quito and the statue of La Virgen de Quito at the top of the hill of El Panecillo. We went to the Old Town but we were so unimpressed that we decided to leave. We thought a better plan would be to find that mysterious Chocolate Factory that was hidden on a street in the New Town. Unfortunately we arrived too late, the factory had closed down or relocated. So we decided to find the Panama Hat factory. We ended up on a nice restaurant street where we found the hat store. Sadly they told us this was only the shop and that the factory was actually in the city of Cuenca. Frustrated, we couldn’t wait to leave and make our way to the Quilotoa Loop, but first we had to do one of the more touristy things: take a picture at the Mitad Del Mundo: the Equator Line. We thought about skipping it, but it was pretty symbolic to have crossed from the Northern hemisphere to the Southern hemisphere by car so we got in the car and prepared the GPS. What a lot of people do not know is that the location of the monument and the yellow line showing where the Equator is located, is in fact 800 meters off. Back in the day no one knew that the GPS would one day exist, so they picked a place where the terrain was a little smoother to put the monument, thinking no one would ever know. Now, equipped with our two satellite GPS, Ean and I took the touristy photo at the line then made our way to the real Latitude 0.
The drive up the Quilotoa Loop towards the lagoon was the most magical drive and sunset we have ever seen. The Quilotoa Loop goes through five or six little villages, mostly known for their Tigua paintings. We weaved around the rolling hills for hours, watching at the sun turned the fields a stunning gold, turned the rocks a flaming orange, and the sky a burning red. We passed indigenous people walking home with their families and even stopped to watch a man play his trumpet, the melody perfectly mixing with the sound of the wind and setting the ideal soundtrack for the magical sunset. The place we picked to stay was a guesthouse chalet near the lagoon. We were in a wooden room with colorful alpaca blankets on the beds and had our own wood-burning furnace. This place was the definition of cozy. We set out for the crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa the next day, after a relaxing morning of reading. Our legs dangling from the edge, we were filming our birthday video for Ean’s cousin Henry when it started to hail. We had gone from 21 degrees in Quito to 0 to 5 degrees at the lagoon and this was our first encounter with the cold since leaving New York. Fighting the urge to run back to our warm room at the guesthouse, we started walking around the crater. Within minutes we were out of breath, the altitude of 3900m was really hitting us. There is nothing more frustrating than being normally athletic and then suddenly not being able to make a few steps uphill without stopping for a break. We ran into locals who must have lived somewhere along the crater because they would be moving their sheep along the narrow path, often carrying a screaming chicken upside down. Their horses would follow and you better be out of the way if one horse feels like he needs to gallop to catch up.