About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi


"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quilotoa Loop.....fantastic!

Just got back to our hostel in Latacunga, Ecuador (Hostal Central...excellent hub for Andes travelers from all over the world) after a terrific three day hike through the Ecuadorean highlands.

We started out with another Andean market day in the indigenous town of Saquisili.  Smaller than Otavalo's, the market is also much less for tourists and has an even more authentic flavor.  Good stuff.  The usual assortment of animals, fruits and veggies, grains and other foods, household goods, and, well, pretty much anything else you could think of, and lots that we couldn't!!!

Squealer walks home with happy new owner

Several large booths of pirated DVD's.....if there's a guy down in front of the screen eating popcorn, don't expect a refund!!!

You pick the caption for this booth !!!

Ya want a cow foot????  We got 'em
We prowled around the SEVEN town squares filled with market stalls for a few hours.  Plenty to see, and we even picked up a bit of warm llama and alpaca clothing for our upcoming treks.

Lil' feller on the left was ours!!!
Big news from the market....Cindi and Adam are no longer cuy (guinea pig) virgins!!!  We passed a couple of stalls in the food court selling bbq cuy, and, well, it was hard to resist sampling the little devils!!!  It's quite a delicacy, and not cheap.  We split 1/2 a cuy almuerzo (lunch special included salad, potatoes, rice, and beets) for $6.  (Chicken almuerzo runs $2 or $3).  So how did it taste, you may wonder???   Ummmmmm.....let's just say it must be an acquired taste!!!  A bit gamey, and not a hell of a lot of meat on the little cuy bones!  We got the head end, and I think the fat rump end has more meaty bits.  But quite honestly, I don't think we needed more!!!
Cindi ready to dig in....the guy across the table really knew his way around a hunk o' cuy!!!
Speed shopping, Saquisili style!!!
Recycled tires make great animal troughs....cool!!

Downtown Zambahue
The next day we took a 3 hour bus ride (3 hours: 3 dollars, the usual bus pricing schedule in Ecuador!!!) up to the town of Zambahue, a small indigenous village set high in spectacular farm country.

The bus dropped us off, and we started hiking up toward the crater rim of the ancient volcano Quilatoa.


The 14 km hike was a steady uphill until the last 3 or 4 km, when it became more demanding.  The scenery through the tapestry patchwork of farms was beautiful.  The farms reach to the tops of peaks all around, and although this is the dry season, the views were still extraordinary.





Most of the critters we encountered were friendly enough.










Friendly little pooch.......NOT!!!
But wow, the Ecuadoran farm dogs are 60% teeth, 20% vocal chord, and 10% "other".  We hiked much of the 3 days with a rock in hand!!!


We arrived at the top at 3,900 meters (approx 12,800') pretty beat, and happy to grab a bed at the Hostal Cabinas Quilatoa.

The temperature at that elevation dropped rapidly as the sun set.  But as we ate our dinner in the common house, the staff came around to grab our room key.  Then they built a fire in the room's wood stove, and the room was roasty toasty when we got back from eating!!!  Ya gotta like it.  $15/pp, inc. ensuite bath and great breakfast and dinner included....perfect!!!


2 summits of volcano Illiniza in the distance
The Quilatoa crater is indeed spectacular.  Although you can hike down to the lake from the rim, and even rent a kayak on the icy water, we opted instead to hike out the next day to the tiny village of Chugchilan.


Accompanied by a couple of good guys we met at the hostal, we headed out right after breakfast.  We circled the crater on a ridge trail approximately 1/3 of the way around before heading down toward the valley below.
Joe standing in volcanic ash before heading down


We headed down on the trails through more beautiful indigenous farms, passing friendly local folks along the way.  Day in, day out, these trails are their transit links, and, except for market day, are used as they have been for hundreds of years.

Cindi helping out with routefinding
After passing through a tiny village in the valley below, the trail dropped into a deep canyon.  We followed it down steeply, passing a rock / sand slide avalanche along the way.

Sand was still sliding as we crossed gingerly past the demolished guardrails.  Would've hated to have been there a couple of hours earlier!




Looking back at slide path.  Trail visible about 20% from bottom, slide in middle.



We dropped down into the canyon, and realized that "what goes down must go up"!!!  So up we went, the final 3-400m to the town of Chugchilan above.






Checked into the fine hostel, Hostal Mamma Hilda, where we relaxed among the FRIENDLY dogs, had a beer, and read in the afternoon sun.  A great day!









After breakfast we hit the trail again, heading for the town of Isinlivi, supposedly about a 4-6 hour hike away.  We had a fairly cryptic map, and all seemed to be falling together according to the route described.






A fair bit of downhill, some steep uphills, some river crossings, and endless forks in trails in farmers fields.  Then, after about 4 hours of steady hiking, we started to feel that we were, to use the old phrase, LOST!!!  And out of drinking water.  Not good.  We came upon an old woman tending her animals in a field down in the valley, and asked her how much further to Isinlivi.  She looked a bit confused by the question, pointed to the ridge behind us, and said "4 hours, straight up".  OK, this was not good news, at all!!!

But we had little choice.  So we hiked up until we came to a dirt road above us, and headed up the road.  Came upon a couple, who told us it was 1-1/2 more hours.  OK, think we can do this....Then after 1/2 hour more, we came upon another couple.  Asked them the same question...."how far to Isinlivi?".....They looked at one another, thought about it, and said, "about 20 km".    Yikes....out of water, with 12 miles of hiking UP to go!!!  OK, this was getting a bit rugged, not to mention very demoralizing!!!  But without too many options, we kept heading up the dusty road.

Finally a pickup truck stopped, we hopped in, and 10 minutes later we were sipping a cold beer at the Hostal Lluu Llama, a homey little converted house in the tiny town of Isinlivi.  Thank you Senor Truck Driver, whoever you were!!!  All in all took around 7 hours, and when we saw how close we'd been, at around 3-1/2 hours out, well, it was time for another beer!!!  And another 2 liters of water!!!







View from seat of composting toilet

The next morning we toured the little village, perhaps a five minute walk, and found a wood furniture building shop we'd heard about.

The shop, impressive by any standards, with the most modern Italian equipment and traditional tools, here in the center of this indigenous native village!!!  Run by an Italian craftsman, the mission of the shop is to train locals in the art of fine cabinet building, and they turn out truly fine furniture for export.



All in all, this was a beautiful trek through a spectacularly scenic part of Ecuador.  Although the route does see a fair number of foreign visitors, the people here still live much as they have for generations.  It is a tough, rugged way of life, but the people seem proud of their heritage, the children appear loved and well cared for, and we felt fortunate to have had this opportunity to hike among them.  Muy tranquilo, absolutely!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Around Otavalo...."breathtaking"!!!

Lago Cuitocha, w/ cuy butt island on left
We've had a great couple of days exploring the Otavalo region.  Two days ago, we rented mountain bikes, and with our excellent local guide, Luis, we headed up to Lago Cuitocha, at 10,065 feet above sea level.  The lake, an old volcano crater, is named (in Quechua language) for one of the two islands in the middle, which looks like a cuy's hind end.  It does, sort of!!

Adjusting bikes at the start

Bikes had "US Aid" stickers.  Not sure significance, but if America is helping to put folks on bikes, we're all for it!!
Happily we took the bikes to the lake by truck from the town of Cotacachi, but still had a few hundred feet of climbing to do.  Yikes, just 2 days from our sea level home, the climbs had these "sea slugs" puffing like old 3-pack-a-day smokers !!!

Luis at start of single track trails
But at last we started down the great single track trail.  Really a fun descent, the trail eventually widened out onto dirt roads, that we followed for many miles through indigenous villages and farmland. 

As it was Sunday, we continually passed local families on the way to church, and with the exception of some curmudgeonly dogs who weren't aboard with the whole biking program, it was a really beautiful ride.  Luis, from a nearby community, gave us great insight into the local culture and lifestyles of the indigenous people.

Eventually we were back in Cotacachi, where we returned the bikes and hopped a bus back to Otavalo.  Thanks, Luis, for a fantastic ride!











View from our hotel room.
Yesterday we decided to go hiking in the hills around Otavalo.  Starting out from our hotel room, we found the dirt and cobble track to follow up toward Parque Condor, a raptor rehabilitation center that we'd read about.






The route climbed continually through beautiful Andean farmland, as we hiked our way up toward the park.












Eventually we arrived at Parque Condor, and learned that the "daily" live flying demonstrations were done every day except Monday, the day of our visit.  Nonetheless we were allowed to enter the park and wander around the various hawks, eagles, kestrels and of course Andean condors, the largest birds in the world.

It was a beautiful place, perched on the top of the hill, with spectacular views all around.  Most of the birds are caged in large, well fitted out cages, where they are either kept until well enough to release back into the wild, or remain if their injuries keep them from reentering the wild environment.

Black chested buzzard eagle, with bald eagle in the background

Andean condor
Harris hawk




When we were done with our visit, we asked the owner about a trail that we'd heard about to a waterfall in the valley below.  His reaction was pretty funny.  He looked us each up and down, stroked his chin, and said "I don't think that trail's for you"!!!!!!  I mean, really!!!!!!!!!  Well, obviously the gauntlet was thrown, and down we went.

Although a fairly steady slope for the most part over a faint overgrown track, we eventually hit the steep parts, and swung like monkeys from the young eucalyptus trees as we made our way down the steep ravines to the river below.

 The trail led us to a town, where we followed an abandoned railroad track back to Otavalo.  All in all, a beautiful 9 mile hike through the Andean foothills.

Today we'll take a bus back to Quito, and another to Latacunga, where we'll spend several days in the region of the volcano Cotapaxi.