Central Ecuador – Latacunga, Quilotoa and Saquisili
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
– J.R.R Tolkien
We get off the bus and have no idea which way to go. Latacunga looks dirty and uninviting, and the first hotel we check is small and dark. However, once we get our bearings and into the town center, things change. We find a room at a nicer hotel among the cobblestone streets, and sit down for a couple of sandwiches at a bright restaurant around the corner.
On our way back to the hotel, we find a crowd gathering in the pedestrian mall beside the hotel. Some feathers are scattered on a carpet laid on the ground. For the first , small balloons cover the roosters’ talons. People sing and dance, and pass us wine and beer. Everyone is having a great time. For the second fight, plastic spikes are attached to the birds’ feet with wax and masking tape. It is bloodier than the first fight.
The next morning, we can’t find any sign of a rumored military parade, so some friendly soldiers point us in the right direction. We join a large crowd watching the procession of soldiers, sailors, police, horses and bands. Pretty interesting, but nothing too exciting. There are parades like this in Latin America all the time.
When the holiday is over, we hire a car to for a day-trip to Lago Quilotoa. Our guide, Fausto, points out the beautiful scenery, and explains that potatoes and other vegetables are grown in the highly fertile volcanic soil by the local indigenous people. Children tend to their herds of sheep and llamas, and sparse pockets of evergreens stand beside rows of cacti on the otherwise deforested landscape.
Lake Quilotoa is an alkaline lagoon situated in a volcano. The hike down from the crater rim to the lake – along the sometimes clay, sometimes sandy slopes of the volcano – takes about an hour. After a quick picnic on a little beach by the lake, we take some photos and head back up.
About fifteen minutes from the top, we watch the clouds roll over the far side of the crater, work their way down to the lake, and come up our side of the volcano. By the time we get back to the top, it has cooled off considerably and starts raining. By the time Fausto pulls out of the parking lot, it is pouring.
Saquisili is best-known for its traditional market, and our guidebook rates it as one of the most interesting in all of Ecuador. The whole town turns into one big market with vendors lining both sides of the streets and filling the main square.
While it isn’t nearly as colorful as the more touristy market in Otavalo, it is certainly more entertaining with a greater variety of everyday goods for sale.
We start off in the grain section, which is chaotic with lots of pushing and shoving, and wander around until we are thoroughly lost. Someone points us in the direction of the animal market, but things are pretty much done by the time we arrive – just a lot of sheep milling about.
Back at the main market, everything is also starting to wind down and the streets are turning into gridlock with all the trucks loading up and trying to get out of town. We decide to head back to Latacunga, but in all the confusion we get lost and it takes us at least twenty minutes to find our way to the bus station.