With my time in Ecuador coming to an end, I decided to spend the last days in Latacunga, a small city located in close proximity to the treasures of the Ecuadorian Andes. After making sure to get the various rips and tears in my hiking trousers repaired by a friendly seamstress at the local market, who found it completely hilarious that I could not speak Spanish, me and my friends decided to catch a ride to Quilotoa.
As our coach filled up to bursting, 3/4 of the travellers being tourists, I wasn't quite sure what to expect - was this another tourist trap?
Measuring 3km in diameter and with walls as high as 400m, Quilotoa crater is what remains of an 11th century volcanic eruption, which collapsed and subsequently filled with water. This 250m deep lake shines an unusual turquoise colour due to its high mineral content, giving the location its world-wide fame.
Off the bus and on our feet, we walked up to soak in our first glimpse. To the left of the main viewpoint, surrounded by countless selfie-takers, we noticed a group of local dancers performing for a film crew.
And on the short path down to the water, there was a gathering of people around a very very fluffy alpaca.
The alpaca's owner, dressed in a warm red poncho, charged $1 USD for a selfie per person, and was clearly raking in some serious cash. Being moved and manipulated for hundreds if not thousands of selfies a day, the opportunity to take a photo with an alpaca in front of Quilotoa crater is on many people's to do lists. In fact, it seems many beautiful photos of alpaca's in this region are staged for money, because of course they are.
Alpaca-satiated and my dislike for humanity at capacity, we walked back up to begin our crater rim hike. At an elevation of almost 3900m, the 10km trek wasn't going to be as easy as it sounded, and often we had to climb hands-and-feet upwards, sweating and panting the whole way.
A couple of hours on the path and thoroughly out of breath, we passed a lone house, the only building on the entire loop, with a sign marked "tea". Meeting the owner and entering his hut, he proceeded to make us coca tea over an open fire.
We chatted in broken Spanish, and showed him a video of the dancers from earlier. At his request, we sent him the video via bluetooth, and snuggled down with our tea.
There is a lot of mystification around coca tea in the Andes, and it is most frequently used as a treatment for altitude sickness, although there is not much evidence that it helps with this. Being made from coca leaves, drinking one cup of coca tea can actually make you test positive for cocaine in a drugs test (so here's my excuse ready).
Refreshed, we said our goodbyes and hit the trail, which was now insisting on almost always going directly upwards. Meeting no other hikers, it took a gruelling 4 hours to finish the next 7km, before arriving back at the starting point, broken and starving.
Upwards and upwards
In places like this, I often find that photography feels unmotivated. A quick google and you're presented with dozens of identical shots, frequently over-saturated to enhance the turquoise water. Emulating these seems pointless, and the first image in this post is essentially the only picture I took of the lake. Instead, I choose to switch my focus to the people and interactions I make, as these will always be unique to me ∎