We’ve managed to get in quite a few amazing hikes so far on our trip. They can conveniently be divided into two different types – hikes that require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking in a cloud forest), and hikes that do not require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking along the rims of volcanic crater lakes).

Our cloud forest hikes occured while we were living with a family and going to Spanish school in Pucara. The family lived in a beautiful area surrounded by a dramatic landscape of steep cliffs and flat mesas. They were also blessed with spectacular cloud forests (where they hadn’t already been chopped down or burned for farming).

Our friend Peter took us on our first hike down the side of one of the cliffs to the river on the valley floor. He also arranged for us to go on our second hike with a guide named Milton (seen to the right here) who is intimately involved in protecting and reforesting a nearby cloud forest reserve. Milton was a great guide and you could tell that he was passionate about his work with the preserve. After our first two hikes, I was under the impression that all hikes were led by guides wearing knee-high rubber boots and carrying machetes, as both Peter and Milton sported that uniform. It is quite entertaining to hike behind machete-wielding trailblazers, but much needed as the cloud forests are quite dense and the plants grow quickly covering the trails.

Our third hike was lead by Peter’s friend and best guide, Jose (seen left here).  Jose was with us for 3 days as we visited different communities so we had a chance to get to know him well and also to learn that his English is better than he’d led us to believe!

Jose took us on a spectacular hike around Lake Cuicocha. It was a lake that formed after the Cotacachi Volcano exploded 3100 years ago. Though it’s not a particularly big lake (only 2 miles across), it’s extremely deep – nearly 650 ft. Because of it’s high sulfur content and the continued volcanic activity below, there is little to no life in the lake. We hiked around the nearly the whole thing (~7 miles) and had the place almost to ourselves – only passing one other group along the way. Jose teased us that only foreigners like to walk around the whole thing so that probably explains it!

Our second crater lake walk was around Lake Quilotoa at the top of the Quilotoa Volcano. The locals claim that this lake is bottomless (though geologists say that it is actually about 900 feet deep). We hired a truck with 3 other Americans that we met while staying at the Black Sheep Inn. The five of us and a guide rode in the back of the truck for an hour up to the top of the volcano. We were quite high in elevation at that point (12,800+ ft.) and it was extremely cold and windy up there – but the incredible view was well worth it. We then walked around a ¼ of the lake before descending down the edge and walking back to the Inn through beautiful Andean scenery and small towns.

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