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Chugchilan to Isinlivi, A Lesson in Map Reading

Our hostal, Cloud Forest, renewed our spirits, washed our clothes and fed us a wonderful dinner. But more importantly, they confirmed that there was an easier route from Lake Quilotoa to Chugchilan than the one we had taken. Apparently, the danger signs had been removed (my bet is that the culprit was the sweet old woman we gave candy to). We were told that only the very adventurous hikers will take the landslide trail. The directions that we had ignored clearly outlined the proper trail. I quickly dispatched an email to the bloggers at Practical Wanderlust and told them that they should probably leave trail directions to the locals who are aware of the current conditions.

The new trail also explains why the town we walked through the previous day was like a ghost town. The new trail is much safer and goes through a different village, but down and up the same valley. Oh well, we survived.

At dinner I found out that we were not alone in taking the trail of death. I also wasn’t the only one to cry. We met a young backpacker named Juliette from France was also terrified. However, Juliette is much braver than I am because she did the hike by herself!

The next morning our hike to Insilivi would begin. Hikers we met at dinner said that we had an easy day ahead of us, only 7.5 miles or 12K. They told us that the hike should only take about four hours. Most of the hike would be along the river that we had crossed the day before. Elevation gains and losses would be about the same going each way. After a wonderful breakfast, we said goodbye to all of our new friends who were heading in the opposite direction.

Before getting on the trail we decided to walk back to the church in the village and say a quick prayer. I particularly wanted to give thanks for surviving the previous day’s hike.

We got back onto the trail and had an easy hike down towards the valley. The directions were easy to follow and we passed through more of Ecuador’s beautiful countryside. I was now used to seeing free roaming, donkeys, chickens, cows, lambs and horses. We passed a school where the children ran to the fence to greet us. We passed a cute little church and soon found ourselves at the river.

Ol was our navigator and was doing a good job. I was a bit frustrated because he would only read one step of the instructions at a time. He would read the next step after we completed the leg we were on. I wanted to know what to look out for but I decided to leave the navigating to him.

The only warning that we received for this hike was about the suspension bridge. Our hosts, said whatever we do, do not try to cross the suspension bridge.

So, when we got to the suspension bridge, the first thing that Ol wanted to do is to cross it. I was happy to just sit on the shore and watch him play. He was not content with me just watching and insisted that I also cross the bridge. I knew that we were warned about the crossing but I decided to humor him. I also knew that we were supposed to walk past the suspension bridge and continue for about twenty minutes and cross the second log bridge.

Just as we were arguing about my new fear of heights, a group of French hikers approached the bridge from the other side. Some of them crossed the river on horse back, some forged the river and a few brave souls, all older than us, crossed the suspension bridge.

Ol pointed to the older hikers and said that if they could do it so could we. I had heard this argument before and it didn’t go well. But, I was in no mood to argue and so up I went. Ol agreed to carry my backpack. He hopped and skipped across the missing boards, bouncing with the rhythm of the suspension cables. I crawled onto the bridge and approached the first missing boards. I froze. Ol, again being gallant, came back to lead me across to the safety of the other shore. What is up with me and this new fear of heights?

Just after crossing the bridge we found ourselves on a fairly steep vertical trail. We were told that we had one climb up out of the valley. However, it seems that someone would have mentioned that it it was this steep.

After hiking up for about 15 minutes I asked Ol if we were on the right trail. I could look down and saw a young couple practically skipping along the road beside the river. We were perched high above that river on a ridge. My muscles were still burning from the previous day’s hike. I asked Ol again if he could see the bridge we were supposed to take. He assured me this trail had to meet up with the trail on the printed directions.

After about an hour of another near vertical hike, we reached the top. We were now on the other side of the valley and could see where we had started hiking from that morning. We could also see the river far below in the valley. We could not see the bridge that we were supposed to cross and we did not meet up with the other trail. What I did see was a tree with shade. I was tired and quickly threw my pack down. I needed a break.

We had been hiking for a little over 3 hours and I was still exhausted from the previous day. Ol assured me that the town was just on the other side of the hill. We were getting low on water, but I finished my bottle knowing that we had made good time and should arrive at our hostel in about thirty to sixty minutes.

I took off my hiking boots and had a snack. I asked to see the directions. I read them for the first time and my stomach dropped. I re-read them again and turned to Ol who was laying back on his pack and enjoying the sun. Calmly I asked if he had read the directions in their entirety. That is when I discovered that he only reads one step at a time. Who reads instructions one step at a time?! Apparently my husband does! For the second day in a row I began to cry.

We were supposed to walk along a beautiful valley for several kilometers, through a peaceful meadow, and then just take a short hike up to our cute hostel where I would spend the afternoon playing with the llama and enjoying the steam room and spa.

Just as I was about to lose what little composure I had remaining, a farmer walked by with a machete. I wanted to kill Ol at that moment, but now maybe I could pay someone else to do it! Yes my mind actually went there!

While I was throwing my tantrum, Ol just sat there and waited for me to finish. Instead of getting upset, he said something cute about how maybe I shouldn’t be mountain hiking if I get upset about hiking mountains. I realize that I can’t be mad at him especially since he saved my life the previous day.

So now we have two choices. Keep going up the mountain, or, go back down the vertical trail we had just climbed and go back across the river. I deferred to him as he was convinced that the town was just on the other side of the mountain.

Lets just say that the afternoon turned into a regular pattern of Ol insisting that the town was just over the next mountain, around the next curve, or across the next valley. We continue to go up and down mountains. I on the other hand, cried when we got to each mountaintop and there was no town in sight.

I was not at my best. I was tired and thirsty. However, it was hard to be upset when around each corner was a view that would take my breath away. We found ourselves enjoying a part of rural Ecuador that few tourists ever see.

Finally, we found ourselves on a dirt road and spotted children coming home from school. We handed out the lollipops that we carried in our backpacks and asked them to point us in the right direction. Our four hour hike had turned into seven and we ended up walking an extra three and a half miles.

As we staggered into hostel Llu Llu Llama, all was soon forgotten. We were shown to our charming cabana and the view was breathtaking. We had made it just in time to see an amazing sunset over the mountains. Thirty minutes later we were soaking our aching muscles in a jacuzzi and meeting new friends from Germany and the Netherlands.

Dinner was delightful and the wine even better. Hikers from around the world laughed and shared stories of the trail. We became fast friends when we all realized that we all had more in common than not. The world becomes a very small place when we share experiences like mountain hiking in central Ecuador.

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