When we stayed at Hacienda Chorlavi, we had met an energetic woman in her sixties, who told us about a place to ride horses in Pululahua Crater. Maya has been eager to get back to riding, so we looked up the possibilities around Quito and decided to take a trail ride at a hosteria of the same name, not knowing quite what we were getting into. We called Tom and asked for the truck when we learned that not only was it at least an hour bus ride to Mitad del Mundo, we would then have to walk another hour to El Mirador at the edge of the crater, (or take a taxi) and then climb down a steep incline into the crater and to the riding establishment( which was a footpath and not an option for a car).
We booked our ride for 1 PM, but were caught in stop and go traffic on the road out of Quito in a small town called Pomasqui. The path was full of buses and cars and pedestrians and it was evident that the street peddlers knew that something was afoot. We did not learn until we passed the exhibition grounds that there was a huge agricultural fair, where most of the vehicles and people were headed. The road opened up after that, and we passed Mitad del Mundo, the parking lot of which was packed with cars, and the IntiSan Museo which appeared empty. Our instructions were to drive to a town called Calacala, but when we saw a sign to the Geobioliogical Reserve, we followed the road to the footpath down to the crater. There was a wonderful view into the floor of the crater, which is green and fertile and covered with farms. When I asked at the 'El Crater' restaurant how to get down to the bottom, we were redirected back to the main road for another two kilometers and then right down a dirt road which would lead us to the bott0m.
Pululahua is one of only two inhabited 'caldera', and last erupted in 500 BC. The archeologists are certain of this date, because ash from the eruption can be found as far away as the coast, amongst archeological layers of human and other remains. The eruption is believed to be responsible for the demise of several cultures living nearby at the time. It was a huge volcanic event and caused the sides of the mountain to fall into the center. The crater has rich agricultural soil and is home to a hundred varieties of orchids and a hundred species of birds. The elevation of the bottom is 2500 feet, and there is paramo vegetation as well as cloud forest.
As we descended into the caldera, we were bathed in clouds and were not able to see down to the bottom, The dirt road clung to the side of the mountain and I was thankful that I could see so little. I knew however that we were at the edge of a precipice, and was terrified all the way down. I wished that we had walked instead of driven, and felt determined to walk back up and meet Eric and Maya at the top. Once in the crater, we were still surrounded by clouds, and all around were fields of horses and cows (and bulls), and the Hosteria was not too far. The horses were ready for us, although we were an hour and a half late.
My guidebook suggested we try the food, which is 'organic' and mostly grown on the farm, so Eric had his favourite 'locro de papas' and empenadas (filled with cheese). I tried avocado soup and 'madera con queso' and Maya had a BLT. Bacon tastes different here. I had served bacon for breakfast and it does not appear to be smoked in the same way we are used to. It simply tastes like pork, which usually needs something added to make it taste.
The horses were saddled and waiting for us when we finished our food. I rode the wilder one who kicks, so I took the rear. Maya was to stay in second place and Eric in third. Our guide took the lead. This was no ordinary trail ride where the horses plod along unenthusiastically; we were trotting in no time and galloping before too long. The path we took was at times steeply downhill or uphill and often the horses picked through narrow footpaths between orchids and bromeliads. We took a very narrow trail dug into the side of the mountain, apparently built by the 'Yumbo' people, whose role in ancient times was to trade goods between the coast and the high Andes. There are trails like this all over the country, which continue to be used today. The one we took today was steep and the sides rose higher than our heads.
The landscape felt tight and sometimes oppressive, partly because were were in the caldera, but also because there were clouds all around us obscuring the view. It was beautiful and at times eerie and ethereal, and so incredibly far from and close to Quito. It was too late for me to climb out of the crater when we completed our ride. There are apparently people who climb down everyday to work in the fields, and return up the hill at the end of the day, but they leave at 4PM to ensure that they can see the path, which is steep and treacherous at times.We drove up the mountain in fog and clouds and the dark, but I felt more peaceful on the way up. It felt as if we had touched down on paradise, were invited to stay for a few hours, and then floated back to our reality.