Roosters and birds woke us up. I will miss waking up to birds singing. I could hear the mountain climbers getting ready early; our wake up call was at 7:30. Breakfast was granola with fruit and yoghurt and a cappuccino which was of course not really a cappuccino but pretended to be one. We met our guide for the day, who was from Israel. He had come to Ecuador to visit family and travel and ended up volunteering and staying far longer than he planned. Ecuador has a way of grabbing you and holding tight.
Our tourbus was packed with tourists from Germany, Canada, Peru, Columbia, Brasil, and Israel. Every seat including the jumpseats in the aisle were occupied. Our driver was Ricardo and guided the Spanish and Portugese speakers, and Avi guided the rest of us. As we drove onto the Panamerican Highway most of the mountains were clearly visible, including Guagua and Rucu Pichincha and the Ilinizas covered in snow, Corazon, Ruminahui, and Pasachoa. Cotopaxi was again covered in clouds. The sky was blue and the sun was warm and I was hopeful that we would see more throughout the day. Eric and I had visited Quilotoa earlier in the year, and by the time we arrived at the rim of the crater lake, the fog was so thick we could not see more than a foot in any direction. We had waited an hour or so hoping that the clouds would lift, but in the end we drove back blindly and missed the lake altogether.
So I was trying to remain positive, which was easy to do for the first part of our journey. We stopped at Pujili to visit the Sunday market, and wandered through the fruit, grain and meat stalls. It appeared to me that the locals were quite accustomed to tourists toting cameras, and I found myself altogether too careful about offending them with my photographs, so I did not do well there as far as recording the experience. I had an easier time when we stopped at an indigenous home later on. I had wondered about the curious structures when I drove through with Eric early in the year.
Their homes are dug into the earth and covered with grass. A small space accommodates 15 or so members of a family, with the oldest male being the head of the group. There is a corner for the fire and the children sleep close to the fire and the adults further away. Guinea pigs run all over the living space, and pots and pans are piled up in one corner and some clothes hang on a string running across the centre of the hut. There are many many children, a few women and fewer men; they are likely working in the fields. We are at 12000 feet or so and every inch of land is cultivated, apparently all work is done by hand. Potatoes and onions are the usual crops. The indigenous are incredibly poor, and our visit provided more than they usually live on in a month!
We drove to the lake and I was ecstatic that despite the clouds which had descended as we ascended, we could actually see the crater from end to end. There was no sun, so the colour was a deep blue rather than the turquiose that appears when the sky is brighter. We walked down the very steep path to the bottom of the crater and Maya took her shoes off so she could put her feet into the 5 degree water. The laguna appeared after an eruption some 500 years ago.
The hike up took more than twice as long and Maya wanted desperately to rent a mule, but I insisted that she walk and it was painful to watch her struggle. Avi stayed a step behind her all the way, and as we ascended it began to get darker and more ominous and just as we reached the lip of the crater, it began to rain furiously. Just in time!
We ate simple food at Pacha Mama Hostal (soup, chicken potatoes and rice), and enjoyed our table with the Spanish speaking guests. By the time we were done and ready to go, it was pouring and visibility was limited. Our bus driver inched along the rapidly deteriorating road, and it took more than three hours to get back to Papagayo and our delicious chocolate cake, then another two hours to get back home. Quito was drenched in rain, apparently it had rained all day, and it was cold and miserable.
Our painters did a reasonable job of painting, which was a relief, but they left paint dribbles all over the floor, so I spent the next three hours on my knees scraping off the paint with fingers and a scouring pad. I guess I chose the least expensive estimate and sometimes you get what you paid for. Isabel had told me that Fidel painted all her rentals and was a professional painter, but clearly there was some misunderstanding. Attention to detail is not necessarily as important as getting the job done.
Our Israeli friend had much to say about life in Ecuador. He loves that everything is negotiable and that everything is possible even when it is impossible. There are no rules or if there are rules, they are just suggestions and everyone does what they want to do. Perhaps most significant is that Ecuadorians generally live in the moment. The past and the future are not relevant and it is today that has meaning. Sometimes living now makes the moment more intense and more real. I want to take that feeling home with me.