We landed in Guayaquil late Tuesday afternoon and had plans to travel to Cuenca the next day. There has been a national holiday this week and it seems like the entire nation has taken the week off for holidays. As a result, it was impossible to find a room in Cuenca this week. Even the buses were overloaded and not running their regular schedules. So we had to decide what to do next. The options were:
- Go to Cuenca without a reservation and take our chances.
- Stay in Guayaquil until Sunday and then go to Cuenca.
- Go somewhere else – Latacunga was our next choice.
- Head to Peru.
After weighing the pros and cons of each option, we decided to go to Latacunga. We had hoped to visit this city when we were in Quito, but because Chris was sick, we never made it. Latacunga is an hour and a half from Quito. It is 2,760 m above sea level (similar to Quito). Its climate is normally cold and windy, due to the neighbouring snowclad heights, and the barren, pumice-covered tableland on which it stands. The active volcano Cotopaxi is only 25 kilometres away, and the town has suffered repeatedly from eruptions. Founded in 1534, it was four times destroyed by earthquakes between 1698 and 1798. People use Latacunga as a base to access the Parque National Cotopaxi, the infamous Saquisili market, and the Quilatoa Loop, an isolated route that passes through the mountains, and small villages with colourful markets. Our plan was to hike Cotopaxi from which the views are supposed to be spectacular.
On Wednesday, we took the city bus to the bus station to figure out which bus we needed to take and hopefully buy our tickets for Thursday. You may recall that the bus station in Guayaquil is huge, with almost 200 bus companies represented. We thought it would be easier to figure out the tickets without our heavy packs on our backs. Good decision on our part. At the bus station, there were hundreds of people, lined up at every kiosk. It was absolute chaos. We found two companies that had buses to Latacunga – neither were selling tickets in advance. So much for that idea. At least we knew where to go the next day.
I decided to cook on Wednesday, the first time since leaving Canada. The hostel we were staying at, DreamKapture, was very comfortable and had a little kitchen that was reasonably clean although not very well equipped. Chris was less enthusiastic when I announced I would be cooking meals today – lunch and dinner, but I talked him into it anyways. We shopped at a grocery store that reminded us of a Walmart where they sold everything from tires to milk. Food was cheap especially vegetables. We had tuna sandwiches for lunch and I made a spaghetti-like pasta dish with salad for dinner. Everything turned out great, except there was way too much food at dinner time. I invited other guests at the hostel to join us, and before you knew it, all the food was gone. It was a very homey atmosphere that night.
Thursday we awoke early to get to the bus station for 6:30 but unfortunately, I was in no condition to travel. Yup, my stomach was off and I only had my cooking to blame! Chris’ stomach was also off, but not as bad as mine. I was horrified to think I may have made half the hostel sick too. At breakfast, nobody else complained of stomach problems, so I hoped maybe it wasn’t my food. I really didn’t want to stick around to find out either, so we headed out to catch the 10:00 bus.
The 6.5 hour bus trip took us north back through the Andes mountains. The scenery was stunning. We arrived in Latacunga amidst a downpour – the first hard rain we’ve been caught in, and of course, our rain gear was at the bottom of our packs. It was impossible to get a taxi in the rain so we trudged in the pouring rain 1.5 kilometres to our hostel loaded down with our packs. We were now at a high altitude and I was huffing and puffing, feeling almost light headed under the weight of my pack.
Thankfully, we made reservations in advance at Hostel Tiana. There is a big festival on Saturday (Mama Negra), and the town is booked solid. A few people have camped out in their sleeping bags on the sofas in the outdoor lounge area – a little frosty with night time temperatures around 10C. We had a private room the first night, but the next two nights we would be sharing our room with two German girls. This would be our first experience at dormitory style accommodations. And our first local festival.
Thursday night I succumbed to altitude sickness – nausea, fatigue, body aches. Add this to my still upset stomach and I was not in good shape. By mid-afternoon Friday, I was starting to come around. I’m sure I’ll be good as new for the festival tomorrow.