Day 3: Sigchos to Isinlivi
Good morning, Latacunga! Your car horns, barking dogs, and roosters are plentiful early morning alarm clocks. We need the early start. We have a bus system to figure out and quite a trek ahead of us today.
After packing our day packs (no travel sickness to report yet. woohoo!) with only the essentials for our 3 day backpacking trip, we leave our extra bags with Ceasar (our Airbnb host) and head out on foot toward the bus terminal. The smell of fresh bread grabs our attention quickly, and we duck into a small pananderia to get some more breakfast for the girls. Their tummies will soon be growling after the fruit they ate in a rush settles, and we doubt we’ll find another pananderia before the bus terminal. Lilah finds something that looks like an oven baked doughnut with sprinkles and Claire a large roll, all for 35 cents. We quickly learn that just when you think you’ve surely seen the last bakery, there’s an even bigger one right around the next corner. Chris manages to find a coffee and some empanadas in another shop before we reach the bus station.
The bus terminal proves to be an interesting place with much to watch and learn. Men yell in all directions, the destinations that travelers may be looking for, in front of parked buses and ticket windows. Below is a row of benches full of waiting travelers, where women and men walk around selling any and every thing. We each pay 15 cents to use the restroom, only 10 cents if you don’t want toilet paper. Lilah finds a cup of cherries, while Claire eats a slice of “pizza”. They must be worried they won’t see another meal for a while. Chris gets our tickets to Sigchos (less than $8 for the four of us), and we wait, people watching and exploring the terminal. There are many spots to shop and eat.
Just before boarding the bus, I have my first sighting of other backpackers, a first glimpse of anyone that could be from the USA or Europe. I have a true taste of what it feels like to identify with someone just because we’re both outsiders. Both being strangers in this land, I feel like we might be friends even before we speak, and I’m sure the smile and look on my face give me away. It’s clear the feeling isn’t mutual. Perhaps that’s not the look one expects in a bathroom. I decide to keep my head down and board the bus with my family.
The four of us have been on many buses before, but this is an entirely different experience all together. Chris leaves his large, red backpack in the locking compartment under the bus, while the rest of us keep our bags to hold on our laps for the ride. As we back out of the station, the fun begins. The ride is both entertaining and informative without ever trying to be. A young man hangs out the front door of the bus calling for more passengers as we begin the trip. He jumps on and off in search of fares, while vendors do the same, selling anything from banana bread and gum to balms that smell like menthol. We can’t identify many of the treats being peddled and are surprised by the frequency of stops for additional passengers. We wonder why we arrived early to the terminal and bought tickets from the counter. Clearly no ticket is needed to ride the bus in Ecuador. Passengers just pay the man by the front door as they exit. We continue to stop frequently, picking up and dropping off mothers and children, school kids in uniform, elderly women and men. Many of the people carry goods, large and small, that they’ve made the trip to town to get. A firey woman, looking to be in her seventies, takes a seat in front of Chris. She asks a man sitting in the seat she’d like to move over, putting her large bundle of fresh flowers in the small space they have at their feet. The flowers encroach in their head room and hit them in the face throughout the trip. At one point, the bus driver seems to need help finding his way through a small town. Passengers seem concerned with his skills and route, and we pick up some of the flower toting woman’s Spanish, “This is nothing! This is nothing!” she says.
We finally reach a more rural area where the stops are less frequent and the vendors cease, but the bus will continue to stop for anyone waiting by the road for the remainder of the trip. When we reach the dirt roads and winding hills that make up so much of this country, I decide it’s either time to jump off the bus or shut my eyes tightly and pretend that I’m sleeping. This driver does not quite have the finesse of Luis the day before. I imagine we’re driving on a wide, flat road through the desert. This seems to ease my anxiety until we reach the bus station, about an hour later, in Sigchos.
We begin walking in the general direction we know we should head, through the small, rural town. We find colorful buildings and an ornate cathedral,
then quickly stumble upon a political rally. It entertains us as we eat some chicken and potatoes a woman sells at a street-side stand. We watch a little girl fight off one of many stray dogs as she eats her lunch as well. The long hike ahead of us weighing on our minds, we don’t linger long. It’s time to hit the trail.
Making our way to the edge of town, we quickly find our route and begin the 8.7 mile hike at around 12:30 in the afternoon.
The sign points the way to our much anticipated stay for the night, Hostal Llullu-Llama. This is the most comfortable and happy I’ve felt since leaving home. Ahhhhh, I can take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and feel grateful for the familiar comfort of a long and quiet dirt road.
Most of the trail is easy with gentle ups and downs, the occasional steep ascent or descent sprinkled in between. We rarely see anyone else, other than the infrequent farmers or pickups that offer rides for a small fare. We always decline with a smile.
We finally see some other backpackers (two young men from Argentina), when we lose our way a bit on the trail and have to turn back. It turns out that two cows were blocking the downhill path, making it unclear. Just as we get around the cows, that are leashed on short ropes, we meet two more backpackers enjoying a snack on the slope below (a couple from Spain). We will get to know them all a little better as our trip goes on.
We learn to look carefully for markers and be prepared to get lost and turn around occasionally for the remainder of our hike. It proves to be rather uneventful until we reach a steep, muddy slope just after crossing a river.
Lilah slips, falling in the mud and grabbing some barbed wire for help on her way down.
Her tears dry as quickly as they come, and we are on our way once more. We begin the steep uphill push that will be most of the majority the rest of our hike, the treats of the flat land a fond memory as we huff and puff our way up green hills with animals and crops planted at every turn.
Just as we reach the top of the tedious ascent, we are gifted the sight of these beautiful lilies, planted and cared for by nature alone.
We finish the hike on another winding, dirt road, and we pick up our pace. We’re eager to make it to Llullu Llama. We’ve read much about it, and feel like we already know what awaits us.
When we finally see Isinlivi in the distance, we can’t move fast enough.
We don’t have to look far when we reach the tiny town with just 80 permanent residents. We are greeted by some locals, enjoying a cervesa in their front courtyard. They introduce us to Balloo, who leads us the rest of the way to our hostel down the street. It turns out he is the resident dog of Llullu Llama.
It hardly seems fair to say we’re staying at a hostel after Amy (a volunteer) shows us around the grounds and leads us to our private room with it’s own shower and composting toilet. We have found our oasis. Can we just stay here forever please?
She introduces us to Tito, the llama, on our way by.
We happily enjoy a hot tub, beer, tea, and hot showers before sitting down to our family-style meal, courtesy of the hostel.
Our table is full of other backpackers from around the globe. The two backpackers we met earlier on the trail from Argentina sit at the table next to us. We enjoy the conversation as we eat fresh made bread, lentil soup, slaw, and an egg, cheese and potato casserole. They even bring out banana cake and home made ice cream for desert. We are happy and tired as we head down the hill, back to our room.
I try a backpacker trick, using a stopper for the sink and some laundry soap I brought with me to wash our unmentionables and the mud from Lilah’s clothes, then hang it on a para-cord clothesline in the room.
Today’s hike makes everything so much sweeter and much more appriciated. Just when we think our hearts might burst with gratitude, we all fall fast asleep, the fire crackling at our feet.