We swapped our shorts and t-shirts for fleeces and rain jackets as we headed back to the mountains after the Amazon. We spent a few days in Otavalo and surrounding area. Otavalo is home to one of the biggest markets in South America, where you can find all sorts of things - from traditional remedies, to fresh fruits and vegetables, crafts, and an array of “alpaca” products. Of course there were endless food stalls serving up delicious and inexpensive Ecuadorian food. I naturally gravitated to the jewelry section where I may have picked up a couple pairs of earrings. The hiking around the volcano lagoon just outside Otavalo wasn’t half bad either. As a peculiar side note, there were a shocking number of “chifas”, chinese restaurants in town. We had not seen so many in one place before. Who knew! The next couple of places we visited were amazing! Up until now we had mostly stayed at airbnb apartments or guesthouses where we had been on our own. Now we felt like we were on the "gringo trail" as we stayed at two wonderful hostels. The first was the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. Coincidently, we met one of the managers on a flight and he told us all about the hostel. We checked it out online and were able to book in for a few nights. It was located in a remote valley close to Cotopaxi National Park where you should probably only drive yourself if you have a 4x4 truck. But in our little engine that could, we went anyway and made it without a flat tire or complete breakdown. The remoteness of the hostel was part of the charm. The area was stunning, with perfect views of Cotopaxi Volcano (when the clouds parted) and other surrounding peaks. There was a range of accommodation options: dorm rooms, private cabanas, and HOBBIT houses….yes they truly looked like Hobbit homes, built right into the earth! We opted for the Hill House, aptly named as it was a house on the hill with the best views of the whole complex. It even had a wood burning fireplace which the staff lit for us every night! Now that is service!
The meals were so delicious and plentiful, and there was free banana bread and coffee all day long. All the guests ate at a communal table in the dining room so there was plenty of excited chatter amongst the travelers. It was nice to meet so many interesting people from all over the place. That is the beauty of staying at a hostel. The boys fit right in…. hanging out on the couches or hammocks reading their books while snuggling up with one of the cute dogs at the place. The activities on offer were also fantastic. We hiked part way up Cotopaxi Volcano up to 4900 metres, hiked in the rain and mud to waterfalls, and went horse back riding… all so much fun! The staff and volunteers were top rate and deserve a hand for all their hard work. We left Secret Garden with great memories and made our way to yet another remote mountainous place in the Quilotoa area. The drive was smooth sailing until the turnoff onto the washed out narrow steep dirt road which on one side dropped off into the canyon below. It’s a wonder that we didn’t fall right over the cliffs or get stuck in the deep ruts in the road. I commend John for his excellent driving skills! We eventually made it to the Llullu Llama Hostel alive, albeit a little shaken. This hostel is situated in a tiny village in the mountains, and it also was wonderful, from the views to the impeccable quality of the hostel. Many travelers come to this area to do the Quilotoa Loop, in which they hike from one village to the next over a few days. We opted to explore and hike around the village. The steep mountain sides were all cultivated up to the tops, displaying all shades of green. These farmers must have the most amazing lungs and legs! Down the mountains we came, and off to the Galapagos…..