I hooked up my tour group on Friday, there are 14 of us travelling together with our guide from Quito to La Paz. We had a meal together to get to know everyone, most of the group are Australian with one other English girl, a few Irish and one Dutch.
Saturday was a free day in Quito so I went with my good friends Vivian and Oscar to Quilotoa, an extinct volcanic crater which is now a stunning emerald lake. It was an amazing drive through some of the poorst parts of Ecuador, the landscape was a patchwork of cultivated squares on impossibly steep slopes, we wound our way through rural villages where women were scrubbing their washing in the streams and even the smallest children worked on the land and herded the llamas and sheep.
The climb down into the crater took about an hour and we hired mules to take us back to the top, our mules were led by the most beautiful young girl named Alexandra. The lake was beautiful and changed colour every minute as we got closer and the sun came in and out of the clouds, depest blue one minute and emerald green the next.
We left Quito behind early Sunday morning and I slowly remembered the affect of altitude on a hangover. Not good. It took most of the morning to get to our luxury jungle lodge (so much for the ´basic´accommodation we were expecting - long may this continue!) no electricity but hot showers and huge comfy beds. Each thatched lodge and the paths around the grounds were lit by oil lamps. We had time to drop our bags before going on a walk around the area and dropped in to a local community to see how they pan for gold in the river and make pottery to sell in Tena, the nearest big town. They prepared a drink made from yucca which is traditionally fermented with saliva but with sweet potato for the tourists. The next day was action packed, a jungle trek in the morning, eating lemon ants and getting really wet. It was really interesting and our guide was good fun, pointing out the halluciangenic root used by the shamens and making hats out of leaves. He also painted each of our faces with a red berry mush which I was really paraniod wouldn´t wash off but it did, to find out how read on...
The next activity for the day was tubing, you basically sit in an inner tube and bomb down the river over the rapids hanging on for dear life while trying not to swallow the whole river. It was terrific fun and we all made it, crawling exhausted but exhilarated out of the water where we flopped on the beach and the guides served us our hot lunch (basic?!) Once we had recovered we took a boat ride down river to an animal rescue centre then headed back for more food just as the sun went down.
Next stop, Baños. We got the bus back to Tena and on to Baños, another stunning drive through the hugely diverse and spectacular landscape that is Ecuador.