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Guest blogger Shanae Atkinson is a student in the Summer 2017 semester of Change Lab International: Ecuador – a unique, interdisciplinary program in global social entrepreneurship delivered by RADIUS, the Beedie School of Business, Impaqto Quito and Insight Global Education

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Last weekend four of us went on a 2 day trek in the Andes called the Quilotoa Loop. We had planned to walk 3 portions of the trail, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, we left later in the day and ran out of daylight. Instead of hiking from Sigchos to Isinlivi, we took an unofficial taxi in the form of a pickup truck.  It was really fun to see the locals who were also using this mode of transportation. There was this cute elderly lady who stood up and waved at passerby’s for a good long portion of the journey.
We ended up arriving just in time for dinner at the nicest hostel on the loop, Llu Llu Llama. Even on such short notice they were able to find us rooms and serve us dinner, despite our dietary restrictions (2 vegetarians and 1 vegan).
Luckily for us, their power had gone out earlier in the day, so spa time had been postponed until after dinner! After a fairly long day of travel, albeit in vehicles, the jacuzzi was very welcomed.
The next morning, we packed up before 8 am and headed out right after breakfast. We were the first group to leave the hostel, but because we got lost, we were quickly overtaken by the others.
The first part of the journey was absolutely beautiful. We descended into a deep valley with large vibrant green hills surrounding it. We walked past many farms as we trekked alongside the river. A horse even tried to gnaw on my arm. We crossed the river on the best giant log bridge I’ve ever seen. Some of us also crossed a rotting suspension bridge for fun! But soon we were faced with the knowledge that everything that goes down must come back up. In this case, at a very steep grade. The resulting exertion as we climbed out of the canyon made the previous part of the trek seem like a cake walk in comparison.

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Once out of the canyon, we were met with an absolutely amazing view of the valley. The rest of the journey to Chugchilán proved to be far less difficult, though also less interesting. Having walked 12.4 km by this point, we were delighted to reach the hostel and take a nap. The slight increase in elevation from Isinlivi to Chugchilán created a large change in temperature and we were pleased to find that Cloud Forest Hostel had warm fluffy sheets and many blankets to keep warm. The following morning, we were nearly the last to leave the hostel, as many of our friends had cheated and eaten breakfast early. We began with a quick descent into a valley followed by an even faster ascent out of the valley leading us to a farm. The owners of the farm seemed pretty used to this situation and very quickly sent two adorable small children to guide us to the rest of the trail. We unloaded much of our candy onto the children to express our gratitude (only partially because it was heavy and we didn’t want to carry it).
Next, we took a bit of a wrong turn, but thanks to the wonderful locals who didn’t get angry when we were trespassing (by accident), we were quickly given the right directions and sent on our way (once again parting with the heavy candy). The next part of the hike was a slow climb up many switchbacks to the rim of Quilotoa- where we were met with an absolutely phenomenal view and a great sense of fulfillment. I highly recommend this hike as it allows you to visit areas that would otherwise be very nearly inaccessible and to see the agricultural practices of the Andes. We saw cows, sheep, the occasional goats, and some alpacas or llamas, I’m still not sure which. We met a friendly donkey who used its body to do the equivalent of “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when they could get some great neck rubs from us. All in all, a great experience!

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