Quilotoa is famous for a beautiful bluish-greenish lake that has formed inside of the caldera of an extinct volcano. Due to the rock and gases emitted by the former volcano, the water in Laguna del Quilotoa contains very little life. In order to get there, I walked a path known at the Quilotoa Loop, although in actually it is a complicated set of many different trails that zig zag across a valley in a southerly direction. Over three days, I was able to look out over beautiful Andean landscapes as I huffed and puffed through the rising elevation.
I finally got to the lake at a height of 3,914 m (12,841 ft) and took a hilarious photo celebrating my accomplishment. It was ridiculously windy at the top, but the view was gorgeous.
The La Mama Negra Festival is held twice a year in Latacunga. The September version is, supposed to be a tribute to the Virgen de las Mercedes who has protected the town from the eruption of the Volcano Cotopaxi. There is a giant parade that goes all morning and then repeats again with a more alcoholic-infused crowd in the afternoon. At first, the parade seemed like a standard cultural celebration, with lots of well-choreographed dance groups performing to bands marching behind them.
Intermixed between the bands, groups of people were carrying large, hollowed out pigs on giant altars, decorated with skinned chickens, guinea pigs and giant bottles of alcohol. Groups of men were taking turns lifting these altars and when they got tired, another member of the group put a short table out for them to balance the altar and take a break. Oh, and usually, all the members of the group were in blackface. WHAT? It’s 2018, people. My American upbringing had me baffled as to how this was okay, but maybe the racial dynamics in Ecuador make this more acceptable. Honestly, I need some more insider expertise here. There’s also La Mama Negra herself who is a rich mestizo businessman from the community dressed up in a black mask, riding around on a horse, holding a black doll, and squirting what is supposed to be breast milk on the crowd. Her entourage was also all in blackface.
Huacos also walk the parade route and they are supposed to represent shamans that can cleanse your body and spirit (for a fee, of course). Curiquingues represent birds of the local area and are apparently performing mating dances.
Cotopaxi is the most recent volcano to erupt in Ecuador. Its summit is at 5,897 m (19,347 ft), which beats the mountain I climbed a few years back, Mt. Kilimanjaro, by only two meters. Cotopaxi Volcano is on the left in the photo below and Rumiñahui Volcano is in the middle. (Aside: Rumiñahui was a general who led the resistance against the Spanish after the Incan Emperor Atahaulpa was executed by the conquistadors. He hid some of the empire’s treasures and then later burned Quito to the ground so the Spanish would get nothing from the city. Definitely an Ecuadorian hero.)
Cotopaxi is also more technical, requiring crampons to walk on the glacier and a single overnight push to the top, which requires more acclimatization before doing the trip. Instead of attempting a summit, I took the relatively luxurious route of just hiking up to the refuge at a height of 4,800 m (15,748 ft). Another 700 m of walking brought me to the bottom of the giant glacier. The walk itself was only a couple kilometers, but it was mostly uphill, at ridiculously high elevation, and took almost 2 hours. (The two arrows in the photo point to the refuge and the glacier.) Sitting in the refuge, drinking hot chocolate I was completely satisfied with my choice.
Bonus: The hostel I stayed at had some awesome llamas running around.