Friday, July 31, 2009
To The Banks of Crater Lake
I'm sitting on the shores of this emerald green crater lake, with the wind blowing the still water just enough for the swooshing sound of waves hitting the sand. Because of the incline of the sharp rocks, I'm lying on my back but still able to see the water and the surrounding crater crests, and with all of my clothes on to fight the cold, I'm very comfortable in the hot morning sun. I'm wondering if that SPF 50 I put on an hour ago is holding up its end of the bargain, and whether or not I'm burning badly. My friends have left me--gone to rock climb like crabs against a steep drop into the poisonous, sulfuric water to see what may or may not be lava bubbles. I didn't want to go and risk damage to my camera, so I'm all by my lonesome, with nothing but the sounds of the wind in the crater. In the middle of this extinct volcano, a place where most people will never go or even hear of, I have no phone, no Internet, and no one else around. New York could be under attack from some giant lizard-like alien that shoots other lizard-like aliens out of its butt, and I would have no idea. And I'm perfectly happy with this.
Having woken up with the sun, we got our breakfast at the hostel and asked what time the next bus back to Latacunga was. We were told noon, which would give us enough time to hike down to the lake at the bottom of Quilotoa crater lake. The old man at the hostel told us it was about a 45 minute hike down and an hour and 45 minutes back up. We were tired and knew the route back up would be tough, but the man told us we could rent horses. That sounded perfect to us.
No one was even stirring yet when started the hike down in the strong sun. At nearly 13,000 feet above sea level, the temperature means nothing in terms of a sunburn. Especially on the equator. Hiking down was easy enough, and a walk in the park compared to the hike around the rim of the crater the day before. The sand was soft and we would take 5 foot steps, sinking in with each movement. It felt like being on the moon in between the canyons that were carved out for a path, and I was glad we'd have horses to do the work on the way back up.
Once down at the lake we could see the green and the white sand contrasting on the shore. Right along the edge it was florescent and algae was visible. We sat for a while taking it in before we moved off to the western bank. Our German friend Elias said a friend had told him that if you climbed along the rocks you would be able to see bubbles from sulfur. The day before was rough on my camera and with just a couple days left in the country, I didn't want to fall into a sulfuric lake and risk injury, maybe even death. So Elias and Amy clung to the rocks and disappeared beyond my sight. For maybe a half hour I laid there peacefully until they came back. Amy stopped about halfway down, and Elias confirmed that there was nothing to see and it was really dangerous. I made a good decision.
We went over to an indigenous woman who rented boats and asked where we could get the horses, and she told us that you had to rent them from the top of the crater. Something that the old man in the hostel could have told us. The hike up was listed at about an hour and 45 minutes, exactly how much time we had until the bus arrived. We started hauling ass without question up the steep trail. Again, it was a race against the clock. It was tough from the get-go, with each step in the sand keeping us from our goal. We would take one step forward and go two steps back. Every few minutes we would have to stop to catch our breaths, but it was hardest on me.
Eventually the jackets came off, as well as the hats, and we stopped for a couple minutes about halfway. We were making good time, and the top kept getting closer, despite the fact that it felt like my chest was going to cave in. There's just no air up there. Sweating and exhausted, we reached the top, and looking at the clock on the cellphone we realized that we'd done it in 40 minutes. So high altitude training can actually pay off, even though the altitude still takes its toll.
A man in a van pulled up and told us that the bus got there at 12, but didn't leave until 1:30, so we finally decided to jump in and hitchhiked with him all the way to Latacunga. It was supposed to be $10 for all of us, but once in Latacunga he tried to rip us off for $15. We argued for a few minutes and finally gave him the money, not feeling like dealing with it. It could have been a scar on an otherwise great trip, but we let it go. The crater lake was just too beautiful to let something like that get in our hair. And that was the last trip I would be taking in Ecuador.
Above: Images from the shores of Quilotoa crater lake