Saturday, November 10, 2012

Camino del Inca, Ingapirca, and Cuenca

For fall break, I decided to go on the hike with my Andinismo class which was the Inca Trail, or Camino del Inca. No, we were not in Peru. The Inca Trail extends from the south of Colombia all the way down to Bolivia. I have hikes parts of the trail in Bolivia and Peru so I was excited to check this off my list! There were 17 of us hiking with some Ecuadorians and other students from the US. The hike was 3 days of hiking and 2 days traveling. We took a bus from Quito to Alausi and then camped at the start of the trail for the first night. 
Before the trip, we all made plans for who was sharing tents. One of the Ecuadorian guys in our class said he had a 6 person tent so there were 6 of us that were going to sleep in that. On the bus to Riobamba, we found out he just didn't bring the tent. So we all squished into the other tents. Our camps didn't have electricity, water, or bathrooms. It was extremely cold- so cold my entire backpack and its contents froze the second night!! The first day of the hike was pretty short but the hardest. We climbed up a rocky stream for a good hour which felt like a stair master. After that we ascended some more and arrived in a small valley between two big mountains. We walked for a few more hours and arrived at our camp which was a flat part in the bottom of the valley. There were no trees, no big rocks, no shelter. It started raining as we arrived at camp so we set up our tents very quickly and dove into them and waited for the rain to stop. 

The hike was gorgeous- plenty of paramo ecosystem and lagoons after every turn. We mainly walked on the side of the mountains maintaining altitude the whole time. The sun was strong and while we were walking we were hot but once we stopped we had to pull out our fleece jackets and hats since it was so cold. 

We reached an altitude of 4200 meters on the hike- yes there was snow. We didn't see cars, roads, or any signs of human activities until the last day when we ended in a village. 

Since we had to bring all our food, tents, and supplies, we had donkeys carry our backpacks for the first two days. At the end of the day we would pet them and ride them around. It's amazing how strong these animals are. 

We had to bring all our own food so I resorted to squished bread and peanut butter and jelly or tuna and crackers. We also brought lots of alcohol- to warm up at night, of course!

This was the only time on the hike we had to be creative. The entire hike is a little flooded or very rocky so we were constantly jumping rock to rock or jumping over the mud. I felt like I was in a Mario game at one point. This river was too deep to walk through and there were no place with rocks to jump on. So we found a big piece of wood and scooted over since it was too narrow to walk across. 

The end of the hike! This is our whole group when we finished in a village on the third day. 

The Inca Trail ends near the ruins of Ingapirca which are the most complete ruins in Ecuador. You can see the water systems, the sun and moon temples, and several palaces. The ruins are no where near as impressive as Machu Picchu and the stones are not cut as well, but it was really cool to see. 

We arrived in Cuenca at night on the third day and took a bus quickly around the city. We were all exhausted and walked around a bit but then returned to our camp right outside the city and had a nice dinner and salsa danced the rest of the night. 

The next morning most of the group left but I decided to stay with a few people to take a night bus on Sunday. This is the main cathedral in Cuenca and is the biggest in Ecuador and one of the biggest in all of South America. The city is absolutely beautiful- it feels so European with the streets and architecture. 

We stood in the back of the cathedral for Sunday mass. It was packed to the gills and buzzed with a constant chatter of kids running around and tourists taking pictures. It is a pretty modern church- built in the late 1800s I believe. 

We were buying candied applies right outside the entrance when mass ended and everyone came out. Some people were wearing casual clothes, some Sunday best, but many people were wearing traditional indigenous dress. 

There is a lot of beautiful graffiti in Cuenca. This is just an example on a staircase near the river. I love this city so much! Everyone was so nice to us and we found plenty of cute cafes and art galleries to hide in when it started pouring. All in all, the trip was extremely successful and I hope I might have the opportunity to return to the south next semester!

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