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Lago Cuicocha hike

March 30, 2011

Next, a few posts about our final month in Ecuador. On a Tuesday (Nov. 30) Natalie and I hiked around the rim of Lago Cuicocha, which reminded me of Crater Lake in Oregon. “Lago” is Spanish for lake, and the indigenous name, “Cuicocha,” means Guinea Pig Lake—except it’s important to know that guinea pigs are a specia food, originally only served to the Inca, or Emperor, and is still a prized food among the native peoples.

The lake is 8 miles (12 k) from Cotacachi, at about 10,000 feet. We took a taxi to the trailhead ($6 one way from Cotacachi) and had a thoroughly enjoyable workout/hike, especially once the sun came out after lunch. Much of the hike was a steep climb, but the last third was gentle and mostly on a road (we went counter-clockwise around the lake). Four and a half hours with lunch and a few short stops. We heard of locals taking all day and having a leisurely lunch and siesta, which sounded good. Just make sure it’s a warm day. With clouds and/or wind (fortunately we had no rain or wind) it can be quite cold. We had arranged for the same taxi to return and pick us up. It returned late (we started using other drivers after that), so Colin was home from school by the time we returned.

Enough logistics. We started with high clouds, which became dense fog as we gained altitude, so that we couldn’t see the lake for nearly two hours. But there were so many, and such a variety of wildflowers (pictures below) that we didn’t mind. Well, we would have minded if it hadn’t cleared up, which it did by lunch time, so we enjoyed a great view from a warm, sunny lunch spot, watching the swirling clouds clear across the lake and the sunlight sparkle on the water.

Remember, in Ecuador the temperatures are nearly the same year ‘round. Where they vary is with altitude. Cotacachi at 8,000 ft. (2,400 meters) is pleasant and cool. Cuicocha, at 10,000 feet (and higher on the rim trail) can be warm under ideal conditions, but is usually colder.

On the last leg of the hike we traveled the edge of a tree reserve, and found a sign indicating it belonged to the Raul Pavon Mejia Bahai School—Colin’s school! We asked the director later and he confirmed that the land, a mix of pasture and pine plantation, had been donated to the school and they used it for field and camping trips.

Our next adventure was longer, three days in the Intag valley with a wonderful host, Peter Shear. That post is next.

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