America, but south
Living in South America never ceases to amaze me. Every day I wake up in awe that I get to live in the middle of the world, in Quito, Ecuador. This culture, the people, the scenery, the language; they have all captivated my heart. At 19, I never would have dreamed that my life would look like this. I wake up every morning, roll over in bed and outside my window I gaze over the city of Cumbaya and the circle of mountains that surrounds it. I lay there in wonder, thinking about this crazy beautiful life that I live. I have been here a little over two months now, and already I am completely in love.
Getting to Laguna Cuicocha
One of the first adventures I went on since I’ve been here was to a place called Laguna Cuicocha or Lake Cuicocha. I honestly had no idea what to expect, except that it would be beautiful and a great adventure indeed. Getting there was interesting, as bus systems here can be a little tricky to navigate, but it is amazing to be able to go basically anywhere you want for 25 cents per ride. Beats gas money any day! To get up to the lake we had to find a taxi but we could not find one for a long time. Then this guy in a truck comes up to us and says I’ll take you, hop in! Our group of 9 all piled into the back of this tall, rackety, pick up truck that looked like it was used to transport animals. We drove all the way up the mountain in this thing, taking pictures of the incredible view. It was a highlight of my day standing like sardines in this truck ooing and awing over the luscious scenery every where we turned. We even saw a guy herding cows down the street, and we had to stop to let them pass. I tell you what, the ride to get to the lake may have been the best part of the day. If you are looking for adventures in any country, do what most foreigners wouldn’t find normal or natural. These are often the times when the best memories are made. We could have easily denied his offer to take us, settled for a boring taxi ride and missed an opportunity to fully experience the journey. Anyway, suffice to say the truck ride was extremely memorable, and in my opinion is the only logical way to get to the lake, because I mean you are in Ecuador, you might as well ride in the back of an old animal truck. So, if you want to go to this particular destination, be prepared for an unordinary experience! Once we arrived at the top we were just speechless from the view. Basically what laid before us was a 360 degree view of mountains surrounding a pristine turquoise lake in what used to be a volcano. A crater formed, water filled it up, and that is what our eyes beheld at that very moment. Just breathtaking.
What to do
There’s plenty to keep you busy there at Laguna Cuicocha, besides soaking in the incredible view, which would be worth the trip in and of itself. But, if you aren’t one to just sit and stare at mountains and water all day, there are options for you. Besides mingling with fellow tourists, there is a little outdoor market with local artisanal crafts and souvenirs that you can check out, and also a restaurant high up that overlooks all of the mountains and the lake. Be prepared to pay about 20-30 dollars per person, but you wouldn’t just be paying for food, but rather for a memory that will make it all worth it. Spending money on experiences rather than just material things is something I firmly believe in. Experiences and memories will last you a lifetime, and looking back on them you won’t even remember how much you spent. Don’t hesitate to spend money on real memories! Just a little tip of mine about traveling and making the most of your experiences any where you go. Aside from the market and the restaurant, there are trails to hike for those of you who enjoy being active. It is a decent hike, so come prepared with the right shoes, jackets, because it does get chilly in the evening, and plenty of water. You can go all the way around the crater if your heart so desires, but it will take you roughly 5 hours. I hiked for about 2 hours when I went, which I thought was a good amount of time. Also, a quick side note, there is a secret path for all of you trail blazers out there that enjoy going off the beaten path. It comes about 15 minutes into the hike at a resting place, and it takes a little bit of finess to jump down to the trail from the overlook, but it is worth it because you can walk all the way down to the water and see the mountains from a different perspective. Once we got all the way down we jumped in the water and swam right where the reeds are, which was extremely cold but incredibly worth it. Be sure to pack a change of clothes! For those of you not too excited about the prospect of hiking, there is also a boat tour that goes all around the lake, from which you may be able to see bubbles coming up from the water from volcanic thermal activity. There is also a museum available that is free of charge. It is a great source of information about the local people, history, and geology of the area. Overall, this place has something for everyone!
Laguna Cuicocha was definitely a memorable first trip that set the precedent for all my future adventures in this nation. The journey was just as beautiful as the destination which made the experience that much more incredible. Whether it was the mountains, hillsides, water a shade of blue that made me cry on the inside, cows crossing the street, or simply learning about the culture, this trip had it all and I highly recommend it. If you go here you will get a sliver of this exquisite country I call home that you won’t soon forget!
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